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Hirshhorn’s Decision to Postpone Wodiczko Projection Is a Missed Opportunity, Critics Say

After a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left seventeen people dead, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, decided to reschedule the restaging of an artwork—a massive projection featuring a large image of two hands, one holding a gun and the other a candle, that was set to be displayed on the building’s exterior. The decision has sparked an outcry among art critics and creative professionals.

For Philip Kennicott, the chief art and architecture critic of the Washington Post, the museum’s response was misguided. “No doubt the museum would have attracted controversy had it gone forward with the projection now, in part from people genuinely troubled by the images. But postponing it plays into a fundamental misunderstanding of how artworks like this operate,” Kennicott wrote in an editorial for the Washington Post.

Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight called it “a missed opportunity” on Twitter. “This would be the perfect time for the art world to address gun violence,” he wrote. Andrew Russeth of Artnews also chimed in on Twitter: “Project it every single night until sensible gun control legislation is passed and signed into law.”

The museum released a statement on the day of the shooting, Thursday, February 14, that said, “Now is a time for mourning and reflection, and out of sensitivity to our community in DC and beyond, the Hirshhorn, Smithsonian leadership, and artist Krzysztof Wodiczko have made the decision to postpone the artist’s projection, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC. We remain committed to exhibiting this important work, which is still relevant today—thirty years following its original showing. We look forward to restaging the work in its original format at a later date.” The artist added, “To me, the silence feels most respectful. In this case, not showing the projection shows respect and sensitivity to the people who suffer from this great tragedy.”

However, many critics of the decision have pointed out that there may be no right time to show the work. Robin Bell, a Washington, DC–based artist known for his own projections—on more than one occasion he has projected words and phrases on the facade of the Trump International Hotel as an act of protest—also disagreed with the Hirshhorn. “Yesterday was the eighteenth school shooting in forty-five days in the US. We need this art more than ever,” he wrote on Twitter.

The restaging of the piece, which was first commissioned and projected on the museum thirty years ago, was meant to coincide with the opening of the exhibition “Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s,” which will be on view until May 13. Wodiczko created the work as political commentary on the hot-button issues that were central to the 1988 presidential election, such as gun control and reproductive rights.