Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York 2016.

Williams College Museum of Art Presents The Annual Plonsker Family Lecture in Contemporary Art Artist Michael Rakowitz

For immediate release: April 19, 2010

Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) announced today that internationally acclaimed artist Michael Rakowitz will deliver the Annual Plonsker Family Lecture in Contemporary Art. The lecture will take place on Thursday, October 28 at 7:30 pm at Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall on the Williams College campus. This is a free public event and all are invited to attend.


Michael Rakowitz is an American artist of Iraqi descent. Although many of his recent art projects have been defined by his interest in the relationship between Iraq and the West, Rakowitz’s work also focuses on social issues in the U.S., and many of these projects have been located in public spaces rather than in traditional gallery spaces. One of Rakowitz’s more recent artworks, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (2007), tells the story of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, which was looted after the U.S. invasion in 2003. In weaving his narrative, Rakowitz plans to recreate 7,000 missing objects, including friezes, ceramics, and votive statues, with materials the artist found in various Middle Eastern neighborhoods in the U.S. such as Arab newspapers and food packaging. Rakowitz uses standard museum practices in the identification of each art object, which includes labels stating each object’s museum number and provenance. However, instead of textual information about the object, Rakowitz includes quoted reactions to the looting from Iraqi archeologists, American military commanders, and others.


“Michael Rakowitz’s art addresses timely questions that are currently being pondered by museums around the world,” explains Class of 1956 Director Lisa Corrin. “Who owns the past? We know when an object is removed from its context, its meaning changes. An altarpiece goes from an Italian church to an American museum and becomes something else. It is the same with ancient artifacts. Once they have been removed, what is our responsibility to them? A museum is obligated to consider such questions when it puts the past on display. The first works of art to come to Williams in 1851 were Assyrian reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II from ancient Kalhu, which is modern Nimrud, Iraq.”


“This spring WCMA is re-presenting its collections in ten galleries,” continues Corrin. “One gallery will focus on the reliefs as a ‘collection of histories’ traversing the ancient past to the present, and will contemplate how they took on new meanings within the history of Williams. Michael’s lecture is especially relevant as we complete work on this thought-provoking installation.”


The Annual Family Plonsker Lecture in Contemporary Art

The Plonsker Family Lecture Series in Contemporary Art was established in 1994 by Madeleine Plonsker, Harvey Plonsker (Class of 1961) and their son, Ted Plonsker (Class of 1986), to examine current issues in contemporary art. Past lectures include the symposium “Jackson Pollock: Beneath the Surface, A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67″; and lectures by acclaimed artists Gregory Crewdson, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Vik Muniz, Carolee Schneemann, and Kara Walker.

About the Artist

Michael Rakowitz (b. 1973, New York) is an artist based in Chicago and New York City. In 1998 he initiated paraSite, an ongoing project in which the artist custom builds inflatable shelters for homeless people that attach to the exterior outtake vents of a building’s heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system. His work has appeared in venues worldwide including P.S. 1, MoMA, MassMOCA, Castello di Rivoli, the 10th Istanbul Biennial, Sharjah Biennial 8, Tirana Biennale, National Design Triennial at the Cooper Hewitt, and Transmediale 05. He has had solo exhibitions at Lombard-Fried Projects in New York, Stadtturgmgalerie/Kunstraum Innsbruck, and the Tate Modern in London. His recent public project, “Return,” was presented by Creative Time in New York. He is the recipient of a 2008 Creative Capital Grant for a collaboration with Emna Zghal, the Sharjah Biennial Jury Award, a 2006 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Grant in Architecture and Environmental Structures, the 2003 Dena Foundations Award, and the 2002 Design 21 Grand  Prix from UNESCO. His work is in many private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Architecture and Design Collection, UNESCO, Paris, and the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. Rakowitz is also Contributing Editor for Surface Tension: A Journal on Spatial Arts.