Mark Godfrey leaves Tate, FOS case #1

So we start this blog on an interesting case. Mark Godfrey, senior curator at the Tate Gallery has decided to leave his post after only three years. Normally such posts are occupied for considerably longer.

Dig a little deeper and you find out that Mark’s decision doesn’t appear to be entirely voluntarily made. It turns out Mark dared to criticise the postponement of an exhibition of the work of Philip Guston, a relatively obscure Canadian-American visual artist, known for his paintings and murals and pioneer of neo-expressionism.

Why should this concern anyone? Well, really, it should concern everyone.

The exhibition was due to take place in 2020 but the institutions involved have kicked it into the long grass. Why? Well Guston was no racist, but he did represent the KKK in a number of his paintings where he explored evil and his own identity. When the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 kicked off, the organisers took fright and pulled the plug.

This is a very subtle case of the throttling of FOS. I can’t see evidence of many people clamouring to cancel the exhibition. On the contrary, the decision to postpone has been widely criticised by many sections of society. So this is not cancel culture at work, per se.

However it is an example of the insidious way cancel culture has infiltrated institutions, their decision-making and real-world consequences for ordinary citizens. By daring to question the decision, Mark has seemingly got himself into hot water and ultimately has left his promising position. This of course does not generate great fanfare, or outrage, as post the uproar his departure becomes a footnote in specialist publication. Not only has the Tate decided to censor itself whilst it figures out how to digest his work in light of BLM, it appears to be so sensitive as to not permit any interrogation of the matter.

It is the lack of clamour and the apparent ordinariness of Mark’s departure, via a “voluntary redundancy” that should worry us all. As institutions, companies, governments and the like assimilate various aspects of cancel culture into their policies, procedures and decision-making, FOS will surely continue to be stifled and undermined.

So, sadly this is the first case for the log, #1 Mark Godfrey 2020/1.

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