Twenty-five years ago, a furor erupted at The New School when Sekou Sundiata, poet, performer, and professor, scrawled his dissent across a blackface image exhibited in the Parsons Galleries. His “X” inspired others and 40 signatures soon covered the image. Part of an exhibition of the work of Japanese designer Shin Matsunaga, the offending image was the long-time logo of a Japanese soft-drink company.
The responses at the university were complex: They ranged from celebrations of freedom of expression to questions of artistic censorship and defacement, from expressions of extreme distress and anger to reviews of procedures for exhibitions, contextual signage, and disclaimers.
This exhibition explores the ways in which offense has been given (and taken) and dissent expressed (and managed) through three incidents in the history of The New School: the 1951 and ’53 curtaining of the University’s signature Orozco murals during the Red Scare years; the 1970 anti-war exhibition put up by Parsons students in lieu of a senior show, in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings; and the 1989 Matsunaga affair. In addition, current New School faculty, staff, and students add their responses to the provocations and pleasures of their present university environment—the art on the walls or the design of university spaces. Memoranda, letters, posters, press coverage, catalogues, and interviews, largely drawn from The New School Archives and Special Collections, and two original editorial illustrations designed for the show, trace the rapid-fire interchange of perspectives and reactions in each instance. They demonstrate the ongoing power of images both to inspire and to wound.