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    Art Exhibitions Pulled From Arts Festival

    Julianne Gadoury spent almost five months putting together her art exhibit, “Polar Bears in Space.” But, after spending more than three hours installing her piece in the Wang Center at Stony Brook University, the administration demanded the piece’s removal on Wednesday. Gadoury installed the piece on Tuesday.

    Her exhibition, which included a life-size polar bear, icebergs and prints with scenes of polar bears in space on them, all received the necessary permissions from the center’s operators, Gadoury said. But even so, the administration wanted the piece removed.

    According to Dr. Sunita Mukhti, director of Asian American programs at the Wang Center, the administration at the university told Mukhti that Gadoury’s piece was “compromising the structural integrity of the building,” and had to be removed.

    Four black ropes tied to columns on the ground level of the center held the almost six-foot long bear over a pool on the basement level. Because it was hanging above the pool, the administration told Mukhti they had to consider the possibility of the bear falling and damaging the pool, she said.

    Gadoury, however, said she worked with the facilities manager to install the piece. She said they ensured that the ropes used to hang the bear would not damage the columns they were wrapped around, and would support the 40-pound bear. She said that the piece was removed because President Shirley Strum Kenny did not like its aethestics.

    The curator for UNBOUND, James Pearson, echoed that sentiment. “It was an aesthetic decision made by a businesswoman.”

    Efforts to contact the administration were unsuccessful.

    “I’m perplexed,” Mukhti said, referring to what the administration told her. “I feel sad and embarrassed that I have to pull down the polar bear. It’s not necessarily a beautiful piece, but it’s very meaningful.”

    The polar bear exhibition was part of a project called “UNBOUND 2008” that showcased work by students, faculty and staff as part of the Shirley Strum Kenny Arts Festival, the project’s website said. Gadoury, a first year Master of Fine Arts student, was one of the 16 participants who installed “site-specific” pieces all around the university’s campus.

    Gadoury’s piece was supposed to illustrate how the idea of global warming is distant to many people in the world, she said. That idea formed the concept of the polar bears being in space, being distant, she said.

    “We often fail to fully understand and gain knowledge about, and push to the back of our minds, many issues that affect us socially and on the global level,” she said on the UNBOUND website.

    But the removal of her piece has left Gadoury, and many in the art department at the university, calling the administration’s actions a form of censorship.

    “I think that the state of censorship is ridiculous,” said Kristine Granger, a first year Master of Fine Arts student at the university. “This statement does not support such a strong arts program, [and] the message the work has to rely is very strong.”

    “I feel like I’m being deprived of my right of expression,” said Veronica Pena, a second year Master of Fine Arts student. Pena helped cut down the bear Wednesday night.

    Removing the Bear

    On Wednesday, around 7 p.m., Gadoury went to cut the bear down from ‘space.’

    In front of an audience of about 55 people, mostly art students, she said she felt she was being deprived of her rights. “My piece had the approval of every possible person in this building,” she said, standing in knee-high water in the pool right below the bear. “I don’t think aesthetics should be required for showing art. Say that this isn’t fair!”

    After her remarks, some students helped sever the ropes. As the bear dropped into Gadoury’s hands, the audience applauded from above. She dragged the bear to the edge of the pool, and yanked it out of the water.

    “I’m very sad,” said Nobuho Nagasawa, an instructor in the art department at the university who recommended that Gadoury hang the bear over the pond. “She did what she had to do to get permission. I’m surprised this happened.”

    On a flyer Gadoury made for the night of the de-installation, she stated, “[The polar bear] will be deinstalled because even though granted approval, administration at the university cannot grasp the idea around the piece.

    “Make it known that this will not be accepted. This is our legal right, and goes against our country’s values.”

    Not Alone

    “Polar Bears in Space” was not the only UNBOUND piece de-installed. UNBOUND had to remove two other pieces, but mostly because the artists did not receive the proper permissions.

    One such piece was a chalk mural titled, “Unbound.” Heather Miller, a junior majoring in Studio Art, spent six hours drawing the mural after getting what she thought was permission. It turned out, however, that the right person did not approve her piece and Pearson e-mailed Miller telling her that he would have to remove her piece Tuesday evening, she said.

    “The sad thing, to me, was the mural was to show people what went on inside the Staller Center on its ugly, brown outside wall. And they removed it because it might inspire others,” Miller said. “I feel like they bury art in the Staller Center, the most geometric, least appealing building on campus.”

    The university called its arts festival, “A celebration of student expression.” But, Miller disagreed. “They say they are giving it a chance to get out into the open. [But] they change their minds and force us out of the campus’ sight.”

    The other piece that was de-installed was an exhibition, titled, “Untitled,” by Diane Panayiotou. This piece, according to Pearson, was also removed because the proper permissions were not received.

    The piece was a set of tombstones. “The intention is to create a nineteenth century cemetery,” Panayiotou said on the UNBOUND website. Pearson said aesthetics, again, was an issue.

    Gadoury said that she has received a lot of support from the faculty of graduate programs at the university, including from the Comparative Literature and Humanities departments.

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