Just how much do immigrants contribute to the visual arts?
The Davis Museum at Wellesley College is hoping to give visitors a sense of just that with “Art-Less,” a six-day initiative where the museum will shroud or de-install any work of art in its permanent collection galleries that was created by or given to the museum by an immigrant.
The artworks will be removed from view from Feb. 16 through Feb. 21.
The de-installation project, a response to President Trump’s executive order that sought temporarily to bar immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States, will affect roughly 120 artworks, or 20 percent, of the objects in the permanent collections galleries.
“We’re hoping to articulate the contributions of immigrants here at Davis in response to the anxiety this executive order has raised and continues to raise,” said Davis director Lisa Fischman in a telephone interview. “We thought a lot about works that we have, and how they came to be here.”
The initiative will affect sculptures, paintings, and ceremonial masks from the American, African, European, modern, and contemporary collections.
Claire Whitner, the museum’s assistant director of curatorial affairs who is overseeing the project, said the initiative will affect “every permanent collections gallery.”
While paintings will be removed from walls, other objects will be draped in black cloth. In both instances, the affected works will be identified by labels stating either that the work was “made by an immigrant” or “given by an immigrant.” The museum is inviting other institutions to join the project, offering similar labels for download at the museum’s website.
The Davis initiative is one of a handful of related actions by museum professionals in opposition to the travel ban, which has been blocked by the courts. Earlier this month, the Museum of Modern Art in New York rearranged its fifth-floor permanent-collection galleries to exhibit works by artists from some of the affected nations. Late last month, the Association of Art Museum Directors issued a statement that it was “deeply concerned” that under the executive order “artistic and scholarly collaborations could now be in jeopardy, just at the moment when cultural exchange and understanding are more important than ever.”
Among the affected works at the Wellesley museum will be a portrait of George Washington by the Swedish-born artist Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller. The painting, which was given to the museum by the Munn family, who immigrated to the United States from Sweden, will be removed from view over Presidents’ Day weekend.Malcolm Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay