Almost one year ago, a photograph hanging in the Atrium Gallery at MOCA Jacksonville was the center of a two-week-long controversy that united the city's cultural supporters and ignited media coverage around the country.
Angela Strassheim's photograph, Untitled (Janine Eight Months Pregnant), depicts a reclining nude, a subject of fine art throughout history. The images in her Project Atrium exhibition illustrate transitional points in our lives-particularly the precious, fleeting nature of childhood and reflections on motherhood.
In a letter to the mayor, the City Council president objected to the artwork and called for its removal and the cancellation of city funds to MOCA Jacksonville. The Museum stood behind Strassheim's exhibition and did not alter the installation in any way. Changing the exhibition in response to public criticism would have infringed upon the artist's freedom of expression protected under the First Amendment and could have created a chilling effect with artists and institutions the Museum seeks to collaborate with in the future. That could result in fewer opportunities to provide the best of contemporary art to Northeast Florida audiences.
The community immediately responded with an outpouring of support for MOCA Jacksonville, strengthening its mission of bringing world-class art and artists to Northeast Florida. Social media users coined the hashtag #istandwithMOCA, which appeared hundreds of times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
In 2015, MOCA Jacksonville acquired the Project Atrium print of Untitled (Janine Eight Months Pregnant) and a print of Untitled (Lucian and Katherine), which also appeared in Strassheim's exhibition, for its Permanent Collection. The two works go on display on the Museum's second floor starting November 19.
“The acquisition of these two important works by Angela Strassheim is significant to MOCA Jacksonville due to their high level of artistry and our commitment to the artist, equally evidenced by the selection of Angela Strassheim for our Project Atrium series,” said Marcelle Polednik, MOCA Jacksonville's director and chief curator. “It is also consistent with the Museum's strategy of augmenting the Permanent Collection with notable works from our exhibition program. These works, one of which spurred last year's watershed First Amendment challenge and the outpouring of the community in defense of the importance of art and the integrity of artists and our cultural organizations, are part not only of MOCA's exhibition history but a vital part of Jacksonville's history, too. We are particularly grateful to the artist for the donation of Untitled (Janine) in commemoration of this important fact.”
MOCA Jacksonville celebrates #istandwithMOCA Day with free admission 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 28 in appreciation for the community that supported the Museum so passionately during this challenge. This free Saturday after Thanksgiving gives more families a chance to enjoy MOCA, view the newly acquired Strassheim works, and reflect on the events of the past year.
“The controversy provided an opportunity for MOCA Jacksonville to elevate the community's discussion around contemporary art and to outline the Museum's professional standards used in curating its exhibitions,” Polednik said. “Our curatorial team considers the sensitivity of each exhibition and determines whether any content requires special warning or placement. Untitled (Janine Eight Months Pregnant) did not meet that threshold as guided by standards used by museums across the country.”
The issue impacts not just MOCA, but the established rights of all artists, all cultural institutions, and the public-not just in Jacksonville, but the world over.
MOCA Jacksonville relishes its role as a contemporary art museum that promotes discussion and education about the art, artists and ideas of our time-in the community and beyond. That is reflected in everything the Museum does, from self-curated exhibitions to thought-provoking public programs to nationally recognized educational initiatives.
As Northeast Florida's only contemporary art museum, MOCA Jacksonville serves as a living, breathing laboratory where art, artists, and the community meet, and the ideas of our time take shape. MOCA researches what's happening in the art world and crystalizes that content for Jacksonville audiences.
This event struck a chord with a large audience about the importance of the arts and culture to the community's quality of life, economy, and tourism. Public funding is one important source of support, but MOCA Jacksonville and all of the other cultural institutions in Northeast Florida also depend on the support of community members. This #istandwithMOCA Day allows the Museum to return the favor.