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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

An incredibly fascinating discussion is circulating around in the art world. As the presence of New Media art forms extend from the esoteric and rarely seen – in the case of Jst Chlln – into the light of the everyday, with online exhibitions presented on Youtube and the option of replacing Firefox ads with art, there comes into question the redefined role of the curator. Enter last month’s “New Style Curators” panel discussion at the New Museum featuring Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City, Ceci Moss of Rhizome at The New Museum, online media consultant Rex Sorgatz, and moderator Joanne McNeil of the Tomorrow Museum. In this influencial group’s attempt to answer the question of what online curating means, it only seems to stir up more questions – for them as much as for us. Do tweeters, re-tweeters, long-form bloggers, and folks with Tumblr accounts count as New Style Curators in their own right? They are, after all, selecting the images, words, and multimedia content that have special significance to them. What I’m curious to know, is what this means for the future of the traditional gallery space and the displaying of web-related art content? Will the “white space” be replaced with “no space”? I can’t wait to find out!

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“Bottom line, if people don’t say what they believe, those ideas and feelings get lost. If they are lost often enough, those ideas and feelings never return.” – David Wojnarowicz

This quote is from the website of David Wojnarowicz; a posthumous warning that foreshadows the recent ethical plight between the National Portrait Gallery and “A Fire in My Belly”, a video by Wojnarowicz that was recently censored from the museum’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition. In the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture, “Hide/Seek” considers such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society’s evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire, and romantic attachment. Wojnarowicz created his video piece “A Fire in My Belly” as a response to the “agony and suffering” of his partner who at the time was dying of AIDS. The piece includes some fairly grotesque imagery to comment on the fragility of flesh but it’s the scene in which a cross is covered in ants that caused the video piece to be removed from the exhibition at the behest of Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League who deemed the work “hate speech”.

In an act of solidarity, TRANSFORMER, an alternative art space in D.C., as well as the New Museum in NYC have decided to take a stand on the side of freedom of expression and are looping the Wojnarowicz video for all to see. Argot & Ochre supports the expressive creative projects of all voices and has invited MANIAC Gallery curator and art writer, Petra Royale Bibeau to share her comments on this topic.

(rebuttal for the removal of Wojnarowicz work from SEEK/FIND exhibition at the NPG)

WORSE THAN A CULTURE WAR, THE ABSENCE OF ONE.

By Petra Royale Bibeau

The censoring of the Wojnarowicz piece at the National Portrait Gallery due to claims of an “anti-Christian” sentiment has highlighted the importance of the nations alternative spaces. While the Catholic League For Religious and Civil Rights, an organization along side House Speaker John Boehner, behind the claim of the anti-Christian sentiment, boasts a mission to ‘protect religion and its freedom of speech’, citing the First Amendment, TRANSFORMER, a DC alternative space, has taken up the slack by hosting the video on loop in their storefront window.

With the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to remove Wojnarowicz’s work, the idea of freedom of speech has again become limited and exclusionary, removing the same right for others, and worse, without any acknowledgement of the major flaw in reasoning. Most concerning, is what Christopher Knight of the LA Times pointed out regarding Smithsonian’s Secretary G. Wayne Clough’s act of removing the Wojnarowicz piece from the exhibition: “Clough’s unfortunate decision gave tacit credence to their claim that the censored art is “anti-Christian.”

If it is called anti-Christian, it is so in the sense that the Church does not appreciate the legacy of their judgements during Wojnarowicz’s time viewed now through a contemporary context. Wojnarowicz’s ‘Fire In My Belly’ visually establishes a haunting account of both American governmental and (largely Christian) religious resistance of the epidemic during the height of the AIDS crisis in America by using larger/global iconographical reference. Specifically, the work addresses the harsh global realities, more so than personal commentary. The fact that Wojnarowicz’s use of a cross covered in ants as a symbol relaying the sickness of the sheer amount of people dying due to the rapid spread of AIDS coupled with the dismissal of the epidemic by the Church, is being called into question as anti-Christian precludes the real issue of historic relevance and integrity. Not only an integrity loss for the millions of people effected by this particular point in time, but also the integrity of a secular institution to successfully curate and develop full exhibitions historically and culturally relevant to an audience. The unfortunate removal of the work is an insult to LGBT community, as it goes without saying that this work is both historically accurate and relevant to the whole of the exhibition and is an important part of American art history.

Adding insult to injury, Clough’s decision of removal came across as apologetic as cited on the National Portrait Gallery’s website in a letter apologizing for offending anyone. Whereas Boehner and the Catholic League expressed no hesitation asserting a gross demand on the claim that a portion of Wojanrowicz’s piece is considered ‘anti-Christian’, The NPG, a secular institution gatekeeping cultural relevance in the public sector did not provide an appropriate context and/or rebuttal to this claim. This negligence alone begs the question: what is more insulting, the fact that the work was removed, or the fact that no one provided the appropriate context and insisted on its merit and worth for inclusion in “the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture”?

This is a simple and obvious issue of censorship that esteems to alter and erase history and to replace with an edited version by the same institution that the art was being made to address in an educated manner. The removal of this work seeks to destroy and discredit the very real struggle and public plight of the LGBT community specifically from the late 1970s onward in the face of gross negligence and superfluous public hate campaigns.This is no different than removing atrocities dealt to African-Americans during civil rights to appease a white majority and calling any reference to said atrocities anti-American, for example. The integrity of American intellect and history is at great risk with these types of decisions, most especially when responsibility is not taken for specific acts and reasoning that have shaped the American psyche for the past 30 years. This is not an acceptable decision, nor is it appropriate to censor a real expression from the point in time where this work was conceived under very real conditions, in response to very real attitudes that permeate our society to this very day.

In 2010, this issue is not as closely related to the 1990s culture wars as expected. This isn’t simply a question of conflicting cultural values, as this issue has only really been unilaterally dealt with, it gives the appearance as there are no real conflicts with the decision or consequence, or as Knight argues, the label itself. There has been little to no rebuttal from Clough or the Smithsonian, and it has largely gone (critically) unaddressed. As gatekeepers of culture, if that is in fact the position defined, it is their job to assure cultural relevance and historic accuracy for the public. Political and/or religious bargaining is not on the agenda. For now, if you wish to see the entire HIDE/SEEK exhibition, including Wojanarowicz’s piece, the missing video is being playing on loop in the storefront window of Transformer, an alternative space in DC.

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Art and the Economy

Earlier today the AP released a 2009 Census Bureau statistic that states that 1 in 7 Americans live in poverty. This is a pretty somber statistic and it got me thinking about its impact on art. Artists are survivors, the veritable cockroach in the cataclysm, adept at thriving on a diet of Top Ramen, Country Club 40s and fast food value menus while always managing to acquire art supplies – legitimately or otherwise. When it comes to creativity, I tend to believe that deprivation is the best innovator. But given the years of plenty that preceded the recent economic fallout, I feel that it resulted in a lot of art that was less than inspired. Perhaps things were too easy there for a while? I’m not one to say. But what I’m curious is what to expect from art during these current, monitarily meager times? Perhaps art will regain its soul and say a thing or two about a thing or two instead of a whole lotta white noise.

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