With political correctness taking over the world to an increasing degree, it is not surprising that museums are being affected. Not only is the iconic Theodore Roosevelt statue being removed from the Museum of Natural History in New York, but the Museum of Fine Arts in my hometown of Boston has implemented negative changes in response to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement.
When the MFA re-opens on September 26 after being closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, a magnificent portrait of King George IV will be missing. The portrait, by John Singleton Copley, was removed because, according to the MFA’s director, Matthew Teitelbaum, it was deemed inappropriate to emphasize America’s relationship with Great Britain. Additionally, visitors to the Art of the Americas wing will be greeted by a text on the wall explaining the museum’s efforts to “expand, contextualize, and diversify our holdings, and to consider the objects in our care from new and overlooked perspectives.” The works of art, the text notes, “ironically relied on oppressive economic systems, raising questions about the notions of ‘liberty’ that inspired their makers and patrons.” Portraits of Revolutionary War heroes will get explanatory text noting that they were slaveholders. Paul Revere’s Sons of Liberty bowl will get a text explaining that it is made from silver that was likely mined by slaves and therefore that “the material of the bowl belies the values it stood for.” According to the Boston Globe, these changes are being made so that the museum can be more inclusive and “expand its cultural embrace.”
However, like most actions taken in response to the BLM movement, these changes make the museum less inclusive. A beautiful, glorious painting of King George IV was needlessly removed. The new explanatory texts on various works of art cross the line from being neutral and factual to actually criticizing the art, its creators, and its subjects. It is unnecessary and inappropriate to add text that essentially calls Paul Revere and other leaders from the Revolutionary War era hypocrites. Worse, the museum’s explanatory text not only criticizes individuals from our nation’s history, it criticizes the very ideals upon which our nation was founded. There is no need to contemptuously put the word “liberty” in quotes while pointing out its alleged inconsistency with the economic systems that existed at the time.
Colonial-era American culture deserves to be celebrated just as much as any other culture, and our founding fathers deserve to be celebrated just as much as historical figures from other cultures do. Do the museum’s galleries of African, Asian, and Oceanian art contain explanatory text criticizing these cultures, their values, and their leaders from history? Works of art from all cultures should be accompanied by text that is neutral, factual, and educational, not negative, critical, or pushing any particular ideology.
I suppose I should be grateful that the Museum of Fine Arts did not go further by removing more paintings. But these changes are a step in the wrong direction and are demoralizing and upsetting given the sheer number of changes in this direction that are occurring in the world at the moment. I love art and history, and going to this museum has been one of my favorite outings since I was in preschool. Now I am not sure if I want to go back there ever again. Just another example of the BLM movement’s seeming determination to seek out all of the beautiful and good things in the world and ruin them.