Last week, days before the unveiling of a project at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach by artist lauren woods that concerns police violence, its executive director, Kimberli Meyer, was dismissed, the Long Beach Post has reported. (woods styles her name with lowercase letters.)
Now, Meyer, who was at the museum for two years, has told ARTnews that she is appealing the decision, and woods suggested that the content of her work, which went on view on Sunday, may have played a role in Meyer’s firing.
Meanwhile, the project itself is in a state of limbo. When the presentation, “American MONUMENT,” opened on Sunday, woods read a statement in support of Meyer and said that she was putting her work at the museum “on pause.” (Hyperallergic has an account of the protest and backstory on her work.)
In a phone interview, Meyer said she was notified of her termination last week, as she was preparing her opening remarks for woods’s piece. “There’s been a lot of anxiety at the university about lauren’s project,” she said. “The timing of it was just really interesting to me—that it was six days before the opening. I don’t know what to say about that.”
Though no longer on the job, she picked up woods, who is based in Dallas, from the airport, and “we were kind of reeling,” she said. “And then I decided that I actually should appeal . . . I started the process and now it’s in their court.”
woods, for her part, plans to keep her main sound installation from the show silenced until the university hears Meyer’s appeal. She has postponed indefinitely all community engagement events tied to her work.
woods’s “MONUMENT” was the first show that Meyer lined up after joining the institution, and woods said that for the nine months prior to the show, Meyer was highly collaborative in helping to realize it. Her piece, which looks at cases of African-Americans being killed by police offers, relies heavily on public records of police brutality that were obtained through the assistance of Meyer and the university.
“I tried to in a good faith effort to pivot and regroup, and figure out what I could produce without my main collaborator,” woods told ARTnews by phone, of continuing work on the show after the dismissal of Meyers. “For me, she was not just a museum director. She was a collaborator and a sounding board. . . . She’s a body of knowledge that was cut out from the project.”
“A day out, I decided I needed to change course,” woods said. “I knew it wasn’t right. I knew there was no way that ethically I could proceed like this. And physically I couldn’t. The monument’s launch was to initiate the public process of co-creation to continue building it out. Two months of public engagement and programs would result in finishing this iteration of the monument that we would officially unveil in November, and that planning relied on Kimberli.”
Since the opening, woods has been spending time with students on campus, whom she said were energized by Meyer’s emphatically progressive approach to running the museum. “For the first time they feel like they’re being seen,” she said, “and that’s been because Kimberli’s programming.”
When news first broke that Meyer was no longer at the museum, the university said that her departure was part of a larger process and that it supported woods’s show. The university has not replied to comment about the reasons for Meyer’s dismissal.
woods told ARTnews that she believes some staff members resistant to Meyer’s untraditional work environment. Meyer introduced monthly “vision meetings,” where employees would be encouraged to discuss how to make the museum more progressive. Additionally, woods said, speaking of her project, “The first concern the upper management had was that it would attract tiki torch burners, and Kimberli had to assert [to] them that this wasn’t a spectacle-based project.”
Of woods’s decision to pause her show, Meyer said, “I think her call is really outstanding, and this is a moment where the institution really could take a moment and reflect upon itself and think about real transformation.”
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