Archives for posts with tag: 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.

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

The noise was cheering.  Whoops and screams of joy, as people in my upper Manhattan neighborhood took to the streets to share Barack Obama’s and the Democrats’ triumph.  It was even far more jubilant than the first seconds of a New Year.  But then again, this election meant so much more than a fresh start.  This was the first election in which I was eligible to cast a vote for President, and I cried and danced and shouted with abandon like so many others when the results came in.  After eight years enduring perhaps the most frightening administration in the nation’s history, the Dick and George show is history.  I hope the scribes will clearly record all the atrocities, bunglings, greed and callousness of the Bush years.  Infamy should be carved in stone.  If we can’t have war crimes indictments and it’s too late for impeachments, then maybe we can erect some kind of monument of shame.  The episode calls for something big.

I am joyful and optimistic over the prospect of having a cool-headed, intellectual, eloquent leader.  I believe he will bring many smart, capable, talented and driven people with him to give us a diverse administration that is our best hope for tackling the challenges that face us.  We have to wonder how we were fortunate enough to get the fabulous bonus of our new First Family.  I don’t expect that even in eight years we will be seeing those girls out on drinking and drug binges, or having any Alaska-style shotgun weddings.

All the information I could gather, and obsessively gather I did, confirmed to me that Obama was the best candidate. [I’ll admit I was a bit jittery after my first vote ever, cast for former Gov. Spitzer, didn’t exactly work out so well.] I was told by many that Obama could never get elected because of his skin color, his name, his resume, and/or his age, and I had to hope they were wrong.  Actually, I had to do more than just hope, I had to participate.  And that’s what so many of us did for the pride and privilege of living this historical moment.  Now we need to remain vigilant and informed, and keep participating to make sure we move forward.

I know, I know.  This is supposed to be a blog about drawing, and here I am talking politics again.  After this, I promise to get back to that worthy subject.  It has taken me several days to collect my thoughts. For a little while longer, I ask that you please bear with me, even if I’m still prone to getting choked up over it all.

This post starts with the question, “What was that noise?”  Beside the cheers on the street, there was the big noise of the youth vote.  Pollsters threatened that those kids wouldn’t show up, and how wrong they were.  My friend has a son who just moved to North Carolina, where he was also a first-time voter.  Votes like his helped take the state and win the election. “Had the Democratic 18-29 vote stayed the same as 2004’s already impressive percentage, Obama would have won by about 2 points, and would not have won 73 electoral votes from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, or Indiana.”

There were other noises to remember too.  The jeers and boos and name-calling of fearful, ignorant, xenophobic crowds.  The loud call by Republicans for Republicans to be included in the new administration, disregarding their own historical disinclination to reach out to any Dems (I’m not counting Lieberman).  Now, we should believe they didn’t really mean those hateful things (Michele Bachmann) — it was just the liberal (i.e. Jewish) media and “gotcha” journalism that “tricked” people into spewing hate.

More noise: The protests after four states dealt a terrible blow to the advancement of equal rights for ALL citizens, INCLUDING those who are not heterosexual.  Thank goodness for the protests, because that kind of disgraceful injustice should not be tolerated in silence.  [Keith Olbermann says it all.]

The ban on my reading anything about Sarah Palin after 9pm has at last been lifted, being that she can no longer effectively ruin my night’s sleep.  I still think the Frosted Flake, aka Caribou Barbie aka Bible Spice has a whole lot of explaining to do, but hopefully any noises that spill from that idiotic gob with the lipliner tattoos (and Jimmy Choos) will be muffled in the deep, deep hole she continues to ambitiously dig for herself.

Now I will roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath of fresh air filled with the scent of crunchy autumn leaves (daydreaming about actually having an environmentalist head the EPA), and get back to business.  Among other things, there’s a party I need to plan for January 20th.  I know there are other noises I’ve omitted, but in the meantime, I’ll try to stay on the subject of art, at least until you-know-who starts handing out pardons.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Unless you want to vote.  In which case, you’ve got to register very soon, like NOW. Here:

I don’t know who half of those celebs are, but THIS guy I know.

UPDATE: NY Times article States’ Actions to Block Voters Appear Illegal

An aspiring writer, one of my towering, affable nephews blew through town recently.  We decided to grab some grub at the writer-owned-and-frequented watering hole The Half King (good brunch!) and then see what there was to see at the “art mall” at 529 W 20th Street.

