Davis Museum Protests Trump’s Travel Ban by Taking Down All Art by Immigrants

Another museum responds to the controversial immigration order.

Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, Portrait of George Washington (1794–96). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James B. Munn. Courtesy of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College.

As President Donald Trump continues to fight to reinstate his travel ban, directed at seven Muslim-majority countries, one art museum is sending a powerful message that the US is a nation of immigrants, and that their contributions are what makes this country great.

For one week, the Davis Museum in Wellesley, Massachusetts, will stage a protest and art exhibition that removes artworks from view, obscuring the immigrant artists and collectors by deinstalling or shrouding works that they have made or donated to the institution. The European and African art collections are affected, but the action also creates large voids in the institution’s Modern and contemporary holdings.

Dubbed “Art-Less,” the event kicks off February 16 and runs through February 21, and purposefully coincides with the Presidents’ Day weekend.

That means that visitors won’t be able to see Swedish-born artist, Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller’s portrait of George Washington, painted after he emigrated to America in the 1790s, and donated to the Davis by the Munn family, who came here from Sweden after World War II.

The staff at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College de-installs a work for "Art-Less." Courtesy of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College.

The staff at the Davis Museum de-installs a work for “Art-Less.” Courtesy of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College.

“’Art-Less’ demonstrates in stark and indisputable terms the impact of immigration on our collections,” said museum director Lisa Fischman in a statement. All told, 120 pieces will be taken down for the duration of the protest, or about a fifth of the works normally on view.

The art world has been a leading force in addressing contested issues of the Trump administration, from Shepard Fairey’s “We the People” poster series to a rehang featuring work by artists from the countries named in the travel ban at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In addition, the Museum of the City of New York has staged a new photography exhibition titled “Muslim in New York.”

There’s also been smaller, more grassroots efforts like Dear Ivanka, an effort to appeal to First Daughter Ivanka Trump led by art world professionals.

The Davis is encouraging other museums to follow its lead, and has wall labels, a pro-bono project from the Boston design firm Stoltze Design, reading “made by an immigrant” or “given by an immigrant” available for download on its website.

“Art-Less” is on view, so to speak, at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley College Science Center, 106 Central St, Wellesley, Massachusetts, February 16–21, 2017.

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