The V&A Is Facing a Backlash for Planning to Exhibit a Portrait of Disgraced American Actor Kevin Spacey

The museum says it wants to present an accurate record of the history of theater in the UK.

Kevin Spacey in May 2017. Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage.

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London is being criticized for planning to show a portrait of the disgraced American actor Kevin Spacey in an exhibition due to open later this month. Spacey is currently facing trial in the US for allegedly assaulting an 18-year-old man in a bar in Nantucket, Massachusetts. (The actor pleaded not guilty in January.)

In the UK, the management of the Old Vic theater in London, where Spacey was artistic director between 2004 and 2015, apologized in November for not properly responding to the 20 assault allegations against the actor that were brought to the institution’s attention.

The Victoria & Albert Museum has defended its decision to show the 59-year-old actor’s portrait. The exhibition, a spokesperson says, “aims to provide a record of history while recognizing and encouraging debate around issues affecting contemporary society.” The museum did not comment on whether it would include any contextual information about the allegations made against Spacey.

The portrait comes from a series of paintings by the artist Francis Hamel that depict visiting professors of theater at St. Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford, where Spacey taught in 2008.

A spokesperson for the college’s theater say that Hamel’s portrait series “is an accurate historic record of every professor who has occupied” the position, adding: “At the time of his appointment and during his tenure in the Chair, there was no public controversy surrounding Mr. Spacey.” 

The V&A will show the painting as part of its annual performance festival, where it will hang among 28 portraits of other major figures from film and theater who have taught at the university, including Ian McKellen and Richard Attenborough, in an exhibition titled “Behind the Curtain” (April 27–May 19).

The Academy Award-winning Spacey was the star of the hit Netflix show House of Cards, although he was written out of the show’s final season after the emergence of #MeToo allegations around him.

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