I’ve been frustrated of late by encountering a lot of work that relies on accompanying written materials to justify and explain the artists’ intentions.  I’m well-versed enough in the language of art that I figure I should be able to “get it” without reading the manifesto, a.k.a Art Babble.  However, this recent visit to Chelsea had me thinking a bit differently about the pros and cons of the additional reading material and how it affects my experience and assessment of the work.

Walking into bitforms gallery, there was a show where the work itself was all about reading. Up until October 11th, the gallery is presenting Politics As Usual, the first US solo exhibition of composer, artist and performer R. Luke DuBois.  The room is filled with letterpress prints formatted like eye test charts, with large-lettered words at the top which decrease in size with each line.  A droning sonic hum permeated the gallery.  I looked around and my first reaction was to heave a sigh as I reached for the printed materials.  “Okay,” I thought, “bring on the manifesto.”  But in this instance, the written materials were concise and useful.  The letterpress pieces, it explained, comprised a series called Hindsight is Always 20/20, which “examines the history of American political discourse through the metaphor of vision.  Drawing from the annual State of the Union addresses given by Presidents to Congress,” each print culled words from their speeches, with the largest words being the most frequent to the smallest, least frequently used.  “The result is a startlingly clear snapshot of the lexicon of each presidency, containing a mix of historically topical keywords and rhetoric unique to each president and the time period in which they served in office.”  I couldn’t say it better.

George Walker Bush (2001-2009)

R. Luke Dubois, "George Walker Bush (2001-2009)", copyright the artist

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)

R. Luke Dubois, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)", copyright the artist

The exhibition’s soundtrack called SSB, is a recording of the national anthem as performed by soprano Lesley Flanigan and then “digitally stretched to last four years (the length of an American election cycle).”  For a dose of irony, “the resulting sound, with its repetition, echo, and microtonal nuance, is reminiscent of an adhan, or Islamic call to prayer.”

As we gear up to this election, what a fascinating perspective to have on our country’s history.  In spite of my initial resistance to reading the fine print, it made all the difference in this case.

I have found Howard Scott Gallery an inviting, intimate environment where I can reliably count on seeing sophisticated, strong work by confident, mature artists.  Encountering Tom Schmitt‘s works on paper seemed to confirm that expectation.  The works, mostly under 8″ square, were mostly from the past few years, with a couple of slightly larger early pieces from the 60’s as well.  The reductive, minimal works were full of nuances that engaged the viewer.  Colors, carefully considered edges, and subtle gradations were used to maximum effect, imbuing the small pieces with depth and mystery.  Architecture, nature, and iconic symbolism all came to mind from these non-objective starting points.  I looked at the exhibition check list, and all the recent drawings were listed as “ink on paper.”  The precision of the handling of the ink, especially the gradations really amazed me.  It was hard to imagine that even the steadiest hand could master such technique.  Turns out I was right.  Reading more of the gallery’s materials on the show, Arnold Lehman’s essay in the press materials states, “Forty years have passed since I first saw and admired Tom Schmitt‘s work. Since then, everything around us has changed. On first glance, so had Schmitt’s work, now created by computer instead of his steady hand.  Technology had been harnessed by the artist to serve the intrinsic nature of his work.”

Black Grey, 7.5 x 7.5 2008 (2006?).  Copyright Tom Schmitt

Tom Schmitt: Black Grey, 7.5 x 7.5" 2008 (2006?). Copyright the artist

I concur that the pieces Schmitt has created and printed using computer technology are powerful and in keeping with his overall artistic sensibility.  However, something about this didn’t sit right with me.  While on-line some of the work is noted as “computer ink on paper,” in the gallery, these pieces were identified as ink on paper, implying they were one of a kind drawings, which they were not.  These were, in fact, digital inkjet prints, which should bring up archival questions for potential collectors.  Also, I would think potential collectors would want to know if the artist plans to reprint an unlimited number of these pieces, and if not, shouldn’t each one be presented as a signed and numbered limited edition?  At any rate, they are not unique pieces, and not made by hand.  I had to ask myself, how much of the value, intrinsic merit, and importance of the work is tied up in its being a unique artifact made by a human hand?  It’s a thorny question that I’m still pondering, but the truth of my gut reaction was that I felt differently about the work once I had discovered the means of its production.  It also made me feel that, intentionally or not, there was some deception implicit in presenting the digital prints as unnumbered pieces of “ink on paper.”

Just my two cents, while I still have two left (soon to be the sum total of my life savings):