Ignorance cannot now be an excuse for inaction

When previously I’ve been to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh—and I remember the same thing from a visit on the order of forty years ago—the statue in figure 1 has been typical.

Fig. 1. A statue at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph by author, February 12, 2023.

There were lots of nudes, but even as a twenty-something year old heterosexual male, admittedly coming from California, I couldn’t help noticing that male genitals were reliably covered up while female statues were not nearly so shy. More recently, the museum, in its own way, has acknowledged the discrepancy (figure 2).

Fig. 2. An exhibit of protest signs from the Guerilla Girls’ project at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, calling attention to discrepancies among other things to one between the gender of artists whose works were on display and the gender of nude subjects portrayed. Photograph by author, February 12, 2023.

But the discrepancy remained and I was clear that the Carnegie Museum was not like the fine arts museums I had visited in San Francisco. It was much, much, much more conservative.

Today I went back, visiting for only the third time since returning to Pittsburgh about four years ago, this time to see the 58th Carnegie International exhibition. And, well, it’s apparent things are different (figure 3).

Fig. 3. Paintings including phallic imagery at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph by author, February 12, 2023.

Here, in one room I found a number of paintings, not just those in figure 3, depicting what was unmistakably phallic imagery. Not at all the prudish Carnegie Museum I shook my head at.

That wasn’t all. Another room included North Vietnamese propaganda posters from the Vietnam War. An adjoining room was dedicated to a “Seismography of Struggle,” featuring generally anti-capitalist and anti-colonial journals of revolutionary and protest movements dating back centuries (figures 4-6). In general throughout the exhibition, a majority of works exhibited could only be described as unfriendly to the status quo, challenging social inequality.

Figs. 4-6. Images and texts on display at the Seismography of Struggle exhibit at the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photographs by author, February 12, 2023.

To see what I saw today at the Carnegie Museum is inescapably to realize that the status quo has lost the support of intelligentsia, not just along the coasts where I’d expect this, but as well in Pittsburgh, presented, according to the sponsor credits, by the Bank of America, and sponsored by numerous corporate foundations.

I don’t quite know what to make of all this. It is sometimes fashionable among the well off to commit treason against one’s own class. But it is clear now that voices protesting inequality have been heard. Ignorance cannot now be an excuse for inaction.

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