The following tracks the history of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2022 Wisconsin Triennial from April 2021 through the publication of this website, including notable events and communications regarding the harms done to the community, participating artists, and featured work.
Published Aug. 2022
"A signature survey of contemporary art statewide, MMoCA’s Wisconsin Triennial will—for the first time in its history—be curated by someone working outside of the institution. The Wisconsin Triennial takes the pulse of the current artistic moment in the region, both highlighting the latest developments in artistic practice and honoring timeless themes that remain relevant to artists working today."
"It is the first time in the Triennial’s 43-year history that the exhibition will be curated by someone working outside of the institution... in an effort to fulfill MMoCA’s mission and bring an innovative, inclusive vision and a transformative approach to a cornerstone of MMoCA’s exhibition programming."
In response to internal dissent and uncertainty about the Wisconsin Triennial curatorial selection and vision, a group of artists, curators, and art advocates across the city of Milwaukee, the state, and beyond send a letter of support for Fatima Laster to MMoCA Director Christina Brungardt and staff.
“Ain’t I a Woman? will serve to create a sacred space to highlight the prolific, trailblazing, likely under-recognized, artwork by an inter-generational group of Black women artists in Wisconsin, pushing the genre of art production and narration.” - Fatima Laster
In the art loan contract, artists were promised that "MMoCA will exercise the same care in respect to artwork loaned to it, as it does in safekeeping of its own artwork."
During the exhibition installation, Lilada Gee steps outside the museum to gather supplies and calls Annik Dupaty, MMoCA’s director of events and volunteers (also a Black woman), to let her back in. A white employee of the Overture Center for the Arts verbally accosts and physically intimidates them to prevent them from reentering the building.
In the aftermath of the assault, Gee decides to remain in the exhibition. She chooses to stage an installation of her interrupted and uncompleted work, reflecting the state of the piece on the day of the assault.
Describing the impact, Lilada Gee says:
“It’s not lost on me that the staff person [Annik Dupaty] was also a Black woman. Still, she [the white employee] saw a staff person come from inside of the building to open the door for me."
"Not only did she injure me, but she also usurped Annik’s authority to make a decision that I was allowable into the building through that door.”
Overture Center Chief Equity and Innovation Officer Ed Holmes said the employee has been terminated. He declined to identify the employee.
Artists are contacted by MMoCA Director Christina Brungardt “to have a personal, artist-centered discussion and to provide updates on MMoCA's actions and Overture's response."
Christina Brungardt, email message to all Triennial Artists, March 25, 2022, 5:51pm (CDT).
At an off-site location, moderated by Fatima Laster and Christina Brungardt, artists discussed and identified desired reconciliatory actions and accountability measures from the Overture Center for the Arts and MMoCA. Artists were also given insight into the Overture Center’s response to the attack on March 9th.
Artists requested a public apology from the Overture Center leadership, the identity of the former Overture employee involved, and security footage of the event. Artists also affirmed the ongoing need for dialogue and training with MMoCA’s support staff to ensure a safe, comfortable, and conscientious experience at the exhibition opening.
Artists asked for additional security measures at the museum, the exhibition opening, and overnight arrangements facilitated by museum staff. They expressed a desire to understand what these security measures would entail.
In an email to artists about the Overture Center's response to the artists' requests, Director Christina Brungardt writes:
“Unfortunately, the most important items are still not forthcoming -- a public apology to all impacted, sharing the identity of the Overture employee involved, and the security tapes requested by Lilada."
"They have agreed to matching artist payments, and MMoCA will process these so as to maintain the confidentiality of your information. They will also help offset security costs, understanding the concerns for safety that have arisen out of this incident. We will continue to keep you updated with information as it becomes available."
No further updates were provided.
Christina Brungardt, email message to all Triennial Artists, April 12, 2022, 10:35pm (CDT).
