BMA pulls art bearing word `terrorist'

Museum guard says patrons found painting `disturbing' after attacks

September 17, 2001|By Michael Scarcella | Michael Scarcella,SUN STAFF

Christopher Wool's stark painting featuring the word terrorist has been removed from the Baltimore Museum of Art's contemporary wing because patrons complained that the piece was "disturbing," a museum security guard said yesterday.

The painting - which displays in three lines "TER," "ROR," and "IST" in stenciled, black lettering - was taken down Friday morning before the museum's 11 a.m. opening. The museum made no public announcement of the work's removal and there is no printed explanation at its former location to explain why it was removed.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two museum guards said patrons complained Thursday about the painting being inappropriate in the context of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and suggesting its removal.

"People of all ages said it was disturbing," said one guard. "It was not so much that people were angry," he said, "but that they were upset - some in tears."

The guards said they reported the comments to their supervisors, who then contacted the museum's administration.

One museum guard said no attempt was made to damage Wool's piece.

"The painting wasn't damaged," said the guard, who added, "I guess it was taken down in a gesture of respect" to lives lost in Tuesday's attacks.

Neither the contemporary wing's curator, Helen Molesworth, nor museum director Doreen Bolger could be reached for comment.

Officials at the BMA box office said yesterday that the museum was sparsely attended Wednesday, the day after the terrorist strikes. Traffic picked up on Thursday, they said.

"People told me they came to the museum to escape the coverage - TV mostly," said Lydia J. Bailey, who works in the museum's gift shop. "The sculpture garden has been beautiful. I've been eating my lunch out there."

One guard dismissed the potential for controversy over the apparent censorship of the museum's art. The museum takes patron complaints seriously and decided to remove the piece, he said.

The guard wasn't told when the piece will be back on display in the wing, which also houses Peter Fischli and David Weiss' sculpture "Car" - a seamless plaster-covered car that looks eerily similar to abandoned dust-covered vehicles near the World Trade Center site.

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