Sections

Cops: Art show is ‘brutal’ to us

for The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Don’t miss our updates:

A Fort Greene museum is drawing fire from police union brass in Manhattan for what they believe is an anti-cop exhibit, but Brooklynites are defending the museum in a fight over arts funding and free speech.

In an echo of the “Sensation” controversy almost a decade ago, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is questioning whether tax dollars should fund an art display that it considers obscene. The two works in question are part of “Welcome to America,” the first retrospective of the Brooklyn artist Dread Scott, which opened last Thursday at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts.

The pieces are nothing if not controversial: “Sign of the Times” is a yellow street sign depicting a cop shooting an unarmed man. “DANGER,” the sign warns. “POLICE IN AREA.”

Across the room, in a piece called “The Blue Wall of Violence,” mechanized police batons pound on a wooden casket. Six shooting range targets hang above the casket, each labeled with a date when police shot an unarmed New Yorker. The human bull’s-eyes grasp household objects that police have mistaken for weapons, such as a squeegie, a candy bar, and, in reference to the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo, a wallet.

Artwork is bound to have its critics.

“We don’t like it,” said spokesman Al O’Leary. “We don’t think it’s accurate in terms of what police officers do. It makes it look like police officers are simply out there to shoot innocent people.”

O’Leary admitted that the PBA has only seen media coverage of the exhibit rather than the artwork itself. As such, he said the union was mostly questioning whether government subsidies should be going to MoCADA, which gets about 30 percent of its funding from taxpayers, according to curators.

“We object to state or city funding [being] provided to something that proffers misunderstanding, hatred, or ill will towards police officers,” O’Leary said.

The PBA’s opposition to the exhibit created a media frenzy, with Manhattan-based news outlets eager to jump in on the controversy. The Daily News described Scott’s art as “cop-bashing,” stating that his works “portray the city’s Finest as trigger-happy racists who have put bull’s-eyes on the backs of black New Yorkers.” But Scott wouldn’t bite.

“These works are against police brutality and murder,” said Scott, who has lived and created art in Brooklyn for the past 15 years. “What should be controversial is these killings, not this artwork.”

Gallery-goers agreed.

“I think that people need to know about these issues,” said Dessanaya Miller, 19, of Clinton Hill. “No matter who they may offend or hurt, these issues are real.”

Most visitors believe that the tiny museum should continue to receive taxpayer support.

“The public should continue to fund the museum,” said Lewis, a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident. “They say they don’t like the fact that government money funded this exhibit, but no one seems to be talking about the fact that government money also funded these instances of police brutality.”

Even those who disagree with Scott’s art believe that his works should stay on the walls.

“It’s this guy’s point of view,” said Isaac Cohen, a carpenter from Park Slope. “I don’t know if I agree with it completely, but it’s certainly valid.”

Agree or disagree, it’s MoCADA’s right to show the work, constitutional experts have said — even if it’s on the taxpayer’s dollar.

“The First Amendment dictates that artists have freedom of expression and museums have the right to show whatever works they choose,” said Eddie Rodriguez, an attorney from Sunset Park who came to see the exhibit on Sunday.

Art experts aren’t surprised that Scott’s work is inciting such strong emotional responses.

“I can see how it engenders both the admiration and the ire of some people,” said Donna Moran, chair of fine arts at nearby Pratt Institute. “I think his work has a real, political message — it’s not just shock value.”

Scott is no stranger to controversy — and neither are Brooklyn art museums. Scott drew scorn from the first President Bush for his 1989 piece, “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” — which required viewers to step on the Star Spangled Banner in order to sign a book to answer the question.

But the brouhaha over the MoCADA exhibit is more reminiscent of the controversy surrounding the Brooklyn Museum’s 1999 show, “Sensation.” The provocative exhibit included Chris Ofili’s painting, “The Holy Virgin Mary,” which depicts the religious icon as a black woman, surrounded by elephant dung and butterfly-shaped clippings from pornographic magazines.

The work outraged Catholic organizations and then-Mayor Giuliani, who attempted to cut the museum’s funding. The museum won the subsequent court case, and Giuliani failed in his bid for president.

While the Giuliani administration lined up against the Brooklyn Museum nearly a decade ago, Brooklyn’s elected officials are siding with MoCADA.

“I will fight vigorously for MoCADA against oppression and censorship of any kind,” said Councilwoman Leticia James (D–Fort Greene). “The only group that’s making this a controversy is the PBA.”

As such, MoCADA founder and curator Laurie Cumbo sees a threat to her museum’s future.

“I think the PBA should retract their remarks until they at least see the exhibit — then we can have a discussion,” Cumbo said. “It seems that they should make an investigation before making inflammatory remarks. I hope this is not an example of how they conduct police work.”

Dread Scott’s “Welcome to America” runs through June 1 at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora (80 Hanson Pl., between South Portland Avenue and South Elliot Place in Fort Greene), 11 am–6 pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Scott himself will conduct a tour of the exhibit on Thursday, March 13 at 7 pm for a $4 additional charge. Call (718) 230-0492 or visit www.mocada.org for information.

Updated 3:12 am, June 2, 2015
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook
Subscribe

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Laurie Cumbo from East Flatbush says:
I am the Director of MoCADA and I want to make sure that our audiences know that MoCADA is simply a venue for the voice of the community. Many people in our community don't have a way to express themselves and I believe that art is the best way to share your thoughts. The challenge that I am facing is how to talk about these challenging issues without the police department taking it as a professional attack. Personally, I want the shooting of people in my community to end and I don't think that makes me a bad person. We are having a town hall meeting to discuss this on Thursday, March 13th from 7-9pm at 88 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217 (corner of South Portland). Please attend!
March 7, 2008, 6:13 pm
PD from NYC says:
> Personally, I want the shooting of people in my community to end and I don't think that makes me a bad person.

Bad person? No, but your above statement certainly betrays your utter ignorance. The shooting of folks in your community is not occurring at the hands of the New York City Police Department. I have been at the scene of far more shootings than I'd like to remember and none of them have been police involved.

> The challenge that I am facing is how to talk about these challenging issues without the police department taking it as a professional attack.

It's disappointing to see that you haven't risen to the challenge. The police department is not the problem and is not the issue. The real challenge that you need to address and talk about in depth is what is going on inside your community that is causing teenagers to kill each other on the streets before they even reach their 21st birthdays.

But I guess that would be too controversial for most as it would require someone somewhere to step up and demand the community to take responsibility for acts occurring within it. I suppose though that the police department, as the outsider of the community, is a much easier target.

By the way:

> I am the Director of MoCADA and I want to make sure that our audiences know that MoCADA is simply a venue for the voice of the community.

"The community" has one voice? Interesting hypothesis, though I am reasonably certain that not nearly as many folks agree with your self-appointed "voice" as you might think.
April 21, 2008, 4:05 am
PD from NYC says:
> “It seems that they should make an investigation before making inflammatory remarks. I hope this is not an example of how they conduct police work.”

I hope this is not an example of how you conduct debates.
April 21, 2008, 4:06 am

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not BrooklynPaper.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to BrooklynPaper.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Don’t miss out!

Stay in touch with the stories people are talking about in your neighborhood:

Optional: Help us tailor our newsletters to you!