After an Outcry, Andrea Bowers Removes an Abuse Survivor’s Photos From a Monumental Artwork About the #MeToo Movement

The piece has become a source of controversy on social media.

Andrea Bowers, Open Secret (2018–19). Photo courtesy of kaufmann repetto, Milan; Capitain Petzel, Berlin; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Vielmetter Los Angeles.
Andrea Bowers, Open Secret (2018–19). Photo courtesy of kaufmann repetto, Milan; Capitain Petzel, Berlin; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Vielmetter Los Angeles.

When Andrea Bowers began making a work documenting all the men whose sexual misdeeds have been outed by the #MeToo movement, she wanted it to be a monument honoring the courage of the survivors who had spoken out against abusers, ending a culture of silence. But by including photographs of one of the survivors, posted on Twitter to document injuries sustained during an alleged rape, Bowers opened herself up to accusations that the piece exploited the very cause she was trying to support.

After a wave of online criticism that rapidly mounted yesterday afternoon, Bowers has now agreed to remove writer Helen Donahue’s likeness from the work, which is on view in Art Basel’s Unlimited section. “I, Andrea Bowers, would like to apologize to the survivor whose image was included in my piece. I should have asked for her consent,” wrote the artist in a statement provided to artnet News. “[Donahue] has asked that the panel including her photo be removed and I have honored the request. I have reached out privately and am very much looking forward to listening.”

In her initial Twitter post, Donahue took particular offense to the fact that the work is on view at the swanky commercial art fair Art Basel—“ON DISPLAY AS ART RN FOR RICH PPL TO GAWK AT THRU A STRANGER’S INSTAGRAM STORY.”

To date, her post has received 2,773 retweets, 17,311 likes, and 345 comments, most of which are critical of Bowers’s decision to feature Donahue’s photos without permission. Among those who have called on the artist to remove the photos from the work is New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz.

Bowers’s work, Open Secrets, was singled out by artnet News’s Kate Brown as one of the best works in this year’s Art Basel Unlimited section, which is curated by Gianni Jetzer. It is being presented by kaufmann repetto, Milan, in collaboration with Capitain Petzel, Berlin; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Vielmetter Los Angeles. It is priced at $300,000.

The four galleries sent a joint statement to artnet News, noting that they “would also like to issue an apology to the survivor pictured in the piece. The galleries stand by Andrea Bowers and her work and support the conversation that has only just begun.”

An initial response from Andrew Kreps Gallery to the controversy over the inclusion of a sexual assault survivor's personal photographs in Andrea Bowers's #MeToo-themed artwork <em>Open Secrets</em>.

An initial response from Andrew Kreps Gallery to the controversy over the inclusion of a sexual assault survivor’s personal photographs in Andrea Bowers’s #MeToo-themed artwork Open Secrets.

Donahue previously criticized Andrew Kreps Gallery for its initial response on social media, which stated that “the images in the work solely depict the accused, not the survivors. Each individual print is based on publicly reported claims and the public response (printed in the font of the original source) of the accused. Sources are also cited on each individual print.”

The piece, an expanded version of an installation originally shown at Capitain Petzel last summer, is a text-heavy installation that recounts the misdeeds of some 200 persons accused of sexual harassment or assault on long red scrolls of dense black and white type that cover both sides of a 62-foot-long wall. (You can literally pull up a chair if you want to spend time reading through the work.)

Bowers and a team of 10 people spent two years researching and writing the texts, which are accompanied by the responses of the accused to the allegations against them, which range from apologetic to outright denials.

The work came under fire for featuring a tweet by Donahue, posted October 6, 2017. Bowers had reproduced Donahue’s photographs of her bruised face, neck, and upper torso; evidence, Donahue alleged, of her assault at the hands of Michael Hafford, a former freelance columnist at Vice’s Broadly vertical.

That November, Jezebel published an article detailing the accusations of Donahue and three other women against Hafford. The following month, Donahue was also featured in a New York Times exposé about widespread sexual harassment at Vice. She was later interviewed for a Times article about how the lives of those who contributed to the #MeToo movement by sharing their stories had been affected by coming forward.


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