Thursday, February 05, 2009

Talk About Biting the Hand That Feeds You (with UPDATES)

Freedom of expression cuts both ways. Just because you're free to express your opinions in no way obligates people who learn of those opinions to continue to view you in the same way they might have before they knew how you feel. If, for example, you say or do something hateful toward a minority who thought you were an ally, any claims you might have had on their allegiance are immediately made null and void until which time you satisfactorily explain why you deserve their former esteem.

Such is the reality rather quickly dawning on painter/critic Maureen Mullarkey, I suspect.

Ironically, on the same day that Andrew Sullivan noted how little impact there seems to have been in response to a map pinpointing the people who had donated funding to the purely hateful Proposition 8 that passed in California in November, someone forwards me this story:
A New York artist known for her colorful canvases of drag queens and gay pride parades gave $1,000 to help pass California's ban on same-sex marriage.

Maureen Mullarkey, 66, made her sizable contribution to the National Organization for Marriage's "Yes on 8" fund in June, a Daily News review of campaign records found.

The Westchester County woman was one of tens of thousands who poured a total of more than $40 million into the coffers of Proposition 8 support groups - money that helped convince California voters to overturn an earlier court decision granting gays the right to marry in the Golden State.

Questioned outside her home in tony Chappaqua - the same town where Bill and Hillary Clinton live - she refused to discuss her donation last night.

When asked how she could have donated money to fight gay marriage after making money from her depictions of gays, she just said, "So?"

"If you write that story, I'll sue you," she said.

On her Web site, Mullarkey says gay parades are a "marvelous spectacle" and "assertion of solidarity."

"It is an erotic celebration loosed for a day to keep us all mindful that Dionysus is alive, powerful and under our own porch," said Mullarkey, a former art critic for the now-defunct New York Sun.
I won't point you to Mullarkey's work. She's gotten more than enough support from gay art lovers, IMO. I will point out that she's inadvertently opened up a more damning critique of her work than the notion she's exploiting a minority for her own financial gain: by exoticizing a group of citizens she clearly feels are second-class, her work can truly be defined as promoting bias. She does offer this lame defense that it's only fair to share:
"Artists are not in the habit of imposing ideological conformity on one another or demanding it from others," she said. "Moreover, regard for individual gay persons does not require assent to a politicized assault on bedrock social reality and the common good."
"Regard for individual gay persons"? You mean how "normal" people might anthropomorphize a pet and project similar feelings on them they would otherwise reserve for their own species? Regard like that?

Ms. Mullarkey is, as noted, fully entitled to her opinions, as are her gay collectors who may now see the works they paid for as contributing to their own public belittlement and oppression.

UPDATE: Joanne Mattera responds from a personal point of view (she has known Ms. Mullarkey for years); Joe My God knows someone who has bought one of her paintings and will be asking him about this news (love the fact that one of his labels for the post is "assholism"; and Brian Sherman provides more details on Ms. Mullarkey's defense of her donation.

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Anonymous Ken Hagler said...

From the last two paragraphs of that quoted story, it doesn't look like she was hiding her opinions much before. She sounds just like a writer from Victorian England talking condescendingly about the customs of some primitive tribe in a backwater of the British Empire.

2/05/2009 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger Ian Aleksander Adams said...

I often get a similar vibe from many people whose art focuses on a specific minority group. They may profess to be educated liberal artists, but their attitude has much in common with conservative missionaries.

2/05/2009 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

The issue of the artist's political views changing the work is an interesting one. I gather that before her donation to the Prop 8 campaign was publicized, her paintings of participants at the gay parade were regarded in one way, and now, in the context of her politics, they are viewed another way.

"her work can truly be defined as promoting bias."

Something about that change, based not on the work itself, but on the artist's political views, feels wrong and smacks of PC. On the other hand, we don't live in a vacuum, nor do we experience art in a vacuum (maybe a waste-basket... but I digress). Once we know these things about the artist, we can't unknow them. It does raise all sorts of questions, especially about the intent of the artist.

2/05/2009 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Something about that change, based not on the work itself, but on the artist's political views, feels wrong and smacks of PC.