In addition to her installation referencing her 3/9 attack, Lilada Gee writes and performs an open letter, "An Open Letter to All The 'beths' Who Interrupt Black Girls,” at the exhibition opening.
Speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal, Lilada Gee says:
“I think there is this desire, this expectation, that when something like this happens — especially for Black women — (we should) push through, be strong. But I think it’s important for us to understand that some things cannot be undone. The impact needs to be seen and understood. You can’t just clean up everything and make it nice and pretty for people.”
An estimated 600 museum visitors attend the event. AV issues cause significant delays to performances, along with other evidence of institutional carelessness and under-planning. See Museum Failures for more details.
The 2022 Wisconsin Triennial Exhibition receives no promotion on MMoCA's Instagram or Twitter after this date, despite being slated to remain open through October 9.
Museum guests are left unattended in the exhibition for at least 18 minutes despite MMoCA's promises of vigilance and increased security.
During this period, the museum guests deface Lilada Gee’s installation with paint and glitter. A museum attendant raises attention to the ongoing situation to leadership, during which time the guests leave the museum with the defaced work.
To “de-escalate” the situation with the offending museum guests, Christina Brungardt contacts Lilada Gee and asks whether the family can keep the artwork that had been vandalized and taken from the museum.
Lilada was simultaneously informed of the incident and asked with limited context whether museum guests were allowed to have her work.
The other artists are not contacted by the museum.
Lilada Gee, on her work and the incident to Madison365, published at 12pm:
“This is a major museum in a capital city in which someone walked in and vandalized and demolished my exhibited piece, stole elements of it, and then I’m being asked if I want to press charges,” Gee says. “So they are essentially abdicating any responsibility. So is art safe at MMoCA? I should even clarify that: is Black art safe at MMoCA?”
“The original intent of this piece was to tell the stories of silenced and invisible Black girls. The original intent of that was interrupted by the first incident with the Overture Center employee,” Gee says. “Now I’m telling the story of what too many Black women face ourselves about being interrupted — the micro and macro-aggressions and all of these things that happen to us that lend themselves to all the stress-related diseases that Black women top the list of."
"...So now this is the story I’m trying to tell with this piece. And then this is destroyed and treated, in my opinion, without honor by the director by calling and saying this to me and by not pressing charges."
“What if this was a piece on loan from some well-known national artist? What would they do then?"
Five days after contacting Lilada Gee mid-incident, Christina Brungardt sends the first communication to artists on behalf of MMoCA addressing the situation. The email opens:
"In the time since I drafted this email and now, an article has dropped in Madison 365. My original email was to inform you of an incident that happened on Friday, late afternoon: A family visiting the museum caused damage to Lilada Gee's installation work."
"We are not able to fully discuss what transpired. This has resulted in some relevant information not being shared. I would like to make myself available to answer any questions you might have. But please know that we are reviewing our security response and talking with the MMoCA team. We are also following our protocols for restoration of damaged art, and a police incident report has been filed."
On repeated occasions, the museum's printed and stated security, recovery, and response protocols had been and would continue to be violated by leadership.
This is the last communication the Triennial artists directly and communally received from Christina Brungardt.
Christina Brungardt, email message to all Triennial Artists, June 29, 2022, 1:01pm (CDT).
“This has turned into a mess and unfortunately I don't feel safe with my artwork being in the exhibition. I only participate in joy filled exhibitions, this has turned into an unsafe space and a traumatic experience as a Black woman artist.”
“I am filled with grief for the consistent assault on Lilada Gee and therefore the Black bodies of all represented in the exhibition. I would like my work removed from the exhibition and returned in the next week.”
Tanekeya Word, email message to Christina Brungardt and Fatima Laster, June 29, 2022, 1:13pm (CDT).
Christina informs Fatima Laster, the guest curator, that she has decided to close off the Shop Gallery in response to the ongoing situation. This gallery included Lilada Gee's work alongside a substantial amount of work from other Triennial artists and artist interviews.
