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Artnet News
Aug. 24, 2010 

The ROAR is getting louder! That would be Rags Over the Arkansas River, a protest group formed to oppose Christo’s latest project, a $50-million public art event that involves suspending six miles of silvery fabric panels over sections of the Arkansas River. Over the River, as the scheme is called, was hatched with the artist’s late wife Jeanne-Claude, and has been in the works since 1992 -- a YouTube video, produced for a 2008 show at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., has Christo saying that they picked the Arkansas because it was "the most rafted river in America." If all goes according to plan, the spectacular work goes on view for two weeks in summer 2013.

But first, the artist has to overcome stiff opposition from ROAR and other residents of the river towns around the site. And passions are running high indeed. In a recent Denver Post article on the dust-up, concerned citizens compared Over the River both to "hanging pornography in a church" and "a beautiful daughter sold into prostitution." Opponents worry about the hundreds of holes left in the river bank by posts used to anchor the panels in place (Christo has said he will fill these), the impact the giant art installation could have on local wildlife, and the possibility that the projected tourist hordes could overwhelm the area.

The federal Bureau of Land Management released an elaborate, 1,400-page environmental impact statement last month -- funded by Christo -- detailing potential concerns and offering a variety of proposals to address them. Public meetings about Over the River held in Salida, Cañon City, Cotopaxi and Denver drew "hundreds" of concerned citizens. A comment period has been extended through Sept. 13, and the BLM is set to issue its decision by next February.

But don’t think that Colorado is united against Over the River. According to the Post, many local businessmen welcome the promise of $120 million in tourism revenues, while Jack Chivvis, a local artist and rafter, thinks it’s all blown out of proportion, and that the controversy provoked by Christo might even be a healthy thing. "Most of the area he wants to drape is simply rubble," Chivvis said. "It’s not pristine. But whatever happens, he’s forced us to see that canyon in a whole different way. He’s made us think about why we love the river and what makes it beautiful."

What could be better promotion for the upcoming Toronto International Art Fair, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, 2010, than a little censorship controversy? The dispute broke into the open with an article in the Ottawa Citizen, detailing claims by the local Patrick Mikhail Gallery that the TIAF organizers were trying to exclude painter Andrew Morrow from the event -- apparently because his work is too racy for the Canadian art fest.

Morrow, whose work can be viewed on the Mikhail website, is known for paintings incorporating Conan the Barbarian-style imagery of macho men and nubile woman in various states of deshabile, sometimes engaged in sexual acts. It might be compared to the work of Lisa Yuskavage or other painters purveying an ironic and exaggerated form of kitsch. In one work, Still Life While Deliberately Avoiding the Topic of Vasectomy, Morrow presents some brushy painted fruit, while an arrow points to a white spot, labeled with the words, "Maybe Paint Three Penises Here." It would seem to be all in good fun.

TIAF, however, thought otherwise. Claiming that it was seeking a "family friendly" atmosphere, the fair requested that Morrow’s work be quarantined behind black curtains, with a warning sign. Furthermore, TIAF declined to print images of Morrow’s paintings in the fair catalogue. Though Mikhail voiced concerns that such curtains create "a peep-show atmosphere" that stigmatizes the art, he has since told Artnet News that he has agreed to show Morrow’s paintings according to the fair’s guidelines.

This friendly result didn’t prevent what was a minor dispute from producing a certain amount of ugly talk of censorship and even about Canadian values versus American ones. Mikhail told the Citizen that the Chicago-based Merchandise Mart, which owns the Toronto International Art Fair, had been imposing "Bible Belt values" on the Toronto art scene, adding, "I’m seeing Americans coming in and imposing themselves on Canadian culture, and making decisions based on American values." Representatives of the Mart lobbed back that TIAF had become "more contemporary, more edgy, every year" under the organization’s leadership.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., presents "Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow," Nov. 19, 2010-May 8, 2011, the first major survey of the popular 40-something painter’s career. Almost 50 paintings and works on paper are included, many of them combining the artist’s signature sense of genetic fantasy with his concern for ecology and observation of the natural world (the title for the show, "A Fable for Tomorrow," is also the title of the opening chapter of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which similarly combines "mythic narrative and factual reportage"). The show is organized by SAAM contemporary art curator Joanna Marsh, and does not travel.

The next time you’re at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, take another look at the forlorn pedestal that has been empty since 2002. Back in its spot of honor is a bronze bust of John F. Kennedy by sculptor Neil Estern (b. 1926), who recrafted a new, larger version of his original sculpture, which was first installed in 1965. The plinth has been vacant since 2002 as part of a refurbishment of the site.

The Philadelphia Impressionist painter Frederick R. Wagner (1864-1940) might be described as "little-known," if he didn’t have so much representation at galleries in his hometown (like the Caldwell Gallery and Jim’s of Lambertville), and if he didn’t have more than 100 lots in Artnet’s auction database. Still, museum attention to Wagner, in Philadelphia or elsewhere, has been limited -- till now.

Philadelphia’s Woodmere Art Museum is currently presenting "Fred Wagner: American Painter - A Family Perspective," Aug. 21-Oct. 17, 2010, including 21 paintings, largely later works from 1930 on but also including the markedly avant-garde Smoking Lady from 1913. As reported by Victoria Donohoe in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wagner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts starting in 1878, assisted Thomas Eakins in the anatomy department, and subsequently was a regular at the Philadelphia Sketch Club -- which plans a second show of Wagner’s paintings this fall, Nov. 1-13, 2010.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of a book, Fred Wagner, An American Painter, which is compiled by two members of Wagner’s family, Susan Smith and Cyndy Drue, and including an essay by Walter Robinson, editor of Artnet Magazine (Wagner was our grandmother’s uncle). For more info on Wagner, as well as the new book, see

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