CHASTIZED BY THE NUCLEAR TAN OF JOHN BOEHNER
Why on earth are we surprised that a video showing ants crawling over a crucifix and an unyielding dick, among other images, caused uproar and censorship in Washington? Are we really surprised that homophobia is still alive and well in the town where Populist heroes decide what type of art may be deemed "too gay" for mass audiences?
Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. Censorship I think we can handle. However, innocence and overconfidence in our profession are sinful faults that can’t be easily forgiven. Picture this: In boxing match against the religious right, lefties assume they have the right to beat up the opponent with an anvil. Yet, they expect to be hit back by a nun wearing silk gloves.
Many are jumping to the conclusion that Ohio Republican apparatchik John Boehner’s aggressive attack on David Wojnarowicz and the Smithsonian is the first in a new wave of Culture Wars. This may be so for artists living in the U.S. For the great majority of artists living in the rest of America (Central, South and the Caribbean), censorship in all fronts is business as usual. Government and tyranny go hand in hand down the rabbit hole -- it’s a fact of life.
Mister Boehner did just what his constituents expect from him: squash culture through the grinder of partisan politics. The religious right, which makes up a big portion of the electorate, gets all hot and buttered by the circus. These fanatics are soldiers. Expect them to cheer up their heroes on January 3, 2010, when Mister Boehner and his sidekick, Virginia jock Eric Cantor, get baptized as new Speaker of the House and Majority Whip.
On the other hand, it’s ridiculous that we -- creative types -- can’t even fantasize of hiring a lobbyist to represent our interests in Congress. Think of the possibilities. Rest assured that as long as we don’t play the game, we can forget receiving special concessions. I wonder what Rocco Landesman thinks of this mess?
Censorship aside, this scandal has exposed the inability of our curatorial class to deal with real problems. I always thought curators could exercise some sort of influence from within their institutions. That it was a curator’s job to explain to the public the moral intricacies of free speech. That they could educate the masses and protect artists from misinformed populist bigotry.
Truth is, our remote-control curators can’t relate to the average American. They have been too slow to react -- slower than intravenous asphalt therapy. So far, their big accomplishment consists of sending elusive statements to the press condemning censorship, forgetting that real people don’t even read the arts section of our newspapers. Museum bureaucrats have the romantic illusion that showing their Wojnarowicz in unison will create enough extra sensorial force to intrude the minds of the masses, and that, by some sort of spontaneous magic, the masses will be informed of the unfair stance our government has taken towards culture. Such naïve response can only lead us to conclude that curators are simply waiting for artists to sacrifice themselves in the name of art.
Marilyn Manson, Alejandro Jodorowski and Madonna, the world’s most famous crucifix bashers, survived censorship and managed to become mainstream without curators chewing their ideas onto the world. Don’t our art guides feel shame after AIDS activists Mike Blasenstein and Mike Lacovone were banned for life from the Smithsonian for simply displaying the Wojnarowicz video on their iPads at the entrance to the Portrait Gallery?
If I had to choose, I would dare say I feel more empathy towards Wayne Clough, the "director" of the Smithsonian, than all of our curators together. At least he has the excellent excuse to have been obligated by the sight of Mister Boehner’s nuclear tan. Nevertheless, ripping Clough or the Smithsonian is useless. Remember how bloggers went after the New Museum and Dakis Joannu? Have vanity shows ceased to exist?
Curators posing as Miami Basel fashionistas is so passé. I want to see them working the streets, educating the people. Imitating Peter Finch in the film Network, giving their "mad as hell" speech. I want to see my curator pals imitating the defiant stance of late Chicago AIDS activist and cartoonist Daniel Sotomayor (1958-1992), who during the original Culture Wars pointed at Mayor Richard Daley with a banner that read, "Mayor Daley, tell the truth about AIDS."
But if I had the resources on Christmas I would gift the Senate floor with David Brooks’ Preserved Forest. You might recall the monumental installation at MoMA PS1 during "Greater New York." It consists of decaying trees sprayed with massive amounts of concrete. A fitting metaphor for a decaying government. And who knows, maybe Boehner will feel the heat pulsating from within his tan, a heat so extreme that he will decide to seek shade and disappear in the forest. Until then, and for those about to be censored in the coming years, we salute you.
PEDRO VÉLEZ is a Chicago-based artist and critic.