The Shop Gallery remained closed for the entirety of the July 4th weekend.
In response to the closure, Laster writes:
"Closing The Shop is literally in direct opposition to what I told you I wanted. There is no reason for the gallery to close. Why didn't you rope off Lilada's installation and keep The Shop open?"
"...This project is being sabotaged and dismantled in front of everyone's eyes and only the victims (the Black women/femme artists', curator and BIPOC vendors) will be blamed because proper and equitable precautions weren't taken to safeguard the artists, their works or me.”
Christina Brungardt, email message to Fatima Laster, July 2, 2022, 11:03am (CDT).
Fatima Laster, email message to Christina Brungardt and all Triennial Artists, July 3, 2022, 10:46pm (CDT).
Three days after closing the gallery space housing their work, Christina notifies impacted artists that the gallery was closed.
The same day, she orders the deinstallation of Lilada Gee's defaced work following guidance from the guest curator.
In response to the withdrawal, along with growing concern and distress from the artists concerning institutional support, harm, and the security of the pieces held by the museum, a Board Member writes:
“As disheartening as the past week has been regarding the work of Lilada Gee, in addition to the earlier Overture altercation, I’m writing to encourage that we keep the larger picture in focus…”
“Trust is paramount; these situations test it. This is the ideal time for accountability. In doing so, giving the museum a chance to shift and to establish support in new ways.”
He encourages the artists to remain in the exhibition to hinder “the naysayers… at the expense of the hard work and good intentions shared by all.”
He also conveys the first and final update about the museum's response to the harm done to the exhibition. To read these promises in more detail, visit Broken: Promises and Protocols.
Leslie Smith III, email message to all Triennial Artists, July 6, 2022, 11:46am (CDT)
“I hope that Christina has shared with you the varied concerns of each artist and curator involved. Unfortunately, there has to be more reciprocity beyond operational shifts.”
“MMoCA has undermined the trust of Black women, upheld white privilege, not given our artwork the care and attention it deserved after the initial assault on Lilada Gee. We moved ahead, after apprehension, and a second assault occurred in the same locations: geographically and systemically. From an assault on the Black body and spirit of our sister Lilada Gee to an assault on Black artistic cultural production and spirits."
"The operational measurements outlined in your email are basic and should have remained a core line item within the exhibition budget knowing the carceral space our bodies and our work would enter. How are we being offered basic exhibition security measures months after the opening?”
To read the full message, visit Art, Artists, & Impact.
Tanekeya Word, email message to all Triennial Artists, July 6, 2022, 3:23pm (CDT)
“I’m not suggesting I have the exact answer to this but if we work on it, there is surely a way forward that keeps the dignity of this project intact.”
“It is indeed a starting point. One that doesn't seem likely for an institution that looks to keep and continue upholding the legacy of white privilege."
"Acquisitions and future paid programming are all things the institution is working toward. These are things that were not afforded to previous triennials. ...Much has been done and continues to be done even amongst the items needing to be addressed.”
The artists receive no further communications collectively until August 11.
Leslie Smith III, email message to all Triennial Artists, July 7, 2022, 12:37pm (CDT)
“I‘m requiring the immediate removal and return of these books as they are all my personal effects… Your organization’s actions are damaging to the artists and myself, all the while benefiting from our presence and excellence. An equitable relationship does not exist.”
Fatima Laster, email message to MMoCA, August 4, 2022, 2:15pm (CDT)
"In light of ongoing events and communications, we would like to inform you that a majority collective of the artists featured in the 2022 Wisconsin Triennial have been meeting to process these experiences, offer support to one another, and identify desired outcomes and responses. We plan to present a catalog of our individual experiences of the events surrounding the Triennial, and a specific list of asks in response.
