To Our Museum Community and Beyond:
Images. We live in a world filled with images. Small and large, handheld and wall-mounted, still and moving, images fill our daily life. In recent days, horrifying images of senseless violence and death have added clarity to the injustices rampant in the world we share. From the devastating death of George Floyd recorded on film and shared, the global community was presented with undeniable visual evidence of racism and inequality, yet again.
As an art museum, we live and work with images on a daily basis. We collect, protect, present, and interpret images that speak to and reflect our humanity, or, conversely, our inhumanity. We work through and with the gifts and talents of artists, and while we wish our endeavors for the public were always before an actual painting, sculpture, or photograph, the health realities of COVID-19 have required us to work industriously on-line.
Many were made to feel uneasy contemplating Carrie Mae Weems image, All the Boys, 2017, which deals with "the sustained threat to the body, to the Black body, to Black men, to Black women, to people of color, to women." Art is a witness.
Many were astonished to understand that Chakaia Booker's sculpture Latent Emissions, was more than about the creative constructs from abandoned tires and that she was discussing urban life, African-Americans, and the traditions of women artists. Artists can bring order to the chaos of life.
Many were uncomfortable confronting the concept of death in Giovanni Martinelli's Memento Mori: Death Comes to the Table. Art history can bring into focus the commonality and fragility of the human experience across time and place.
The events of recent days give pause to reflect on the two top values articulated by the Museum in its Strategic Plan: the value of learning from original art, and the value of diverse cultures, ideas, and audiences. Further, recent days have given pause to examine our efforts of the recent past.
Has the Museum tried to live its professed values? We believe so. Can we do more? We know so. Should we commit to ask ourselves difficult questions about race, gender, and identity, and what we collect and present? We must.
Unlike most major art museums, university or metropolitan, ours uniquely exists within the heart and soul of a major religious, specifically Catholic institution. We draw inspiration from the University of Notre Dame's mission and values, and we draw strength from the wisdom, guidance, and support of the C.S.C. In this context, the loss of the beauty of George Floyd's life, and the countless others that have suffered and died like him, seems a brutal strike at what civilization should be and what the beauty of the Divine offers. Father John Jenkins' recent letter to the Notre Dame community is composed of words, but it creates an image of the work to be done in the midst of prayer and grace.
Images, like institutions and the people that care for and visit them, are fragile. Without proper care, images can fade or tarnish, even crumble. As we work through images and, by extension, ideas, the Museum commits to three worthy tasks. The staff must recommit to our values and take the opportunity to examine and further diversity and inclusion moving forward. The institution must examine exhibition and acquisition opportunities with a continued concern for race, gender, and identity. The Museum, in presentation and programming and partnerships, must further the humanity central to the unique relationship of the history of art and the Catholic church that are ultimately in support of the mission of the University of Notre Dame.
Images often stay with us. They can haunt. They can inspire. The miracle is often finding the path that can take you from the former state to the latter existence. Artists and works of art can help illuminate such paths. As an art museum, your art museum, we can humbly hold and protect and present the very best we can. An imagined image of a better, safer, equitable world is too valuable not to bring into being.
With heartfelt best wishes,
Joseph Antenucci Becherer, Ph.D.
Director and Curator of Sculpture
Snite Museum of Art
University of Notre Dame