Artwork vandalized and taken from display at Madison museum

City of Madison says artists of color are “disproportionately impacted” by vandalism
The work of a Madison artist is vandalized while on display at a local museum, raising concerns about what creators of color face across the city.
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 6:34 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 1, 2022 at 7:41 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The work of a Madison artist is vandalized while on display at a local museum, raising concerns about what creators of color face across the city.

“They’re getting ready to go to town,” Lilada Gee said, showing NBC15 a surveillance video from June 24 of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA).

The video shows three people surrounding the piece she contributed to the exhibit called “Ain’t I A Woman?” which highlights Black women artists in Wisconsin, according to the website.

The footage, which Gee and MMoCA officials said they would not release publicly, goes on to show the museum guests holding the pieces making up the work. Another video overlooking the museum lobby shows the guests, who officials have identified as a mother and her children, leaving the building with the artwork in hand.

Before even seeing the video, Gee first heard about this incident through a call from the director.

“I didn’t understand,” Gee recalled. “I said, ‘Excuse me, you’re telling me that someone came and vandalized my exhibit, and you’re calling to ask me if they can take home the canvases that they vandalized?’”

According to a statement from a museum spokesperson, the call from the director came after the woman was convinced to return to the building with the artwork.

“[The director’s] only intent during that call was to diffuse the volatile situation by addressing and rebuffing the woman’s continued demands to take the artwork home,” the statement read.

It continued, there was a 16-minute window in which the gallery was not attended.

The surveillance footage also showed someone who appeared to be a custodian walking by the ongoing act of vandalism.

“This kind of thing is happening more often, and it’s hard to be prepared for it,” Karin Wolf, the City of Madison’s arts program administrator, said. She noted, artists of color are disproportionately impacted as victims of vandalism.

“What about a beautiful painting of President Obama and Michelle would make someone destroy it?” Wolf asked, citing an example of vandalism on a mural along State Street in Downtown Madison. “What about a painting of a Black man reaching up in prayer would make someone want to destroy it?”

“Yes, there’s political overtones, but it has more to do with racism, I think,” Wolf said.

“There is a target on Black women and girls in this community,” Gee said. “Whether we are artists, whether we are students in class, whether we are professional women, there is an attack in this community of Black women and girls and in this nation.”

Gee’s artwork was returned, but now Gee wants to pull the pieces permanently, saying she requested to uninstall her exhibit.

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