Archives for category: politics

Image captured from David Wojnarowicz's video "Fire in the Belly," removed from the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition

As an individual who values artistic creation and freedom of speech, I would like the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution to know that I am deeply distressed and saddened over the cowardly decision to censor the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” by removing the video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz titled “A Fire in My Belly,” thereby displaying an unnecessary capitulation to political pressure from various conservative and right-wing factions.

As Blake Gopnik notes in his excellent article on the subject,National Portrait Gallery Bows to Censors, Withdraws Wojnarowicz Video on Gay Love,” published November 30th in the Washington Post, if museums were to remove every piece of art that upset some person or group, our museums would be pretty empty.  Can you imagine this kind of censorship applied to our libraries?  Because that’s the kind of logic being used, and if we don’t speak out against this, book censorship is not far down the line.

This is not a small, isolated, unimportant incident.  Many people will remember the late Senator Jesse Helms, and how he was able to escalate conservative outrage over Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” in order to effectively eviscerate the NEA.

Wojnarowicz, a highly regarded American artist who died of AIDS in 1992, sadly cannot add his own voice to our outcry of disgust about this act of censorship.  I’ve signed lots of petitions but never started one before now.  This seemed like a good time to start. Please take action against museum censorship today, and pass this along:

For another good read on how we got to this point, check out New York Magazine’s article “U.S. Representative John Boehner Is Now a Curator”.

This is not an issue of quality. Who the heck knows why museums show half of what they do?  Like why does the winner of Bravo’s (un)reality show “Work of Art” get a solo show in the Brooklyn Museum of Art?  The public is not collectively qualified to be in charge of making curatorial decisions.  I support the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to mount this exhibition, and would like to see the curators continue to have the freedom to do their jobs, while the public reserves the freedom to decide whether to go see the show or not.

Whether or not you or I think a work like Serrano’s “Piss Christ” was any creation of startling genius or not isn’t really the point, the point being that Jesse Helms was able to use it, regardless of the quality or even the artistic intent behind it, to end NEA grants to individual visual artists – a moratorium still in effect today.  This means other deserving artists (and I’d like to think I can include myself), are no longer eligible to apply for those NEA dollars.  And that’s not Serrano’s fault.  It’s Helms’ fault and his supporters’ fault (from their standpoint, a victory), but also all the fault of all the lazy-ass artists, dems, and freedom of expression lovers who were too complacent and apathetic to stand up against Helms and his thugs.  And don’t think I didn’t take notice that there was a selective focus on giving visual artists the shaft then that’s just as vehement and selective this time too.   NEA grants for individual writers & composers still exist.  Somehow, the right-wing nut-jobs don’t realize that the pen (or typewriter or computer or musical instrument) can be equally “subversive” or “offensive” – or shall we say “powerful?”  Oh yeah…all you have to do is look at a few Tea Partier signs to know they don’t read anyhow.  Reading is for illeetists like our un-American, Kenyan President.  But maybe he’s not reading either, since it sure seems he’s not reading the writing on the wall clearly spelling out that a bunch of us are feeling pretty concerned about the whereabouts of his spine.  But I digress…

Beyond the issues of censorship and freedom of expression, it is hard to ignore the anti-gay rhetoric being brought into the argument by those who have lobbied for the removal of the Wojnarowicz video.  This, and not the 11 seconds of the video, is the kind of hate speech of which our society should be wary.

So I’m up on my soapbox today, and I’m staying here!  To heck with the righteous wingnuts. If they want “art,” they can have all the Thomas Kinkade they want. (And I’m NOT giving you a link for that.  You can just go google him if you must.)

p.s. Another mighty fine link for those who care about this issue: Tyler Green on


This morning I was thinking about health care reform, and the vociferous opposition to it in the form of people, many armed, showing up to disrupt town hall meetings on the subject. I thought about those who would say it’s not wise for artists to publicly express an opinion about this issue, because they could risk alienating collectors or others who may bear some power over them. Then I went back to thinking about those fearful, raging people who are so afraid that providing health care for the over 50 million uninsured people in this country is somehow going to infringe upon their own freedoms, especially their right to carry weapons. Who are these people who hate so much? Oh yeah. They’re the same people who hate gays and anyone of color (especially in the Oval Office). They are the same people who want to wrest the right of reproductive choice from women, and who are suspicious of artists and anybody who doesn’t fit into their mold.