Viewers will project their own values onto art, there's no doubt about that. Some people seeing any portrait of a drag queen will see "the other." It's simply inconceiveable to me in this day and age that someone would devote a huge body of work to people she sees as sub-human, though. So while I agree with your assessment that knowing this about her changes my opinion is the worst kind of Political Correctness, it just goes to show you that PC has a lot of work left to accomplish before it should be retired.

2/05/2009 04:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric c said...

"Une vraie folle!", that's all I have to say.

Cedric Casp

2/05/2009 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

She used THEM as a PROP for her ART? Oh dear!

If she were a tenured cultural studies professor and you replaced "gays" with "non-whites" she would get a big fat grant.

2/05/2009 11:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Peter Cowling said...

Self-promotion of this sort is a widespread issue. Take Bush's apparent mandate after his initial failure as a politician: I'll never be out-Texased again. Religion was just one of the cards he played from thereon in.

The good news is that this ploy simply never works. Look at two people who everyone knows, and who gained popularity this way: Bush and Madonna - two people who seem to now view everyone else as sub-human. Make a deal with the devil...

2/06/2009 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

You can’t buy this kind of publicity. Now, an artist whose name I never think about, will be floating around in my head. The paintings, that I never considered very “challenging”, will have a patina of “transgressivness” they don’t deserve.

The value of an artist’s work is in direct relation to their reputation (good or bad), thanks for the market spike. Can we say one person show at the Salt Palace? Inclusion in the Vatican Collection?

2/06/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger pelacus said...

I think it's all there in her paintings: condescension, hidebound conservatism, a forced and sentimental lyricism. I'm not sure she deserves to attacked for her retrograde politics when her paintings, her chosen soapbox, after all, make such a plump target. It's also hard for me to sympathize with the disillusioned collectors who bought this stuff when they thought it was pro-gay.

2/06/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not sure she deserves to attacked for her retrograde politics when her paintings, her chosen soapbox, after all, make such a plump target.

Attacked? She spends $1000 to strip people living thousands of miles away from her of hard-earned human rights and she's the victim here? Puh-lease.

I mean it's not as if she stepped into a voting booth in her own state and voted her conscience, she made a very determined donation to an effort so far removed from where she calls home that it cannot be viewed as other than outright hostile.

Who is attacking whom here?

It's also hard for me to sympathize with the disillusioned collectors who bought this stuff when they thought it was pro-gay.

Supporting an artist through purchases often transcends the desire to have any particular piece by that artist among philanthropic collectors, so that is a bit harsh of a statement IMO.

Quality issues aside, my goal here is to alert any gay person who may be thinking of buying her work in the future to the fact that such proceeds may end up then being spent to deny them their inalienable right to pursue their own happiness.

2/06/2009 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

Quality issues aside, my goal here is to alert any gay person who may be thinking of buying her work in the future to the fact that such proceeds may end up then being spent to deny them their inalienable right to pursue their own happiness.

YES. or any straight/whatever person who refuses to support bigotry inadvertently through complacency or denial. I just want to add that up until now I've never been aware of her paintings, only her extremely dunder-headed and reactionary screeds in the NYPost and former NY Sun. Probably one of the worst hacks around.

2/06/2009 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

It's been strange for me, as an expat in Montreal, watching the Prop 8 drama unfold. I think the whole city of Montreal would riot if anyone tried to repeal gay marriage here.

2/06/2009 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, now that she's gotten so much attention, I think that all collectors of her work should donate those works to gay rights organizations such as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, or the Human Rights Campaign. Then they can have a fundraiser selling her works and make much more than a measley thousand dollars to fight for gay marriage. And then people can send her nice thank you notes for helping to bring about equality for lgbt folk through her artwork. I think that would be nice.

2/06/2009 01:58:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

I think that she's exposing that identity politics is an intellectual cul-de-sac more than anything else.

I remember spending much of my own lesbian youth sitting in classrooms debating vigorously against gay marriage on the grounds that it heterosexualizes my gay experience.

