Fear no art...unless it offends you.

Speaking of message...I came across an article in ARTNews from September of this year, which addresses the possible tensions between cultural institutions and the new World Trade Center redevelopment site. The Drawing Center, an institution which has been growing in reputation and stature these past few years, was one of the venues chosen to be part of this new downtown site.


But, lo and behold, it surfaced, through unnamed sources, that the Drawing Center, now located in Soho, has displayed art that was "critical of the U.S. government." (Omyword, what a terrible thing!!) So, ever the vigilante, Governor Pataki stated, "We will not tolerate anything on the site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom, or denigrates the sacrifice or courage that the heroes showed on September 11." He continued, stating that arts groups will "have to do that, or they will not be at the memorial site, to the extent I have the ability to do that."

Well, the Freedom Center (another accepted body) quickly said they would comply. The Drawing Center, however, as far as I know since September, is still deciding whether the revitalization of downtown is worth this potential relinquishment of total freedom of speech.

This seems like another ironic instance of a small giving up of an important freedom - that of reasonable dissent (a worthy Jeffersonian ideal) in exchange for a celebration of what those freedoms supposedly caused these victims and heroes to do, and be. There is also a false message here of a unified voice on a particular subject, when really the discussion is quite varied. (Take Professor Ward Churchill of U of Colorado, for instance...remember him?).


Anyway, I see no reason why art institutions of any sort should cowtow to this ridiculous americanism and bowdlerism - no matter how innoccous it may seem at face-value - if they have any self-respect...regardless of how much it might revitalize a certain area. Why not move to (or even build a branch in) Trenton, or Camden, Drawing Center, and struggle there, if you want to "revitalize"? The Drawing Center is an amazing, amazing space with a magnificent mission...it should definitely not put itself in the position of being stifled by politicos with stilted views on free speech.

Dale Zimmer  – (Wednesday, 02 November, 2005)  

I think an oversimplified summary of the position of critics such as this is: why should we pay people to offend us? Most Americans are okay with dissenting voices in some capacity, but I know of very few who want to give money to ensure that we hear those voices, or to elevate them to any position of authority or acceptance. Granting them tax dollars or providing them access to prime real estate fits the bill.

I'm not sure I disagree with the above summary too much. I strongly support the rights of free speech as well as the need for dissenting opinions. But I'm not sure Average Joe will ever hear the message if he has to contribute to its funding.

benvolta  – (Wednesday, 02 November, 2005)  

ground zero is a nightmare... I wish that they would have built a Louis Kahn building or something that was as far from political interest as theoretically possible. instead we have talks of a walmart popping up b/c they are willing to front the bill for reconstruction. uhh...

I hope the drawing center stays put. moving to trenton or Cmmden would bring it closer to us in phila, ha, I like that idea.

benvolta  – (Wednesday, 02 November, 2005)  
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benvolta  – (Wednesday, 02 November, 2005)  
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GIERSCHICK  – (Wednesday, 02 November, 2005)  

Some good thoughts, DZ...I am much agreed that the "average American" would not usually pay out (and doesn't) for people whose viewpoints differ from them. How many "blue-staters" listen to Rush Limbaugh for a second opinion? I haven't met any yet. Although, Rush is not, as far as I know, funded by federal money, but rather corporate and individual...but those lines are getting fuzzier. Anyway, I think the point is that, if one goes into it ASSUMING that a viewpoint/expression that may be disagreeable to the publiic/majority is imminent from an institution such as the Drawing Center, average Joes may always balk with their wallet. But if one assumes rather that the public's opinions (i.e., those who are indirectly paying for all of it) are NOT going to be trampled and spat upon willy-nilly, but simply open to the possibility of challenges, then the avenue may be more open to free speech, as it were. (This all assumes, of course, civility, which is in short supply on the East Coast.)Perhaps this is all very naive, but it always seems to be assumed that the average joe is more belligerent than "he" actually is. Maybe?
Do you think, then, that Average Joe would be much more amenable to/willing to listen to dissenting viewpoints if it's not connected to his wallet?

