As someone who has spent a lifetime working in museums, I’ve long been sensitive to the decisions made in the process of selecting or omitting works for display. According to a recent article on Tablet Magazine, and another in The New York Times, The Jewish Museum in New York made the decision to remove “Stelen (Columns), 2007-2011,” a photographic installation by artist Marc Adelman, consisting of 50 profile pictures from a gay dating site that show men posing against Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The Jewish Museum’s decision to remove Adelman’s work from the exhibit, titled “Composed: Identity, Politics, Sex,” suggests that the issue of censorship in museums has arisen once again. But casually tossing around that accusation every time a museum conflict arises is to do an injustice to the serious nature of real censorship.
Patrons (that is, funders) have often jerked around the creative people hired for their talents. That may be exasperating, but it doesn’t automatically constitute censorship. Nor does a museum’s decision not to display something. Rather, The Jewish Museum’s decision is about a much more troubling issue that doesn’t get much attention: the unauthorized use of images of people in a wide array of photography exhibitions.