Stupid? Sure! But also a perfectly legit queer theory argument in the 1990's that was about allowing queer people to be genuinely queer, and not mimics of straight experience. What she seems to be doing is a version of the same argument. I'm not saying the argument isn't asinine, but you know, I have to just throw out there that I learned her argument in college from some serious queer thinkers, and held onto it for pretty much all of my twenties.

2/06/2009 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger crionna said...

Wow, an entire string and no one took the easy shot. Well I guess its up to me.

With a name like Mullarkey, of course you'd know she was full of it.

2/06/2009 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

Thank you for making me aware of this Ed.

2/07/2009 02:03:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I learned her argument in college from some serious queer thinkers, and held onto it for pretty much all of my twenties.

What I think you held on to was a shared position, Deb. Your arguments are actually quite different.

Mallarkey's argument is one I encountered many times in debating gay marriage on the right-wing blogs. It boils down to an acceptance that gay people are part of the social fabric and a serenity about that fact but a resistance toward seeing them as equals. In other words, it's a caste-ist point of view and in that way wholly unAmerican. Her words echo the same sentiments used to oppress the Untouchables in other countries: "does not require assent to a politicized assault on bedrock social reality and the common good."

By making an appeal to the "common good," she implies (as right-wing commentators on other sites have said in just such terms) that gays are being "selfish" in asking for the same recognitions, security, and social stature through marriage offered to any heterosexual drunk enough to say, "What the hell? Let's get hitched," in Vegas.

Fleshed out even further, the argument suggests that "We'll let you carry on in your Dionysian way (you are entertaining after all), just remember your place when it comes to 'serious' issues...things I see as sacred. I am up here; you are down there, and I fully intend to keep you there."

The question then becomes why? Why does her sense of social reality and the common good require an untouchable class. Her actions do suggest she's hellbent on preserving gays as such.

One can speculate that gays (or untouchables of any variety) serve an important role as scapegoats, the handy "other" on which to project all the responsibilities for the inconsistencies that must be reconciled for that brand of Conservatism to not seem cruel to its adherents.

The fact that it seems cruel to me doesn't matter...after all, I am an untouchable.

2/07/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Gees Ed,

Where does that leave me? I’m untouchable to the “untouchables”, an entity that, to borrow a line from Genet, you fine people “wouldn’t touch with tongs”.

2/07/2009 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

your untouchableness, James (to reference Saint Genet again), is a conscious choice of accepting change in law geared toward greater equality would help you in this, I'm afraid. :-)

2/07/2009 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

"I am up here; you are down there, and I fully intend to keep you there."

Oh? I get that everyday in the artworld. ;-)

I'm very confused about this proposition 8. The fact that people outside Cali can pay to have a proposition pass in cali. If it is going to be about money, why don't someone start a "No to proposition 8" piggy bank, and let's pile up our money to see who win??

I think I can beat miss Mullarkey at her game.

Cedric Casp

2/07/2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I get that everyday in the artworld.


I’m untouchable to the “untouchables”,

I realize this whole Monty-Python-esque "You are lucky! We get treated like pariah by our own split personalities," routine is offered in solidarity and good fun, but when you're talking about matters that transcend the pursuit of happiness and delve into life-and-death issues, it doesn't seem as funny on this side of the issue. Here is just a partial list of Federal rights (of the 1,138) denied to gay couples through the ban on marriage:

Assumption of Spouse’s Pension
Automatic Inheritance
Automatic Housing Lease Transfer
Bereavement Leave
Burial Determination
Child Custody
Crime Victim’s Recovery Benefits
Divorce Protections
Domestic Violence Protection
Exemption from Property Tax on Partner’s Death
Immunity from Testifying Against Spouse
Insurance Breaks
Joint Adoption and Foster Care
Joint Bankruptcy
Joint Parenting (Insurance Coverage, School Records)
Medical Decisions on Behalf of Partner
Certain Property Rights
Reduced Rate Memberships
Sick Leave to Care for Partner
Visitation of Partner’s Children
Visitation of Partner in Hospital or Prison
Wrongful Death (Loss of Consort) Benefits

Add them up and they represent a systematic denial of basic human decency to gay couples, unequal hardship, and financial burden. Compared to having to claw your way up the art world food chain, like everybody else, these are not minor matters.

