At Macy’s, Fashion’s Night Out Causes Controversy

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Published September 7, 2009

Fashion’s Night Out inspiration by Sarah Ortmeyer. Courtesy the artist.


 

Macy’s windows are famed for their heart-warming annual “Miracle on 34th Street” themed displays. But for Fashion’s Night Out, Macy’s exceeds tradition. Window installations by leading contemporary artists organized by The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF)’s Crossing the Line festival and Macy’s Art Under Glass seasonal art series are co-curated by Julie Boukobza with Lili Chopra and Simon Dove of Crossing the Line. Their roster of artists will spotlight Viennese artist Sarah Ortmeyer; Iceland’s Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir aka Shoplifter; New Yorkers Rita Ackermann, Agathe Snow and Nick Van Woert; Berlin’s AIDS-3D; Brooklyn-based collective The Bruce High Quality Foundation; and a collaboration of French artists Marie Losier, Aya Kakeda and François Leloup-Collet.

“The show is populated with flags, iconic figures, Dodger’s quotes, a countdown clock, and Michael Jackson hands, showcasing Macy’s both as a landmark of the American dream and its own interrogation,” says Boukobza. “The mostly New York City-based artists featured allow the public to take a step back from their daily routines.”

For “FIST,” Ortmeyer arranged four historic images alongside items of Macy’s merchandise. By juxtaposing a string of pearls with the [in] famous fist bump between Michelle and Barak Obama; a shiny pair of handcuffs (sold at Macys? Naughty, naughty!) with a photo of Lee Harvey Osward in custody; Tommie Smith raising his fist on the 1968 Olympic podium in a black panther power salute alongside black gloves; and a red tie next to a photo of George W. Bush scowling in concentration while randomly touching fists with a smiling child, Ortmeyer could have been seen as politicizing Macy’s more banal wares. Reportedly, Macy’s was uncomfortable with the piece and asked the artist to withdraw his work. “I was really shocked about the last minute censorship, and the hardcore lack of freedom. I thought that this is more than disrespectful,” she says. “Macy’s is not paying any money consideration by the way, and I thought long and hard if I could work with them. But I didn’t want to give up the fight.” Her final piece involves four mirror-boxes and four silver necklaces. What should we conclude? Should “FIST” have been given a slap on the wrist or waved off the stage? Are these images really an affront to onlookers or did Macy’s miss an opportunity to beckon a new crowd into its doors?


The censored materials are on view at 45 Canal Street, New York.