The tagline for the School of Art’s Annual Student Exhibition, which will run Friday through May 14, asserts the student creations will leave the studio and be displayed for the public. One piece of art, however, will not get to the museum in full form.
Even though first year M.F.A student Alton DuLaney finished his piece, which features a revolver, months ago, it will be exhibited without the gun in the Blaffer Art Museum after the UH Office of the General Counsel prohibited it.
“Ideally, the museum should be the one making that decision, not the police department,” DuLaney said. “My goal is just to bring attention to this whole situation, both the censorship and the fact that (handguns) will be allowed on campus in classrooms soon but not in the museum.”
DuLaney, who studies interdisciplinary practice and emerging forms, intended for his piece to be shown as he originally designed it: a revolver enclosed in a glass frame with a silk flag reading “ART” emerging from the barrel. DuLaney said he hoped his piece would be an innocuous statement and ignite conversations regarding campus carry.
After DuLaney created the piece, he contacted UHPD directly. His query was forwarded to the Office of the General Counsel, which said DuLaney would not be allowed to have the gun on campus. The piece will now hang in the exhibition without the revolver.
“Under current Texas state law, firearms are forbidden on campus. The fact that they may be exhibited as part of an arts exhibition doesn’t change the analysis,” according to a statement from the Office of the General Counsel, which does not consider the prohibition as censorship.
“No guns are currently allowed on campus. We do not censor art,” said UH Chief of Police Ceaser Moore Jr. in an email.
DuLaney and IPEF Director John Reed, who approved DuLaney’s piece for the exhibition, disagree.
“In an art gallery context, this is my first example of censorship,” Reed said. “If somebody can’t express themselves, then it is censorship. Sometimes, we as a society feel that’s justified, and sometimes we feel that it’s not.”
In this case, Reed said the UHPD and General Counsel’s decision had no justification.
“The gun in the piece is really not available as a gun,” Reed said. “It’s mounted in a frame. It has a flag down its barrel. It’s unloaded, and it’s in an environment where security is watching it the entire time the gallery is open. Humorously, it would be far easier to walk in with your own gun than to come in, steal that gun, load it and then use it for something. It’s really not a safety issue.”
Reed called DuLaney a “wise student and mature thinker” who raises questions before stepping back and allowing the viewers to come up with their own answers.
DuLaney said he hoped his piece would encourage people to ask questions like, “By not allowing the gun into the the exhibition, was even more power given to the object, and thereby validated the power of the ART by censoring it?” and “Is a museum a sacred space?”
“I think that’s an artist’s job: put the question out there so that we have to deal with it, and that’s what he’s tried to do,” Reed said. “With or without the gun, the discussion has to happen. Whether (Blaffer Art Museum’s director and chief curator) Claudia Schmuckli’s version of the show or Ceaser Moore’s version of the show is what we see, Alton’s piece, luckily, will bring up the same discussion either way.”