2/07/2009 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I'm not sure what kind of untouchableness James Kalm is referring to, but this shouldn't be about factions. If we wait to protest until our own particular group is targeted as the untouchable, everyone else will have already been dispensed with and there will be no one left to stand up for us. This is not a gay issue, it's a human issue. Straight people have to be involved in speaking up about so-called gay rights because they are human rights. (Of course, I assume that this feeling is shared here, in other words, this is preaching to the choir.) I love that there are now groups in high schools called GSA, or Gay-Straight Alliance. A lot of progress has been made, and this Prop 8 crap is just a temporary blip of regression. Eventually gay marriage will be accepted and will be "normal", just as interracial marriage became accepted.

2/07/2009 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass”... Charles Dickens

2/07/2009 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Have you been living in a cave?
"If it is going to be about money, why don't someone start a "No to proposition 8" piggy bank, and let's pile up our money to see who win??"
Winning elections, especially with this kind of proposition, rather than as a candidate, is (almost) all about money. But Californians were a bit complacent and didn't think this proposition would pass, so didn't have a strong enough anti- prop 8 campaign. Also, everyone was a bit distracted by that other important election happening at the same time.

And I agree with Ed that it's ludicrous to compare the "outsider" status of artists with the outsider status of gay people. Just not comparable.

2/07/2009 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I am opposed to racism in any form, including biases against religion, gender or sexual orientation.

I believe it is better to speak out against bias rather than ignore it. Given the recent revelations about Ms Mullarkey, a boycott of her work by the gay community seems like an appropriate response. While I am opposed to blacklisting, I also believe that one can act with a conscience and make judgments to support or spend accordingly.

Edward's 12:34 comment with a partial list of Federal rights denied to gay couples through the ban on marriage is the point of attack. It is unfair.

This is not an issue about God or religion, it is an issue about the denial of civil rights to a significant part of the population.

This is a civil rights issue, it must be fought as a civil rights issue. From the civil rights standpoint, marriage is a binding partnership between two people which should have the attendant responsibilities and benefits.

Too many people have tried to turn this into a religious issue, into a definition of "what marriage is supposed to be" Regardless of what one believes, it is not covered by the constitution of the United States which seeks to keep church and state separate, and to promote the truth that all men are created equal.

2/07/2009 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

One other point. Ms Mullarkey's paintings haven't changed, although the way we might look at them may have. But in the end, they are circus poster clown paintings in drag which were target marketed at the gay community. It is always a poor business decision to alienate your target audience.

What goes around comes around.

2/07/2009 03:20:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...


I understand that she's turning the argument in a right-wing direction, but it's fundamentally the same argument. One way of thinking turns on celebration of difference and the other turns on grudging tolerance of difference. But ghettoization is ghettoization. Isn't it?

I can't help but see this as part of a larger problem with Identity Politics as a strategy. It just seems like a way of thinking that makes lots of room for Separate But Not Quite Equal kind of thinking. Yuck.

2/07/2009 06:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Oops, wikipedia told me wrong:

"The campaigns for and against Proposition 8 raised $39.9 million and $43.3 million, respectively"

So the NO had more money but they still lost. For a moment, I thought Proposition 8 passed because people paid for it.

I find it silly these "win-win" situations where you have less than 10 percent marge of difference. It makes me feel like Solomon wanting to cut the baby in half.


2/07/2009 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger Belvoir said...

Appreciate your astute thoughts on the matter, Ed, and I share your feelings.

This woman chose as her subject a certain aspect of gay life; it's pretty much akin to what blackface or minstrelsy would be if her subject were African-Americans. A theatrical illustration of her own ideas and prejudices, she exploits and enjoys the show, but there's active malevolence towards recognizing gay people as fellow citizens: one grand is a chunk of change, for an anti-gay initiative in a distant state.

Years ago, I found that lots of straight people who professed to love their gay friends, were superliberal etc., would not only scoff at the idea of gay marriage, but even the idea that it was appropriate to introduce gay "friends" to their kids.

