I’ll begin with the ethics conclusion, and show how we get there.
If your organization, institution, or nation owes its existence to an individual that hindsight-wielding critics want to erase, your choice is to tell them to get lost while continuing to officially recognize the debt such organization, institution, or nation owes to that individual, or to dissolve the entity. Recognizing in some form the fact that a founder has blemishes on his or her past may be justified and practical. Continuing to benefit from that founder’s actions while metaphorically kicking him or her in the teeth, however, is unethical and, in fact, despicable.
Thus we arrive at the current controversy at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The focus of the mess is the bust of Adrian Brundage you see above. Brundage is most remembered as the long-time (twenty years) President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and most reviled for his decision not to cancel the Munich Games in 1972 after the terrorist attack on the Israeli team in 1972. (I agreed with him then, incidentally, and still believe that he was correct, and courageous, in his decision.) Brundage also, however, created the Asian Art Museum, which is the centerpiece of San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, and which Brundage gave to the city in 1966 to house his fabulous personal collection of approximately 8,000 art pieces.
The New York Times story about the emerging controversy at the museum begins, “For 48 years, visitors to this city’s Asian Art Museum have had to pass the bust of Avery Brundage.” That’s right, they “had” to pass that bust because what they were coming to see belonged to Avery Brundage, the museum’s collection was his gift, and it was and is appropriate for that to be respected and acknowledged.
Given an opportunity by the zeitgeist of the George Floyd Freakout, however, the museum’s director and chief executive, Jay Xu, announced to a meeting of the board and commissioners in June that he was having Brundage’s bust removed. There are two reasons given in the article. One is that Brundage was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semitic (with the decision not to stop the 1972 Olympics being cited as a prime piece of evidence for the latter), and that the museum he created “presents Asian art from a mostly white perspective.”
As for the last complaint, I will characterize it this way: it’s racism, pure and straight.
The George Floyd Freakout is being used to justify a national effort to “Get whitey,” and this disgusting outbreak of anti-white hatred (that so many white Americans are accepting with the meek submission and hollowed out character of post rats-in-his-face Winston Smith) will not end until sufficient numbers of the rational label it what it is: opportunistic hate and racism.
The museum presents Asian art from a “mostly white perspective” because the museum’s collection was originally created by a collector of Asian Art who was white. That does not justify an indictment of the collection, and if an Asian-American wants to establish a museum that reflects Asian art from a mostly Asian-American perspective—not an Asian perspective now, be consistent, you racists!—then that Asian-American is welcome to spend millions on his or her own collection, give it to the city, and see if anybody wants to see it.
The subtext here is akin to the tribal segregation being promoted by the white voice actors who claim that they can’t voice mixed race cartoon characters, and it is equally as offensive to American values. A white American can’t collect Asian art? A white American can’t decide what kind of Asian art he or she likes, only an Asian can? A white American’s taste in Asian art is somehow invalid or not to be respected?
I have a two-word, six letter response to those assertions, but it would be unprofessional to express it here. (The first word begins with b, and the second with m.)
As a white American, I not only reject that proposition, I oppose it, and I declare it an offense to ethics and the culture. Avery Brundage is dead, but I’m not: look me in the eye and tell me that Ethics Alarms is invalid because it represents my perspective, and because I’m white, that it’s “problematical.” Tell me to my face that my artistic choices as co-founder of a professional theater dedicated to American stage works were less than worthy of respect and attention because I’m white. I don’t know how long my similarly-shaded fellow Americans will stand for this insult, but it won’t be forever, and whatever happens to the heralds of white denigration when their victims finally wake up will be completely deserved.
As for the accusations that Brudage was a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-Semite, there are three salient points. First, that’s all they are: accusations. The evidence is far from decisive; I’ve researched the issue. Second, since perspective is so important to Brundage’s critics, they are using present perspectives to judge the words and conduct of a man at a different time, in a different culture. That IS invalid, as well as unfair and biased. I might also say that it’s ignorant. As I recently noted in comments regarding Henry Ford on another post, before World War II many industrialists in America were more worried about Communism than fascism, and regarded Hitler as the lesser of two evils. They were wrong (though not by much) but being pro-Germany before the war was a common misconception that should not be judged so harshly by smug 21st Century dwellers.
Second, Brundage’s alleged anti-Semitism is based on uncharitable mind-reading, particularly regarding his controversial decision in 1972. The evidence is unequivocal that Brundage was a pro-Olympics fanatic from the Thirties on, and all of his statements and actions are properly analyzed from that perspective. (There’s that word again.)
Third, and most important of all, whether or not Brundage held ugly opinions and beliefs is irrelevant to his museum. I’m sick of making this point, and I’ve made it so often that I won’t even look for the links. Do your own searches for Washington, Jefferson, the Founders, or “The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck.”
Avery Brundage created an art museum that has given the people of San Francisco great pleasure and pride for more than half a century. That is a fact and a constant. The museum has also given its employees and administrators a purpose and jobs. The city, the museum and its beneficiaries owe him their recognition and gratitude, now, and as long as the museum stands.