When Diana Crane heard the Nicholas Nixon retrospective would abruptly close a week and a half ahead of schedule, she rushed over to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see it.
"I literally cleared my calendar to get here this morning," Crane said outside of the museum. "I was supposed to come on the 20th with a group of friends. And when I heard the report last night that it was closing, I said, 'I have to get there.'"
Crane had seen the photos that are at the center of the exhibit before.
The series is called "The Brown Sisters," and it captures Nixon's wife Bebe and her three sisters in a group portrait, every year over four decades. The four sisters stand close together, always in the same order, and stare intently at the camera without smiling.
The first time Crane saw the series was years ago at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She says she sat in front of it for over an hour.
"I was so taken by it, and so moved by it," she said. "I just found it extremely powerful."
The series has been celebrated by feminists as an authentic portrayal of sisterhood, and aging. But Crane says seeing it this time wasn't quite the same.
"Because of the controversy, I was really really sad, on a lot of levels," she said. Crane feels Nixon's work is now tainted, and few galleries and museums will want to display it.
She, like a lot of people, is struggling with whether we can separate the art from an artist who is accused of sexually harassing his students while a professor at MassArt.
The Boston Globe reported last week on a number of the allegations: that Nixon asked his students to pose nude for him, that he sent students sexually explicit emails, and that he showed them photos of his own genitalia.
"If this had happened at my school, I would be deeply heart broken," said Natalie Schaefer, an artist and photographer in Boston. She didn't go to MassArt, but she knows people who did. She says, part of the issue is that Nicholas Nixon is also not just any professor — he's in textbooks on the history of photography. "The Brown Sisters" used to hang in the Smithsonian. Schaefer says the students probably saw Nixon as a hero.
"Half the reason they go to MassArt likely is because they know he works there," she said. "So they already really respect him as this celebrity."
Schaefer says museums that celebrate Nixon are giving him the power that allowed him to behave this way in the first place.
However, others in the photography community disagree
Nina Berman is a photographer and professor at Columbia University. She says she feels uncomfortable with the idea of censoring Nixon's art based on his behavior.
"He's done a lifetime worth of work. When did this bad behavior begin?" Berman asked. "You can't really judge someone's creative output that way."
The Institute of Contemporary Art apparently came to the same conclusion. After the stories of sexual harassment became public, the museum decided against pulling the exhibition early. ICA officials posted a new sign in the gallery informing people of the allegations and opened a public forum on their website for discussion.
The decision to leave the exhibition up was a controversial one, even within the museum itself. Several commenters on the online forum, who identified themselves as ICA staff members, wrote that they were "disappointed" and even "ashamed" of the decision.
But then, Nixon requested that the exhibition be taken down — and the museum is respecting his wishes.
In a statement, he said it's impossible for the photographs to be viewed on their own merit any longer.
"With deep regret, and only after careful thought, I believe it is more respectful to all concerned — to your mission, and to the work itself — to take down the show ahead of schedule, and remove the exhibit as soon as possible," Nixon wrote.
Diana Crane seems to agree even though "The Brown Sisters" meant so much to her.
"To me, it's like watching my own life," she said wistfully. "When you look at the pictures, because of the glass, you see yourself in it. Those women are my age. The photographer was born the same year I was. And so I'm looking at those pictures, as they age, all those years ... And it's taking me through my whole life."
ICA employees say they don't know what will happen with the photos now.