This startled me at the time, but it exists. Prop 8 is a horror, CA really need to rethink putting peoples' basic rights up to a prejudiced majority. But it's been pretty revealing; no matter how far we've come, we've still got a long way to go.

2/08/2009 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

So she is a social conservative.
It is a big jump from that to start throwing around "sub human" apropos her opinion of gays from her views on gay marriage. If you don't like her opinions why don't you get a whole heap of her paintings and set fire to them?

2/09/2009 03:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Maullarkey contributed reviews at Art Critical.

Now, that scary. Because inasmuch as I would have never heard of her as an artist, I probably read most of these reviews.


Cedric Casp

2/09/2009 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger George said...


The effective premise of all racism serves to separate, "us" from "them", the "touchable" from the "untouchable" To delineate those who are above others and those who fall below. The use of the modifier "sub" is appropriate.

Ms. Mullarkey opened herself up to criticism because of her deception. She claimed to be artistically expressing a celebratory point of view of the gay community and sought out their support. Why do I not find it surprising that some members of the gay community feel betrayed?

It is one thing to be a social conservative, it is quite another to lie about it.

2/09/2009 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

This gives the impression of a classic phobia. Like some anti-gay politicians found out to have had gay relationships or downright past history of molesting boys (ie: Spokane Mayor Jim West). Often people protest and publicly condemn such behavior they are most attracted to, and try to oppress in themselves (for example NY Governor Eliot Spitzer). Obviously, this artist's subject matter was not mere 'hobby' but a life work she has devoted her soul to, perhaps all along repressing her own needs and wants through the process of creating, while subconsciously wanting to live her paintings. There is no other explanation. Don't you think?

2/09/2009 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think that's possible, but pure speculation, Iris.

2/09/2009 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Deceive your customer

Pay the consequences

2/09/2009 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

++If you don't like her opinions +++why don't you get a whole heap ++of her paintings and set fire to ++them?

What about paying her clients so that they don't buy her paintings,
or magazines so that they don't hire her as a writer?

Opinions are charabia, and Mullarkey knows that. Let's have some action, know whatta mean?

Cedric Casp

2/09/2009 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Crionna. You took the words right out of my mouth. Sometimes the Universe has wry way of informing us.

Mullarkey has done an excellent job of living up to her name.

Brent NYC

2/10/2009 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

George, I didn't mean to defend her behavior, I think her act was heinous and loathsome... she deserves to pay the price, but unfortunately there often isn't any justice served to defend against prejudice, bigotry, racism and the like...

2/10/2009 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger George said...


I wasn't being personal but I was cranky yesterday, sorry.

I have a great deal of difficulty with the idea of blacklisting people, it becomes all too easy to rationalize the expansion of the boundaries of reasons.

Never the less, I do believe that in this case Ms. Mallarkey knew exactly what she was doing, that she was 'withholding' from an segment of the audience which she knew to be a powerful constituency within the greater art community.

So not only did I view this as a deceptive attempt create a market within the gay community but also as an attempt to further her career by sucking up for critical support. (sorry I can't think of a more academic phrase)

Now, I don't know her, so I am sure I don't know precisely what her intentions were but her actions allow for my interpretations and sometimes that is all that finally matters. It was an error in judgment, which over the short term is going to cause her to lose the support from those who believe in fair play.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, people will take it into account.

2/10/2009 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

I just posted an update to "Oh, Maureen" on my blog,

I e-mailed her to let her know about the first post. Her response was so benighted that I had to respond via a new post.

She is, of course, entitled to her opinions. But I don't have to accept them quietly.

2/11/2009 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Tatiana said...

I agree with Iris in all smacks of dark/deep desire/s with a frosting of self-loathing. For any artist to spend such time/energy/monies on subjects to which she has "moral" oppositions, is plainly sick -- not only opportunist. The woman needs help and perhaps a rhinestone-encrusted boot to the head.

2/11/2009 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

I wonder what her artist statement said and if it helped sell the paintings? I wonder how her representation positioned it to be sold?

So much of art is personal and based upon perception, the enjoyment of the art, which is what was really purchased by the collector, and indeed its value may have been ruined by the revelation.

2/17/2009 02:11:00 PM  

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