On Thursday morning a letter appeared on the Frieze website asking for removal of the controversial painting, Open Casket. It appeared to be a remarkably fulsome apology for the work’s transgressions, and it was welcomed by her critics. It included a call for publications to remove images of the painting from their pages. The press office of the Whitney Museum and Evan Moffitt, assistant editor at Frieze, have now confirmed to the New Republic that the statement was a hoax.
Over the last week Schutz’s painting, which depicts Emmett Till’s corpse, drew significant criticism and backlash. On Tuesday morning, artist and writer Hannah Black penned an open letter calling for the painting’s removal and destruction.
Although Schutz’s intention may be to present white shame, this shame is not correctly represented as a painting of a dead Black boy by a white artist – those non-Black artists who sincerely wish to highlight the shameful nature of white violence should first of all stop treating Black pain as raw material. The subject matter is not Schutz’s; white free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.
As the New Republic reported on Wednesday, the painting went beyond the usual frame of appropriation. Schutz’s good intentions were overshadowed by a clear tone-deafness toward the politics of the case, namely Mamie Till Mobley’s decision to hold an open casket funeral for her son and thereby control his visual legacy.
In a move that Moffitt called “conspiratorial,” an unknown group emailed the publication using an email address that initially appeared to be authentic. Moffitt reported that the name used in the so-called “name field” was identical to Schutz’s own (Dana Schutz Studio), although the email address itself was not. Frieze’s Berlin office is currently liaising with Schutz’s gallery, CFA Berlin, to investigate who may have been behind the hoax. We have written to that email address for comment and are awaiting reply.
The hoax will only continue to stoke the flames of controversy around Schutz’s already divisive painting. Presumably the organization or individual(s) behind the act will claim credit in coming hours. Until then, we are left with a painting and a mystery.