Today we have two posts, which are, coincidentally, both from the “art and politics” department. The first is an editorial-style commentary on the controversy at Columbia College, which has erupted, if you could call it that, in the last few days. The second piece is another pick from my visit to the Tate Modern in London.
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The current exhibition at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery, Axis of Evil: the Secret History of Sin, is causing quite a stir. Curated by mail artist Michael Hernandez deLuna, the exhibition features politically charged images from a number of artists in the medium of postage stamp. Two Secret Service agents turned up at the opening asking questions and demanding answers. They were keen to know about who this “Mr. Hernandez” was. They were also poking their noses around one work in particular. A sheet of suspicious stamps depicting President Bush with a gun aimed at his head by artist Al Brandtner. In no time all the newspapers and TV stations were hot on the story. (That was my attempt at pulp novel narration.)
It’s depressing that the only time art gets any coverage is when a controversy like this boils up. And of course all sorts of issues are raised that are difficult to ignore. First is censorship and the State. Is this the most efficient use of our Secret Service agents? You’d have to be a complete idiot to think a stamp in an art show is an actual threat to the physical being of the President. But then again, if something did happen, you’d be even more of an idiot for not investigating something so out in the open.
The fact that the Feds are breathing down the backs of the artists, the curator, and Columbia College is serious cause for concern. Have you noticed that the staunchest supporters of the Bush Administration, when backed into a corner retaliate with remarks like, “God [is] really busy protecting America's soldiers, who are protecting your right to say stupid crap and act like a butthole!!!” ?
That is from a funny but creepy site called the met.org, which I’m sure the real Met is happy about. Along with the most retarded pro-war, pro-fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, anti-free-speech parable ever, you’ll find “two Things Navy SEALs are taught,” a quote from Norman Schwartzkopf, “Restaurant Pick: Chapala’s Mexican Food,” and “Church Pick: Copperfield Baptist Church.”
Back to the heart of the matter; the statement, “God is really busy protecting America's soldiers, who are protecting your right to say stupid crap and act like a butthole,” and the increasingly pervasive mindset it represents, basically criticizes anyone for exercising the very freedoms Americas soldiers are out in world protecting. The implication is that you should be so grateful for having the freedom of speech that you shouldn’t exercise it. But now with Secret Service agents investigating politically charged art exhibitions, the circular argument of celebrating your rights by not exercising them is nolonger implicit.
I support the artist’s right to make and exhibit such work. Although, I don’t really understand it as a work of art. It is a bit confusing and I think it is obviously aimed at being incendiary along the lines of the School of the Art Institute student’s installation where viewers stepped on the American flag.
What is so confusing about Al Brandtner’s piece is that it says “Patriot Act,” across the bottom. So, shouldn’t it be Bush pointing a gun at the head of an American citizen about to do something "unpatriotic?"
Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin is on view at Glass Curtain Gallery, 1104 S. Wabash, through May 11. For more on this, visit Fresh Paint and the Sun-Times.