The Drawing Center Controversy
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.
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.