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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 4 Oct 99 10:56:40 -0700
Subject: Obscene Art
X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649 -=[ Fun_People ]=-
Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <firstname.lastname@example.org>
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has frozen $7 million in city funding for
the Brooklyn Museum of Art in a flap over an exhibit that includes a dung-
splattered painting of the Virgin Mary and pig halves in formaldehyde. "...
both of which are still less obscene than the hideously deformed dead animal
pelt which sits atop the Mayor's head."
Jim Rosenberg <email@example.com>
SINKING THE PUTTI
By Colin McEnroe
I hate being pro-art, because it means I have to stick up for stuff like
the Virgin Mary with elephant dung and the guy who made a bust of himself
out of his own frozen blood.
Not only do I have to stick up for them, I have to stick up for using
government money to support exhibitions of the Virgin Mary with elephant
dung ... and, if you really want to know, little random out-of-context
buttocks cut out of magazine pictures and kind of fluttering around the
Virgin Mary, like putti.
Speaking of putti, one of the points I make, when I'm being pro-art, is that
putti (those tiny, plump, naked oven-stuffer angels fluttering all over
baroque art) are kind of weird, and that if there had never been putti and
you tried to introduce them today, in the context of the Virgin Mary, you
would have the Decency Police all over you like Dobermans. "What are those
things? They're disgusting! Winged pedophilia!"
I am having to be pro-art because New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is
threatening to cut funding for the Brooklyn Museum of Art and possibly evict
it from its current location or dislodge its trustees and re-stock the board
with smiling nuns (and none of them Sister Wendy Beckett). This is because
the museum is about to open an exhibit the mayor does not think he would
like if he went to see it.
The exhibit is called "Sensations," which is art-world short hand for "art
that will probably wind up getting a lot more attention than it deserves."
For example, on Saturday, the third day of the news cycle, the New York
Times ran three stories and one op-ed piece connected to the scandal, and
the Times Sunday magazine carries a profile of Charles Saatchi, the British
ad man who collected all the work and staged "Sensations" in London first.
One of Saatchi's other pieces -- not in the Brooklyn show, I think -- is a
sort of tent emblazoned with the names of all the people the artist has ever
had sex with, the Starr Report as camping gear.
Anyway, the exhibit does have a painting, allegedly of the Virgin Mary with
clumps of elephant dung attached to it, and the frozen blood guy, and
animals suspended in formaldehyde.
The imbroglio is, oddly, sort of a great deal for almost everybody, more or
less in this order:
1. The artists. If the usual pattern holds, some of these will be
interesting and possibly talented people, and a few others will be hacks;
but they will all be exalted now; and their names will be forever linked to
the Battle of Brooklyn. Their names will appear in the indexes of books
instead of the Employee of the Month board at some fish and chips place in
2. Giuliani. He really is an appalling creep. His deeply felt Christian
impulses lie dormant whenever his police force fills somebody with lead for,
say, standing with his arms at a peculiar angle, but now he can take all
this wretched and smelly art and use it as a code word for "the kind of
thing the Clintons probably put on their Christmas tree."
3. The museum. One senses that the Brooklyn will survive. So many people
will want to see the show that revenues will at least begin to offset the
funding cut. To have waited in the blocks-long line to see the severed pig
will be a red badge of courage, and when people go to a museum once, they
usually come back. So the Brooklyn will be OK, and even if its director
Arthur Lehman gets bounced, he will seem heroic and employable. Here in
Hartford we know that nothing, not even Caravaggio, drew crowds like
4. Cultural conservatives. C'mon. This is a batting practice fastball.
Bill Bennett could hit it over the wall after his third martini.
What is especially odd is that so many of the people will it benefit have
behaved unwisely. Giuliani ought to acknowledge that art brings tourists
to New York and revives dormant neighborhoods. The Brookyln could probably
find something better to bring in than flashy, dodgy Anglo-brats. The
conservatives ought to admit that, if we are going to make a big deal about
bringing over "The Peony Pavilion" to Lincoln Center while the Chinese
censors fume, we ought to lay off "Sensations." To say, "I believe in free,
unfettered expression as long as it upsets other people but not me," is to
believe not at all in free, unfettered expression. The artists ought to
learn to paint or something.
You know who has to do the heavy lifting? Mainly the guys who have to carry
the severed pig, but also, a little bit, those of us who do not necessarily
need this particular art or want to make the trip to Brooklyn but have to
find something validating to say about the Virgin Mary with elephant dung.
Not that I know anything about art, good or bad, in the first place.
Which is especially daunting because, according to some folks, the real
Virgin Mary is sitting, dungless, in a tree 7.5 miles from here.
Well, I too regard the Virgin Mary as problematic, but I would have said
you could get at the problems without using elephant dung. But I probably
also would have told Piet Mondrian "fewer squares, more putti" or something.
I might have told Artemisia Gentileschi her "Judith Slaying Holofernes" was
really gross. I definitely would have told Sol LeWitt he shouldn't hire
other people to draw his lines for him.
That's the thing. If you're going to have art, you can't consult with
people who are not artists about what it's going to be. Because art is a
journey the artist takes you on, a vision the artist had that you never
would have dreamed, and the most implausible stuff of 50 years ago is taken
for granted and written right into the code of our collective consciousness
Like the other day, there was a banana in my radio studio, so I wrote "Ceci
n'est pas un banana" on it. A day later, a young woman took it. But I
think she was hungry as opposed to Surrealist.
Connecticut Encephalitis Mosquito Abatement Schedule for the week of Sept
Monday: Hartford -- New Haven area. Aerial spraying with Sylvestrum, a
compound distilled from the cologne of Associates A, B, D plus the styling
mousse of Associate C. Non-lethal to mosquitoes but makes them very
confused about who has the blood at the moment.
Tuesday: Waterbury area. Mosquitoes lured to traps baited with deep fried
hot dogs and released into cavernous Rowland government center where they
starve for lack of bodies.
Wednesday: Fairfield County. Dusting with Loquejaw, a powdered compound
made of ground-up Ralph Lauren products, losing Powerball tickets and Anne
Coulter's hair. Dead mosquitoes incinerated in $10,000 infrared grill.
Thursday: Storrs area. Mosquitoes invited to huge, vomit-spattered
out-of-control beer party following by Indonesian-style police action.
Friday: Hartford. Mosquitoes and rats. Steel cage. No wagering.
© 1999 Peter Langston