If, as Oscar Wilde reminded us, "The beautiful is superior to the good, because the beautiful encompasses the good," then art faces a deep dilemma in the time of snipers and Al Qaeda.
Recently, an Italian friend told us about an apartment she's thinking of buying in Rome, with a striking mural.
"It's school of Giotto," she remarked, "Jesus and the Pope are driving a Jew with a long black beard into the pit of hell --, nevertheless, it's a masterpiece."
We're still thinking about that one, frankly, for art, so empathetic and sympathetic to suffering always turns neutral in the face of evil. Tilts towards amoral beauty, even.
Think of Warhol's "Electric Chairs" or "Death and Disaster" -- they sanctify, even purify, the observer, first the artist who made them, then us.
Then think of "Mirroring Evil," last year's Nazi stink bomb at the Jewish Museum, featuring Tom Sachs, a recent signatory to the "Not in Our Name" petition against war with Iraq.
Tom's response to Nazism in that show was pure kitsch -- crematoriums designed by Chanel -- ha ha ha.
The joke continues -- just observe the talented Erik Parker's new show at Leo Koenig. One piece neutrally delineates the story of Saddam Hussein, his predecessors, CIA supporters, Soviet sympathizers, ad nauseum.
The effect, in glorious Parkercolor, is to, for a moment, neutralize the threat to New York, to us, as if September 11, and Anthrax, and Bali, never even happened.
"I'm just trying to throw it out there," Parker told us, "I'm a Texan." And perhaps that's his prerogative.
But, when I see a woman lying dead in a suburban Home Depot parking lot with a bullet in her head, I want something more, now, from art.
I don't care how many hot shots go to Leo Koenig for an opening, because I'm already living in another dimension.
I'm living in Buchenwald, and among the skulls of the Khmer Rouge, and deep in the Gulag, and dancing in a club in Bali, because after September 11, I know I'm next, and I don't have patience for Leon Golub and Paula Cooper and Christie Brinkley and other self-involved phonies running anti-war ads in The Times.
And I don't have time for Bill Moyers' son running ads depicting Osama bin Laden as Uncle Sam for TomPaine.com (an ad, by the way, that is a rip-off of one I promoted for "Unsell the War," against Vietnam, 33 years ago).
Hey, art-world ostriches, your necks are buried so deep, that my pal Maurizio Cattelan looks like Patrick Henry by comparison.
Let's remember Mr. Henry's words, "Give me liberty or give me death" -- and when the chips are down, and the innocent dead fester, and we are in the crosshairs and are compelled to resist, please don't give me art!