Michele H. Bogart is a professor of art history at Stony Brook University and the author of Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890–1930 (1989/1997), Artists, Advertising, and the Borders of Art (1995), The Politics of Urban Beauty: New York and Its Art Commission (2006), and Sculpture in Gotham: Art and Urban Renewal in New York (2018). From 1999 through 2003, she was the vice president of the Art Commission of the City of New York (since renamed the Public Design Commission), the City’s design review agency, and she presently serves on the PDC’s Conservation Advisory Group. (September 2019)

Follow Michele H. Bogart on Twitter: @urbaninsideout.

NYR DAILY

The Problem with Canceling the Arnautoff Murals

A fresco from Victor Arnautoff’s The Life of George Washington showing Washington pointing west, as ghostly frontiersmen advance to destroy the Native American way of life, George Washington High School, San Francisco

“As I see it,” wrote Arnautoff in 1935, “the artist is a critic of society.” That critical stance underpinned The Life of George Washington and much the artist’s public work. The #paintitdown advocates, however, did not see the portrayals of Washington as indictments of the myth. They refuted assertions about the murals’ pedagogical significance, insisting that the feelings of some members of a long-oppressed minority group trumped claims by academic experts, whose views they regarded as racist. The progressive school board accepted this argument virtually without question, saying that it was acting in solidarity with people whose voices were too often not heard.