Historian Says European Art Exhibits Should be ‘Reconsidered’ Due to Modern Extremist Groups

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

One historian argued last week that museums should reconsider their European art exhibits in light of the rise of extremist groups around the globe.

Historian Alexander Kauffman published a column in a niche art magazine on Christmas warning museum curators about the impact of their European Art collections. Kauffman argues that racists use European Art to defend beliefs about racial superiority.

“European painting and sculpture has formed the core of our museums since they were founded. These works usually inhabit the largest and most central galleries in buildings that are themselves European in style, modeled after the great royal and imperial collections of England, France, and Germany. Because the centering of Europe is baked into the architecture of these institutions, some may not see the connection to white supremacy today,” Kauffman wrote. “But white supremacists do. Europe’s cultural prestige is their evidence for the racial superiority of white America.”

Kauffman goes on to point out that radicals like Richard Spencer have used European art to make the case for racial superiority.  And he’s not wrong. White supremacists like Spencer have used European Art to argue for racial superiority. However, it is not clear that this argument is convincing anyone, especially since Spencer has involuntarily embarked onto a descent into obscurity.
Kauffman ends the column by arguing that European Art displays are not “neutral.” He argues that museum curators have a responsibility to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion goals by ensuring that European Art exhibits are placed on equal footing with other exhibits.

Some of these changes are already happening in European art departments, at the Met and at museums across the country. But as a professional body, European art has sat on the sidelines of museum efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion for too long. We must energetically join our colleagues who have been doing this work for decades, show them we stand in solidarity and support, and seek out and listen to our critics. They inspire the recommendations here. Museums are not neutral. Displays of European Art are not neutral. White supremacists know it. We must see it too.

Ironically, the chance exists that Kauffman’s column will inspire more extremist beliefs than the classic European art he fears will fuel museum-loving extremists.


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