The work, Stelen (Columns), 2007-2011 by Marc Adelman, was included in The Jewish Museum's exhibition, Composed: Identity, Politics, Sex, a selection of photo-based works by seven contemporary artists that went on view December 23, 2011. These artworks engage with art history and popular culture while exploring national, ethnic, and sexual identities. Stelen (Columns) is a selection of 50 photographs of men at Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The subjects are casually posed against the severe abstract forms of the Memorial. The photographs were profile pictures that had been posted to an Internet dating site based in the Netherlands, which is where Adelman found them. Stelen is in The Jewish Museum's collection.
TheHuffingtonPost.com ran an article on March 13, 2012 about Stelen being on view at The Jewish Museum in the Composed exhibition. The article also included some of the individual images that are included in Stelen. The Huffington Post appeared to have obtained these images directly from Marc Adelman. Following the article’s publication, we received complaints from several people whose profile pictures were included in Stelen. Their comments focused on privacy issues – that they were depicted in the artwork without their consent - and possible, significant anti-gay backlash to which they might be subjected. The Museum had several e-mail communications with the first person who complained and, in separate consultations with both this individual and Adelman, Adelman substituted an image of another person for that individual’s image.
The person who complained was joined by others. In the interest of being sensitive to the concerns that had been raised, we removed the entire artwork from the Composed exhibition and all of its images from The Jewish Museum’s website on May 7, 2012. Before doing so, we had a conversation with Marc Adelman and he expressed no objection. We removed the work to give us time to carefully consider the issues that had been surfaced by the complainants.
The removal of the artwork was not an act of censorship. We are taking the issues raised by the artwork and the concerns expressed by the complainants very seriously. We are considering multiple complex issues of privacy, privacy expectations regarding photos made available on social media, personal safety, and the legitimacy and consequences of image appropriation in the digital age.
The staff is planning a program, in consultation with a range of experts, that will examine the evolving and complicated areas of image appropriation, privacy with respect to images that are posted on the Internet, and First Amendment rights for artists and museums.