Tom Gregg, Bad Apple, oil on panel
Until recently the Dykes Library University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City hosted a series small changing exhibits. It appears that the program was suspended because someone took offense at the latest (and apparently last) exhibition, Tom Gregg: Unsold. The show was removed before its scheduled closing date and the exhibitions program was discontinued immediately and without notice. As the title suggests, Unsold featured a few paintings of Gregg’s that hadn’t sold at shows in New York and Los Angeles at the George Billis Gallery. The unsold work tended to be a little darker, images of rotten apples, hand grenades, pistols etc. and the working assumption is that these paintings prompted the library’s decision.
Curator Melissa Rountree contacted the National Coalition Against Censorship, who drafted a petition letter to be sent to the University of Kansas. Anyone interested in adding their name to the letter can contact the NCAC at firstname.lastname@example.org, just include the phrase “Kansas Letter” in the subject line, your name and occupation in the body of the email.
Here’s a link to our interview with Tom Gregg from last year. I’ve posted a few more images from the exhibit and the full text of the letter after the cut.
Full text of the letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship:
Kansas Board of Regents
1000 SW Jackson Street, Suite 520
Topeka, KS 66612-1368
As national organizations dedicated to free speech and individuals interested in maintaining a climate of free speech and open exploration of ideas throughout the Kansas University System, we are writing to express our concern over the recent censorship of an art exhibition followed by the sudden termination of the entire exhibition program at the Kansas University Medial Center Dykes Library and to urge you to restore that valuable long-established program.
It is our understanding that the incoming interim director of the Dykes library, Dr. Loffredo demanded that “Tom Gregg: Unsold – Grenades, Cute Animals and Bad Apples” be taken down in advance of its scheduled end date. At the same time, Dr. Loffredo announced the termination of the over 20-year-old rotating exhibitions program. Justifying his decision to close the exhibition, Dr. Loffredo cited a “fiduciary obligation to the state of Kansas” and claimed that the artwork did not support the campus’ “core mission.”
As the token curatorial fee for the Gregg exhibition had already been paid, the premature closing of this particular exhibition saved no money for the library, the university, or the state. Therefore, it appears that the content and viewpoint expressed in the work was the sole reason for the premature closing of the show.
Dr. Loffredo’s actions as an administrator at a public university raise serious First Amendment concerns. The explanation that the artwork is somehow not in line with the campus’ “core mission” is vague and subjective, and as a result opens the door for arbitrary censorship. The fact that a public official may not like a work of art or might disagree with the viewpoint expressed in it is no grounds for him to censor that work.
Besides being constitutionally suspect, the decision to close a show because of its content violates well-established principles of academic freedom and displays disregard for the core mission of an educational institution to advance knowledge, promote the exploration of ideas, and train a new generation of informed citizens and competent leaders by exposing them to a wide diversity of views. Critical viewpoints are valuable to students of all subjects, perhaps even more so to students of medicine, who will surely be called upon at one time or another in their professional lives to come down on one side of a complex ethical issue. In the past, the exhibition program at the Dykes Medical Library has provided students with a place in which difficult questions could be explored and all manner of opinions and views could be expressed. The recent actions of the library’s interim director have effectively removed that important space.
According to the AAUP’s statement on Academic Freedom and Artistic Expression, “[a]cademic institutions are obliged to ensure that regulations and procedures do not impair freedom of expression or discourage creativity by subjecting work to tests of propriety or ideology.” Kansas University’s own statement of academic freedom reads “…the doctrines of academic freedom and free speech that are central to the classroom must extend to other areas of campus life. KUMC should encourage the ideological exploration of ideas and avoid policies or practices that bind the inquiring minds and spirits of students, faculty, and staff. KUMC faculty, staff, and students should not fear recrimination for engaging in such behaviors.”
As the termination of the changing exhibition program coincides suspiciously with the closing of an exhibition for its content, it appears likely that the administration’s real motive in terminating the program is the potential for the display of controversial work. There is no apparent alternative reason for the termination of a successful decades old program that has served to showcase the work of many local artists at the symbolic cost of $1000 dollars per year, which would, at market rate, hardly cover just the handling costs of one single exhibition.
We strongly urge you to reverse the rash and damaging decision to terminate the vibrant changing exhibitions program at the Dykes Medical Library and to support a climate of academic freedom at Kansas University. To avoid future conflict, we recommend that a joint panel of artists, curators, professors, and administrative staff be formed in order to review exhibitions.
For years the exhibition space at the Dykes Library has served as a venue for thought-provoking and challenging artwork. In the past, the University has displayed firm commitment to its own dictum that “the freedom to doubt and question must be guaranteed.” We urge you to ensure it continues to do so in the future.
National Coalition Against Censorship
19 Fulton Street, Suite 407
New York, NY 10038
Bernadette Gray-Little, Chancellor, Kansas University
University of Kansas
230 Strong Hall
Lawrence, KS 66045-7518
Vince Loffredo, Vice-Chancellor, KUMC Student Services
3901 Rainbow Blvd
Kansas City, KS 66160