In the interim, here is an incomplete list of concerns and priorities we’ve discussed:
- Comprehensive private and public apologies from the museum/leadership
- Addressing acute concerns about the security of art and artists relative to the space
- Securing a clear understanding of what accountability and amends from the institution will look like
- Commitment from the museum to work with artists interested in drafting any next steps
- Concerns about institutional retribution to future groups of Black and otherwise minoritized artists and invitees
We want to acknowledge that our experiences of trauma have been exacerbated and our sense of trust has been compoundingly eroded, most recently by new information about how our curator has been discussed in the aftermath of these events.
We continue to be placed individually and collectively in impossible professional positions.
We hope you can understand and acknowledge that MMoCA’s errors, choices, and communications have impacted us in our practices and our careers. We will be following up as we seek to rectify some of the compromising positions we have been put in."
Wisconsin Triennial artist collective, email message to MMoCA staff and leadership, August 5, 2022, 5:00pm (CDT)
Six days after sending the above communication, the collective requests confirmation of receipt from museum leadership.
Wisconsin Triennial artist collective, email message to MMoCA staff and leadership, August 11, 2022, 9:00am (CDT)
In response to the request, one artist is contacted twice by Board members.
The first reads: "I have received your email and it is of concern... You need to follow through."
The second communication designates which Board members would be the primary points of contact for the collective and requests to schedule a meeting.
Valerie Kazamias, email message to individual artist, August 11, 2022, 1:00pm (CDT)
Colin Good and Leslie Smith III, email message to individual artist, August 11, 2022, 1:13pm (CDT)
“‘I was raised to trust Black women,’ said [Hedi Rudd.] ‘That’s not a catchphrase. You have the privilege of having two Black women on your staff telling you what you’ve done isn’t enough. You had staff people who told you this was coming.'”
“‘You [Christina Brungardt] alone have ruined and brought disgrace to the Triennial and have heightened the community’s existing mistrust and distaste for MMoCA,’ Laster wrote.”
“Museum leadership had not responded to requests for comment by press time."
“Some of the work was unprofessionally installed at risk to viewers; other work was damaged upon installation. MMoCA did not produce a virtual tour for the triennial, even though it has done so for many other exhibitions since 2020, such as a retrospective of artist Mel Chin’s work which was on view concurrent to the triennial until the end of July. And, according to artists, MMoCA did not provide high-resolution downloadable images of exhibited works for the press, even though they posted similar images online for the 2019 edition.”
“MMoCA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s repeated requests for comment and the Overture Center declined to comment.”
“I do not know whether less support for this event was financial, COVID-related or racist. But I do know that explanations about these incidents have been bungled.”
“When I asked about the vandalism incident and which art was involved, being told that the staff is not supposed to discuss it did not sit well with me. Staff should have been given guidance on how to handle the inevitable questions.”
“It was a terrible incident, and it was made worse by the serious mishandling of communication with the artists, especially the artist whose work was damaged, and the general public.”
Beyond the salutation, the letter does not appear to be directly addressed to the artists, the collective, or even the Open Letter and instead speaks of the artists and “articles, e-mails, and letters”. The letter does not acknowledge the aggregate of concerns discussed on this website and the open letter.
The message is BCC’d. Recipients are unable to determine who else is included in the communication or send replies communally. The message is not directed to the collective’s email address.
Read the full message here.
Executive Committee email account, email message to individual artists, August 24, 2022, 12:50PM (CDT)
Although the salutation is omitted, the rest of the message is identical to the communication sent to the artists and guest curator.
Marnie McEntee, email message to press, August 24, 2022, 1:41PM (CDT)
The collective expresses their disappointment:
“We took this to the public forum, with clear documentation for each of our complaints, because we expected they may be diminished and discredited privately. It is disappointing to see you do this even publicly.”
“This is a moment to meaningfully set precedent for the city of Madison, the state of Wisconsin, and museums writ large. To have failed to have met that moment, pro-actively and with dignity, is offensive.”
Read the full message here.
Collective of 2022 Wisconsin Triennial Artists, email message to leadership and impacted artists, August 24, 2022, 12:52PM (CDT)