Americans for the Arts has joined with 20 national arts organizations to issue a statement calling on Congress for health care reform, and “to fully recognize the rights of individual artists and arts groups in the health care reform debate.”  I want to exercise those rights.

So, when I got dressed this morning, I pulled from deep in my drawer a T-shirt I got after going on the AIDS walk many years ago.  It was imprinted with words and an image by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, who was one of the legions of talented people the art community lost too early because people tolerated a screwed up system for too long.  I pulled on my T-shirt and got on the crowded subway for the long ride downtown.  On my back, his words seared through a not so distant expanse of time:

“If I had a dollar to spend for healthcare I’d rather spend it on a baby or innocent person with some defect or illness not of their own responsibility; not some person with AIDS…” says the healthcare official on national television and this is in the middle of an hour long video of people dying on camera because they can’t afford the limited drugs available that might extend their lives and I can’t even remember what his official looked like because I reached in through the T.V. screen and ripped his face in half and I was diagnosed with AIDS recently and this was after the last few years of losing count of the friends and neighbors who have been dying slow and vicious and unnecessary deaths because fags and dykes and junkies are expendable in this country  “If you want to stop AIDS shoot the queers” says the governor of texas on the radio and his press secretary later claims that the governor was only joking and didn’t know the microphone was turned on and besides they didn’t think it would hurt his chances for re-election anyways and I wake up every morning in this killing machine called america and I’m carrying this rage like a blood filled egg and there’s a thin line between the inside and the outside a thin line between thought and action and that line is simply made up of blood and muscle and bone and I’m waking up more and more from daydreams of tipping amazonian blowdarts in “infected blood” and spitting them at the exposed necklines of certain politicians or government healthcare officials or those thinly disguised walking swastikas that wear religious garments over their murderous intentions or those rabid strangers parading against AIDS clinics in the nightly news suburbs there’s a thin line a very thin line between the inside and the outside and I’ve been looking all my life at the signs surrounding us in the media or on peoples lips; the religious types outside st. patricks cathedral shouting to men and women in the gay parade: “You won’t be here next year–you’ll get AIDS and die ha ha” and the areas of the u.s.a. where it is possible to murder a man and when brought to trial one only has to say that the victim was a queer and that he tried to touch you and the courts will set you free and the difficulties that a bunch of republican senators have in albany with supporting an anti-violence bill that includes ‘sexual orientation’ as a category of crime victims there’s a thin line a very thin line and as each t-cell disappears from my body it’s replaced by ten pounds of pressure ten pounds of rage and I focus that rage into non-violent resistance but that focus is starting to slip my hands are beginning to move independent of self-restraint and the egg is starting to crack america seems to understand and accept murder as a self defense against those who would murder other people and its been murder on a daily basis for eight count them eight [nine, ten…] long years and we’re expected to quietly and politely make house in this windstorm of murder but I say there’s certain politicians that had better increase their security forces and there’s religious leaders and heathcare officials that had better get bigger dogs and higher fences and more complex security alarms for their homes and queer-bashers better start doing their work from inside howitzer tanks because the thin line between the inside and the outside is beginning to erode and at the moment I’m a thirty seven foot tall one thousand one hundred and seventy-two pound man inside this six foot frame and all I can feel is the pressure all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release.

I took more than a moment to remember all those who were gone like Wojnarowicz and Keith Haring, and countless others who were willing to Act Up to save lives.  It’s not just about AIDS now, nor was it then, really.  Think about it.

Tomorrow I will have to resurrect another ancient T-shirt, one emblazoned with an image by the late Keith Haring, and bearing the ever-so-relevant words: IGNORANCE=FEAR, SILENCE=DEATH.

[Text from my T-shirt: copyright Estate of David Wojnarowicz.  Audio of David Wojnarowicz reading at The Drawing Center in 1992, shortly before his death.]

[images from top: David Wojnarowicz, “Untitled (Peter Hujar), 1989, silver print, 30-1/2″ x 24-1/2”); David Wojnarowicz, “Untitled (Face in Dirt”, 1990, silver print, 28-1/2″ x 28-1/2″, both copyright Estate of David Wojnarowicz and courtesy of PPOW Gallery. Keith Haring, “Ignorance=Fear”, 1989, poster, 24″ x 43-1/4″, copyright the Estate of Keith Haring, courtesy of The Keith Haring Foundation.]

