Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Confluence of Censorship | Open Thread

Maybe it's in the water.

Now that I think of it...back in 2005 the BBC reported:

Russia's NTV channel showed a huge, muddy basin where the lake once was, in the village of Bolotnikovo.

"It looks like somebody has pulled the plug out of a gigantic bath," said the TV's correspondent, next to a deep debris-filled hole.

Local officials in Nizhny Novgorod region say the lake was probably sucked into an underground cave.
Maybe that water from that lake from the former Soviet Union, you know, the former censorship capital of the world, has simply drained into one of the main US water supplies, because something has got everyone in a censorship or censorship charging mood in the art world lately.

Full disclosure: I've had my own run in with a censorship-based misunderstanding of late that I hope has now been clarified sufficiently. I will reserve further comment on that topic until the #rank debrief we'll be having in person (where people can measure each others' body language and facial expressions) at the gallery (date to be announced).

Still, from the National Portrait Gallery's removal of the David Wojnarowicz video from their "Hide/Seek" exhibition (and let's hear it for the Warhol Foundation!!!) to the news yesterday that the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art director Jeffrey Deitch had "ordered the whitewashing of a mural by the well-known street artist Blu on the outside wall of the Geffen Contemporary building," it seems something is stirring up the urge to purge art coast to coast.

Now I know the political climate is tense, but this confluence of censorship issues in the US strikes me as highly improbable, all else being equal. For the NPG issue, we've already discussed how many feel it's simply a distraction from some other, larger issue (like the tax compromise or something more sinister, perhaps :-p).

For the Blu issue, Deitch has insisted it's simply a curatorial decision, not a case of censorship. Indeed, in Jori Finkel's excellent report in the LA Times, Deitch "rejects the talk of censorship":
"This doesn't compare to David Wojnarowicz. This shouldn't be blown up into something larger than it is," he says, describing a curator's prerogative to pick and choose what goes into a show. "Every aspect of the show involves a very considered discussion."
but Hrag Vartanian has been effectively deconstructing the PR coming out of MOCA, and I have to agree that something still seems to need clarification here. Deitch's central argument is that he has a responsibility to the community:
"Look at my gallery website — I have supported protest art more than just about any other mainstream gallery in the country," he added. "But as a steward of a public institution, I have to balance a different set of priorities — standing up for artists and also considering the sensitivities of the community."
Fair enough.

I am much more sensitive to not offending veterans than many of the people I know (each male member of my family other than myself having served, and some having paid a high price for it), but I agree with this sentiment from Hrag:
I think veterans are more sensitive to the abuse of soldiers in wars based on lies and a neocon agenda (i.e. the Iraq War) than anyone
Deitch has explained that this boils down to a miscommunication between him and the artist (he was supposed to meet with Blu in late November, but the artist changed his flight...then when Blu had to begin painting, Deitch was in Miami, so they never got to compare notes)...all of which seems understandable.
When he returned from Miami and saw the mural, then more than halfway completed, Deitch said he made the decision to remove it very quickly, unprompted by complaints. "There were zero complaints, because I took care of it right away." He asked Blu to finish the work so it could be documented as part of the exhibition and appear in the accompanying catalog.
But, as also reported in Finkel's article, the impact of this decision will be larger than just one curatorial choice or one interpersonal relationship between a museum director and an artist he's worked with before:
Daniel Lahoda, founder of LA Freewalls Project downtown and one of the few people to photograph the work as it was being removed, said that the street art community is "really upset by this — everyone is talking about it."

"If you're planning on mounting the largest graffiti show in a major institution, you've got to give the artists the freedom to do the movement justice — so there's a big failure in what just happened," he says. "The last thing we want is an art institution, someone supposed to support creativity, to destroy it."
And that gets to the heart of all these issues me. What is more important, the community's feelings or artistic freedom? Mind you, I don't think artistic freedom means the artist should be free to work outside of an agreed upon framework. The artist is a member of the community too. Had Blu gone off and painted on a different wall of the museum, or over the entrance doors, or on someone's nearby car, I would criticize that strongly. But within a mutually respectful context that the community understands is reserved for art, it's difficult for me to approve any interference with how the artist wishes to express him/herself. It seems condescending to the public for politicians or even museum directors to presume they should protect the community from ideas clearly bubbling within it already.

Yes, I understand that for some artists to truly express themselves they need to break out of the mutually respectful contexts and purposely interject friction into the dialog. I understand how such actions can move art and meaning forward. I also think, though, that if you insist on revolutionary, provocative tactics, you have to be willing to suffer the consequences if people over-react to them. It was your choice to push their buttons, to push them out of their comfort zone, and yet your freedom of choice doesn't trump their freedom of choice to react as they see fit within the law.

OK, so I'm skimming along the topic I promised to hold off until we can all meet face to face, and so will stop with this. Consider this an open thread on censorship.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Saskia said...

Hmm, Somehow Dietch's comments sound suspiciously similar to the Smithsonian's official statement on why they removed the Wojnarowicz video. Both cite sensitivity to the public/ the community as reasons for removing the work.

I guess if you follow that reasoning, there is a fine line between curation and censorship, but something about the way Dietch says, "There were zero complaints, because I took care of it right away." just gives me the creeps. Took care of what, exactly, right away???

Literally whitewashed...
so disappointing.

12/14/2010 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Julie Sadler said...

When I read about the BLU whitewashing, I was terribly disappointed and disgusted.What an anti-graffiti thing to do. Perhaps he doesn't understand the movement! The leaders of our country seem to be living in their own lobbyist-supported vacuum. We know there is lobbying, and can comprehend the inspiration behind their pussy actions...what I don't understand is art venues copping an attitude. Makes you wonder just who's paying them off...?

12/15/2010 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Good riddance, it was ugly.

12/15/2010 11:44:00 AM  

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