Artwork vandalized and removed from exhibit at Madison museum

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – A Madison artist’s work is vandalized while on display at a local museum, raising concerns about what makers of color are facing across the city.

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

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

The images, which Gee and MMoCA officials said they would not make public, then show museum guests holding the pieces that make up the artwork. Another video overlooking the museum lobby shows guests, whom officials 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,” recalls Gee. “I said, ‘Excuse me, are you telling me someone came and vandalized my exhibit, and you’re calling me asking if they can take home the canvases that they vandalized?’ “

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

“[The director’s] the sole intention during this call was to diffuse the volatile situation by responding to and repelling the woman’s continued requests to bring the artwork home,” the statement read.

This continued, there was a 16 minute window during which the gallery was uncrowded.

Surveillance footage also showed someone who appeared to be a guard walking alongside the ongoing vandalism.

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

“What if a beautiful painting of President Obama and Michelle would make someone tear it down?” Wolf asked, citing an example of vandalism to a mural along State Street in downtown Madison. “What about a painting of a black man rising in prayer that would make someone want to destroy it?”

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

“There’s a focus 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 has been returned, but now Gee wants the pieces removed permanently, saying she asked to uninstall her exhibit.

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