Friday, June 24, 2005

The Drawing Center Controversy

So I'm listening to 1010 WINS on the radio this morning, and the announcer says "Families of 9/11 victims are upset again." The way he pronounced "again" implied that this was becoming tedious, and my first response was to think, "Hey, leave those folks alone. Whatever has prompted them to speak out, they deserve to be heard." I was still uncaffienated, mind you.

What's got the families of 9/11 victims upset now? Plans to move
The Drawing Center to the redeveloped World Trade Center site (with the moronically titled "Freedom Tower"). Why would this upset them? Because they feel the Drawing Center has exhibited unpatriotic, even offensive, artwork and that's inappropriate for Ground Zero.

I have a wide range of responses to that assertion. First and foremost, I understand that for many years or even generations to come, the location where the attacks took place will remain sacred to many people, and there are indeed reasons to be careful about what they'll be subjected to when visiting that location. Personally, I can't think of anything more offensive than rebuilding a symbol of unbridled capitalism there, but that's me.

Secondly (and here's where I know I risk pissing folks off, but stay with me, I'm just being honest), I never thought moving The Drawing Center to Ground Zero was a good idea. When I first heard of those plans it struck me as a bit tacky and somewhat shortsighted of the Center. Don't get me wrong. I think they do amazing work. And because their current neighborhood is no longer the art lover's destination it used to be, I imagine their attendance has waned a bit, so I totally support their moving to a higher profile location.

But the World Trade Center location will be a huge tourist draw, spanning the spectrum of people from around the world, many of whom don't see much art, let alone much art by "emerging and under-recognized artists", so any exhibition space there probably should be a bit fluffier and/or more universal than the Center's program has been to date. To assume their program has a wide enough appeal to serve that audience in that frame of mind, or that any institution with their reputation for rigourous cutting-edge curating could, is a bit naive in my opinion. Yes, the whole world should be encouraged to visit their space, but in a different context from the one the whole world will be expecting at Ground Zero. That doesn't mean Ground Zero should be a Freedom-flouting Disneyfied theme park, just that I can't imagine the feedback from tourists who--- expecting stars and stripes and John Philip Sousa---stumble into the Drawing Center won't end up changing the type of work they exhibit, and that would be a loss. Regardless of how firmly they stand up to criticism, the impact will be felt.

Thirdly, I think the families complaining about the art the Drawing Center has exhibited might benefit from learning just a bit about what the they're sounding off about. From the radio report I recognized a few of the "controversial" works they're objecting to. WINS didn't have this story up on their website when I was writing this, so I've taken this description of a few from the always dreary
New York Daily News (which is where WINS gets half their stories from anyways it seems):

  • [A] drawing of a jetliner dive-bombing a naked, spread-legged woman.
  • The infamous hooded Abu Ghraib figure, the wires falling from his wrists to arrange themselves into the word "Liberty."
  • A connect-the-dots organizational chart fancifully linking George W. Bush to Osama Bin Laden and former Texas Gov. John Connally and some oilman here and some financier there.
The last one is a piece by the late Mark Lombardi, who I knew to be an extraordinarily generous person with an impeccable degree of integrity about his work. Anyone who thinks that piece is inappropriate in any context has an allergy to the truth. The other pieces are perhaps a bit provocative for the audience I expect to flock to the new World Trade Center (only perhaps, mind you). But, again, I imagine the Drawing Center would think twice about showing work like that there based on the feedback I'm sure their more casual visitors would offer (I'd hope to be proven wrong about that, but again, I'm just being honest). All of which, again, is why I never thought their moving there was a good idea.

Finally, what would be a total abuse of the empathy the nation has for the families of 9/11 victims would be for them to get carried away with this latest protest and somehow demonize the Drawing Center. The tone of the quotes from family members (not to mention the tone of the Daily News' preposterously ignorant editorial, in which they demand to be told what the space's curatorial vision for the future is) is already beyond offensive to me, but the potential is there for some grandstanding politician to offer the Center up as the next "Piss Christ" example of what's wrong with the arts. The Drawing Center is a gem among New York's cultural institutions. It deserves better than this. Still, for totally different reasons, I agree it shouldn't move to Ground Zero. The pity in this is that the hacks at the Daily News will make a big deal about how they saved the nation from this scourge if the plans are changed. But only fools take them seriously anyway.


Blogger carol es said...

maybe the drawing center should move, but not to the wtc. yick!

6/24/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree snoopy. I can't imagine why they thought the WTC location was a good move.

6/24/2005 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous bambino said...

totally agree with you guys. maybe they should move to chelsea like everyone else.

6/24/2005 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous mdv said...

I've always thought that was a bad move, if only because I know most of us would rarely make the trip down there.

6/24/2005 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

if only because I know most of us would rarely make the trip down there.


6/24/2005 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

How about a Thomas Kinkade shop at the WTC? Seriously, WTC is too sensitive a spot to do anything but leave it open space. The Drawing Center, which I was lucky to be a part of Selections 32, should move to Chelsea or Mid-town. Stay as far away from WTC as possible
One last thought, there may be a Drawing Center board member conected to the real estate manuverings down there.

6/24/2005 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

there may be a Drawing Center board member conected to the real estate manuverings down there.

That wouldn't surprise me.

part of Selections 32

is there a link on their site for that?

6/24/2005 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I only see lists of names on there site.

6/24/2005 03:14:00 PM  

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