Shoot out over censorship at Art Institute


Steven Earl Weber
Steven Earl Weber, Might Makes Right, 2006, ceramic, etched and painted glass, one of Steven Earl Weber’s pieces protesting gun violence

We’ve been getting emails for a couple of days now about a censored piece of art at the Art Institute Gallery.

The exhibit, Killing Time, curated by 32 Art Institute students under the direction of the teacher Patrick Coue, opens tonight, reception 4:30 to 7:30, featuring work by six artists–Lauren Rossi, Jaime Alvarez, Steven Earl Weber, David Kessler, Tommy Reynolds, Katherine Kesslering and Joan Smith.

Our first alert about the censorship came from the artist whose work is in question–Steven Earl Weber. He wrote:

In a city plagued with gun violence an art exhibit that comments on gun violence is being censored by the President (Dr. William Larkin) of the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia artist Steven Earl Weber was invited to exhibit in a show at the Art Institute of Philadelphia called “Killing Time,” because of the political nature of his past works. After he had installed his piece today it was deemed offensive by President Larkin and is now being covered up with black curtains and is under threat of removal…

Since then, emails have come in from other exhibitors in the show–Joan Smith and David Kessler–asking for letters protesting the censorship, to be sent to Larkin at the Art Institute:
President’s Office
Direct 215-405-6373
FAX 215-405-6398

David also sent along a copy of the protest letter he sent:

Dear Dr. Larkin,

I am one of the artists in the current Art Institute student curated exhibition ‘Killing Time’. I am writing to you to address your decision to censor fellow artist, Steven Earl Weber’s work from the show.

Sir, censorship of any sort is offensive and abhorrent and at an art school it is doubly so. The fact that artwork should be censored in an institution of higher learning in a major US city is disgusting and backwards.

Your judgment regarding Weber’s work specifically was especially misguided and wrong. Steven’s work often addresses issues in society that cause division, forcing people to choose philosophical or sometimes fundamental positions in their lives, whether that is religion or science or in this case the role of handguns. The piece entitled Glorification was intended to spark discussion and to call attention to the glorification of guns, the plague of urban violence and gun laws from any perspective. It was a metaphor. The positioning of the piece, in a window in Center City, away from the majority of gun violence and therefore easier to forget about, made it all that more relevant. But you sir, took it upon yourself to close down any communication at a time when it is most crucial.

This was a student curated show. What do you think this tells the students at your school about art and the importance of their own voices?

Not only did you force Steven to remove the work, you refused to even discuss the matter with him or address the students that curated the show and worked for months on it. This shows a staggering lack of character and integrity on your part. You need to at least have to courage to defend your position.

The Philadelphia art world is a growing and closely-knit community. The artists here and people like Weber, who runs a gallery of his own, are working tirelessly to make Philadelphia a place where artists want to come live and work, where their voices will be heard. This type of censorship will not go unnoticed and will surely have a negative effect on you and how your school is viewed.

I’m calling you to publicly defend your position or to allow Steven to reinstall his work.


David S Kessler

Our latest communication suggests the other artists in the show may stage an act of protest in solidarity with Steven. There’s some discussion of shrouding all the work in the show.

We are going to the show today in solidarity with the artists, students and faculty. We don’t know if what we’ll see is art or a protest.

Here at artblog, we are against censorship of art. We hope the president of the school reopens channels of communication with all affected, and reinstates the work. I am always puzzled by the sort of action that ends up raising more hackles and drawing more attention than solving problems. But maybe all this fuss will bring out more people than usual to see the show, and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

We’ll let you know what we see and hear.


art institute, david kessler, joan smith, steven earl weber



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