Of course, I don't even know to what extent the Drawing Center was "critical to the U.S. Government."

GIERSCHICK  – (Wednesday, 02 November, 2005)  

Hey, Ben, if you can explain to me how to delete certain posts, then I'll do it for you...my blog experience hasn't covered that part yet!

And you're right; the World Trade Center memorial et cetera is a debacle; does the average person really care anymore, besides maybe New Yorkers and the families involved? To tell you the truth, I don't...and I don't think we need another so-called memorial.

I still am a quiet minority for using Ellsworth Kelly's idea...do you remember it? - a huge mound over the whole sight, covered with lush grass...and that's it. Now that would be a memorial.

benvolta  – (Wednesday, 02 November, 2005)  

yeah, last weekend Tim R. was talking about how nice the Ellsworth Kelly piece would be also. too bad:(

just click on the trash can, then it will ask you if you want to delete forever.

Dale Zimmer  – (Thursday, 03 November, 2005)  

While I do live in the heart of Averagejoeville, I have no way of knowing if my impressions of my neighbors and coworkers are accurate. (For an optimistic perspective on this topic, see the new book The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen by Kevin O'Keefe).

I would definiely agree with the idea that A.J. would listen to dissenting viewpoints much more readily if they are not in any way connected to his wallet. But there's still very little tolerance for what is labeled disrespectful or unpatriotic (and much of engaged contemporary art would fall into those categories, I'm afraid). Perhaps it is wrong to talk about midwestern opinions of east coast art. What about average east coast opinions of east coast art?

On the other hand, I have inlaws (very average farmers) who have now been to NYC several times specifically because of Ground Zero (clean-up, revisiting, honoring, etc). So there are those average midwesterners who will be very engaged with what happens with the memorial. And if Rush or Bill O'Reilly starts spouting off about it, I'm sure even more will start caring.

If you don't like memorials, don't come visit our little midwestern town of 12,000. I would have to show you the replica Statue of Liberty, the giant "American" eagle in front of the courthouse, and the sprawling military memorial downtown. There's more, but I'll spare you.

Sorry for the rambling.

GIERSCHICK  – (Thursday, 03 November, 2005)  

No, don't get me wrong, I love memorials. Actually, I love the idea of memorials. And I fully intend in seeing your small town someday. I have a certain admiration for small-city camp: every town worth its salt has some of it. (Sidenote: I can't see such things as you described - statue of liberty repros, etc. - as otherwise; I've lost what little genuine naivete I ever had, quite a while ago). I also think the idea of memorial is rich for possibilities for mediums which we don't usually associate with "memorials" per se. See e.g.:


(scroll down to "in memoriam".) Unfortunately, the discussion there has been lost.
Also, a favorite architect of mine, Robert Venturi, talks about the everyday/vernacular memorial.
See: http://www.vsba.com/whoweare/index_philo.html
(especially, sketches on right.)

All that said, however...I can't help thinking, when I'm in a place like Washington D.C., that memorials are partly an excuse for not officially dealing with an issue - "here ya go, another memorial to appease you."

But, on the other hand, some like Maya Lin's (sp?) Vietnam War Memorial genuinely moves people; seemingly more than other memorials. Perhaps partly because it's more of a "blank slate," divested of context besides the inscribed names? I'm not sure. But I couldn't help, last time I was in D.C., becoming sickened and cynical, thinking of all the carnage that was memorialized in marble and bronze. I thought of that verse in Romans, but in a different way: "Shall we keep on [warring], so that [memorials] may increase? By no means; we died to [war], how can we live in it any longer?" Weird, I know, but the synapse has stuck with me for some reason.

Things/people/events DO need to be remembered; I think the expression needs to be rethought and reworked.

See, rambling is okay by me.

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