The Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. Photo: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects.

After Harassment Accusations, ICA to Close Nicholas Nixon Show at Artist's Behest

The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston is ending an exhibition of Nicholas Nixon’s photographs ten days before the scheduled closing date after the artist, who was recently accused of sexual harassment by former students at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, asked the museum to shut it down. In a statement provided to Artnet, the ICA quoted Nixon as saying that he felt his works could no longer “be viewed on their own merits.” The museum originally intended to create new signage for the show following the allegations, a controversial move that would have kept the show up until April 22. The exhibition, which displays Nixon’s acclaimed series “The Brown Sisters,” will now conclude at the end of today.  

The Boston Globe published an in-depth report last week detailing numerous accusations leveled by students that claimed Nixon had engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct for years. Nixon retired from MassArt in late March amid an investigation into whether or not he violated Title IX. Although he apologized to students in a statement to the Globe, the seventy-year-old photographer’s lawyer said “the conduct we’re aware of was strictly consensual.”

On April 6, the museum initiated an open forum where director Jill Medvedow and chief curator Eva Respini elaborated the original decision to leave the exhibition up. The online forum, which has since been deleted, invited staff members to share their perspectives on the matter. Some voiced dismay over the museum’s decision, including one anonymous commenter labeled as an ICA staff member who wrote: “Presented with an opportunity to make a controversial but morally guided decision, the ICA chose to protect the problematic artist and its own pockets. This demonstrates the ICA has no intention of upholding the radical values it touts in its mission statement.”

At a time when many museums are reckoning with how or whether to exhibit work by artists accused of sexual misconduct—earlier this year, the National Gallery cancelled shows by Chuck Close and Thomas Roma following similar allegations—Medvedow brought up the difficulty of determining the museum’s responsibilities. “I struggle with competing truths,” she wrote in the now-deleted web forum. “The truth told by the individuals cited in The Globe, the divergent opinions of our staff, and the ICA’s commitment to share all that contemporary art offers . . . including its controversies, complexities and conflicts.”