…the US Government.  Yes, Dorothea Lange’s iconic photo of a migrant mother during the Depression (the previous depression, that is), was funded by Uncle Sam.  Something to think about next time your elected officials are whining about spending money to support the arts.

[Info via: Jörg Colberg’s blog Conscientious, Eyeteeth, and c-monster]

P.S. Tyler Green from Modern Art Notes (MAN) ponders why 50 million reasons ‘victory’ is part of a continuing defeat regarding NEA funding and the economic stimulus.  A smart view from within the beast of DC.

Well, according to the Senate, they should all be banned from receiving any funds from the the economic recovery bill.  Casino = museum?  This is ridiculous.

Breaking News
Americans for the Arts reports that yesterday the U.S. Senate, during their consideration of the economic recovery bill, approved an egregious amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that stated “None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”

Unfortunately, the amendment passed by a wide vote margin of 73-24, and surprisingly included support from many high profile Senators including Chuck Schumer of New York — who just received my opinion about that!

Please take a minute if you can to send a pre-prepared and easily customizable letter to your senator.  This form will let you know how your senators voted on the matter, so if nothing else, at least keep yourself informed!

The other night, a painter who has taken a long hiatus from the practice of art said to me something along the lines of, “Either you’re making $500,000 a year as an artist or you might as well be making nothing.”  That struck me as kind of outrageous.  I know successful artists, and I’m quite sure none of them make anything near $500,000 a year — not off their artwork, at least.  Not that many people doing anything pull in that kind of bread these days, unless you’re a banker receiving a bailout.

I countered my friend’s statement by suggesting that it was really a matter of perspective, and most importantly, of one’s own needs and vision of success.  He disagreed.  Basically, his view was that if you’re not making that kind of money, you and your work might not as well exist. (At all?  Or only as far as the art world is concerned?  I wasn’t sure.)

This brings up a couple of issues.  One is the value of art (and that’s a big one–a hot topic these days since the market tanked and Brandeis announced it’s intention to close the Rose Museum and sell its entire collection), another is the definition of success and who owns the right to it: society or the individual?  By my friend’s assessment, an artist like Thomas Kinkade is an important artist.  I’m not discounting the importance of making a living, but the power of money and its use as a ruler to measure success are sticky points.  I think of Tom Daschle, certainly a very wealthy, intelligent and successful man, but then his desire to hold onto all his dough by avoiding taxes ruins it all and leaves him looking like a chump.   The latest unhappily called-out chump on a mountain of greedy, corrupt, and very wealthy chumps.

I recently examined my own criteria for personal success.  Financial goals are part of the picture, but for me, there are several more critical pieces to the puzzle — especially artistic growth, and even including peer recognition — so I won’t be stressing too much if I don’t bank that $500G this year.  I wonder, are you climbing a ladder or following a path or just trying to focus on finding something out?

“O painter, take care lest the greed for gain prove stronger incentive than renown in art, for to gain in this renown is a far greater thing than the renown of riches” ~Leonardo da Vinci

“It is not uncommon to commiserate with a stranger’s misfortune, but it takes a really fine nature to appreciate a friend’s success.” ~Oscar Wilde

[image: Andy Warhol Dollar Sign 1981, Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 2290 x 1780 mm. Photo courtesy Anthony d’Offay Ltd., © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2008. Via: Tate Collections.]

It was the actual election that was the big deal, when we shouted and laughed and cried with joy and relief.  Yes we did! I didn’t think the pomp of the inaugural ceremony would tug at my emotions so much but in fact, a hanky the size of a flag would have come in handy.  It brought to mind a piece by Stephen Beveridge called Choose Again, which I’ve often thought about since seeing his show last year.  It’s a starkly graphic piece in black and white, with a reminder that decisions aren’t necessarily so.  A reminder that wrong paths can be redirected, and wounds can be healed.  And not that I believe our country actually chose George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but we did reconsider the fallout of those last elections, and we did choose Barack Obama and Joe Biden.  We did choose hope over fear this time, and my high hopes are that we can live up to some big responsibilities, and that Obama will be well, and lead well.

