November 29, 2023
the Queens Museum

In October, New York City artist Xaviera Simmons presented her most extensive museum show to date, titled “Crisis Makes a Book Club,” at the Queens Museum. The central piece of the exhibition was “Align,” a large black architectural structure adorned with white text from James Baldwin’s 1984 essay, “On Being White… and Other Lies,” and Simmons’ personal reflections on race. Additionally, seven of the artist’s video works displayed within the structure for visitors to explore.

However, when “Align” concluded in March, the Queens Museum made the decision to repurpose the framework of this artwork for the upcoming exhibition “Tracey Rose: Shooting Down Babylon,” originally organized by the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. The museum transformed the structure by adding a new entrance, painting it pink, and adorning its exterior with photographs by Rose. Furthermore, the inner chamber converted into a small theater for a video presentation. Surprisingly, Simmons not consulted or informed about these changes.

A sudden change and a worrying discovery about the Queens Museum

Simmons surprised to find out that the decision made without her help. “I worked with the Queens Museum to build a large. Expensive piece for the atrium that made specifically for that space,” she says. It was hard to imagine how a room with one color on the inside could go with a room with a different color on the outside. I gave the plan and materials a lot of thought, and the building built to meet my high standards. Simply put, it looks like any other art.

Simmons said that when the museum sent her an email saying they were returning the panels, she thought they were returning the whole piece. She didn’t find out that her sculpture changed and kept until the museum showed her a picture of the opening day of the new show.

She said, “It’s a win-win situation; it won’t go to the landfill,” but they never asked her permission before sending the email. “No artist will like it if you copy their work word for word.”

Protests and actions that need to be taken in the Queens Museum

Simmons say right away that she didn’t like it and asked for what was left of “Align” to be taken off the new display. Officials at the Queens Museum agreed, after some discussion, to tear down the Rose exhibit and build a new one between May 1 and 12.

The artist didn’t find out what happen to her piece between April 20. Obviously, when she ask for it to be put down, and May 13, when the show return. Simmons tried many times to get in touch with the board, the managers, and the head of the school. However, they all ignored her. She showed how disappointed with the museum’s answer. It’s very obviously by pointing out how important the work’s original purpose and her part in making it were. Simmons thought that the Queens Museum had treated her badly and given her false information during the whole process.

Togetherness and a call to the arts

Simmons broke her silence about the event and shared about it on Instagram. These post along with photos of her repurposed art in Rose’s show. Her goal was to warn the public and stop other artists from becoming victims of violence. She said that other artists should look over their museum contracts carefully. And then, they also must try to get clauses that protect their work and goals. Simmons said that there would be more unity in the creative community if its members treated like small businesses.

Xaviera Simmons’s experience with illegal reuse shows how important it is for creatives. The groups that hire them to have open lines of communication and respect for each other. It talks about how important it is for artists in the ever-changing field of modern art to keep their work original and to speak in their own ways.