Beveridge wrote, “I need to be reminded I can choose again. Love or fear, peace or anger, right or happy, awake or asleep. I am not a victim of circumstance, birth, or disease. Deep within there is a place where I have never been or never can be hurt, harmed, or endangered in any way. This place is where I want my art to come from. I want my art to be a vehicle to that place. A vehicle to that place for me and, incredibly, for you too.”

We have the ability to right many of our mistakes, to see things through the focusing lens of experience, to approach our problems differently, to release our grip on grudges and bitterness, to reach out again for the ideal.

Yes, we can.

[above: Choose Again, © Stephen Beveridge]

Only two days left, and your voice matters. We need to send a POWERFUL MESSAGE to Albany before January 13 describing the potentially devastating impact of the Governor’s proposed $7 million cut to the NY state arts budget.

Click here to send an email to your legislator.  For more information, click here.

And once you’ve done your do-good thing for the day, treat yourself to some visual fun with a visit to Doodlers Anonymous [via Amplesanity].

I found a few interesting things over at Sister Space, a blog I’ve now added to the sidebar over there for your convenience.

First off, we all know that in these economic times, few are more vulnerable than our society’s artists and arts organizations.  President-Elect Obama has expressed his opinion about the importance and value of the arts, so perhaps he’ll take to heart the suggestion of appointing a Secretary of the Arts.

“Let Obama know you support having a cabinet position to ensure the cultural fabric of America stays strong and grows by signing this petition!

Sister Space also posted a bit (via Artnet News) about a recently released report from The National Endowment for the Arts. Women Artists: 1990-2005 (the full text is downloadable here), is a 17-page study about the status of women in the arts.

Some findings that didn’t exactly surprise me but were nonetheless noteworthy:

  • Women Artists reports that earning discrepancies increase for older women — quite substantially so. “In 2003-2005, women artists aged 18 to 24 earned $0.95 for every $1 made by young men artists. This ratio fell to $0.78 for artists aged 35 to 44, and to $0.67 for 45-to-54-year-olds. Women artists aged 55 to 64 earned only $0.60 for every dollar earned by men artists in that age group.”
  • Women artists are as likely to be married as female workers on the whole, but they are less likely to have children. Twenty-nine percent of women artists had children under age 18, almost six percentage points lower than for women workers in general.
  • Female artists earn less then male artists. They approach parity only in the performing arts. Non-performing female artists earn only $0.72 for every dollar males earn.

Some additional statistics if you’re still hungry for more.

I was getting a bit cranky, ruminating once again on the evisceration of arts budgets across the board (not to mention art collectors’ budgets), and feeling just about ready to march right up to Congress demanding an Artists’ Bailout–hey, we’ll settle for even a measly one billion!  Then I read some snippets from President-Elect Obama’s recently taped “Meet the Press” interview with Tom Brokaw:

“Thinking about the diversity of our culture and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that’s America,” he said.

“Historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that sense that better days are ahead,” Obama said. “I think that our art and our culture, our science–you know, that’s the essence of what makes America special, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White House.”

Cranky doesn’t suit me.  In fact, now I’m feeling kinda special, so I’m hoping this doesn’t disappear from the agenda as quickly as the promise about taxing windfall oil profits seems to have done.

If you’re in NY, you’re just a click or two away from letting our Governor and representatives know that another severe slashing of the arts budget would be calamitous.  I just wrote them, and you can too by taking a minute to make your voice heard.  Remember, this issue affects arts organizations that enrich our society as well as the individual artists who rely on them for their work to flourish and reach the public.

Dear [recipient name was inserted here],

As you meet in Albany on November 18, please consider the devastating impact the Governor’s proposed cut of $7 million to NYSCA’s budget will have on our region. This could mean that almost 400 grantees in the October cycle and a similar number in the December cycle would receive almost nothing. The inequities are staggering.

The Governor’s proposal comes on top of $2.6 (6%) already cut out of the State Arts Council budget a short time ago— thereby reducing NYSCA’s budget by about 20% from $49 million to $39 million mid-year.

Please alter the “cut list”.  Although the Governor proposed significant cuts to all sectors, the tiny savings gained by cutting the arts pale in comparison to the resulting social and economic losses in communities across the State.

I know that you face incredibly difficult choices. I implore you to recognize that the economic and social losses in our communities with the Governor’s cuts will far outweigh the small saving and will be felt by all of your constituents.


Sky Pape