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Artnet News
Oct. 15, 2009 

It is easily the most pathetic attempt to restart the Culture Wars yet. Republican politicians in Tucson, Az., have put the local Museum of Contemporary Art in their crosshairs, attacking what they call a "sweetheart" deal the museum has with the city as it prepares to move into a new space in a repurposed firehouse. To whip up conservative ire, these same critics have resorted to that old standby, demonizing contemporary art as "pornographic" -- though their chief example is a single work in a group show featured at the museum more than four years ago.

At issue is Big Dicks #1 by L.A.-based artist Jaime Scholnick, a painting that features a swarm of semi-abstract -- but unmistakable -- phallic shapes rendered in Warhol-esque colors. It was included in the show "Quickening" at MoCA Tucson in 2005, which was organized by Julia Latane as part of the museum’s "Artist as Curator" series. Also in that exhibition were works by Brian Cooper, Michaela Daly, Claudio Dicochea, Adriana Gallego, Sherin Guirguis, Juan Logan, Rachel Neubauer, Timothy Nolan and Max Presneill.

Unbelievably, the four-year-old art show has become the hot button issue in the city council race, as a result of a series of newspaper and billboard attacks funded by a group called Tucson Vision Committee, backed by Republican national committeeman Bruce Ash in an effort to unseat incumbent Democrats. The newspaper ads, featuring stark white-on-black text, exhort readers to demand of the current city council "why they used your tax dollars to subsidize an art exhibit (‘Big Dicks’) that’s not appropriate for children, or families" -- a statement that already contains two falsehoods, as MoCA Tucson is not city-funded (it gets by on grants), and Big Dicks was the title of a work in a group show, not a whole exhibition.

"I have an issue with some of the things being displayed openly in public," Republican city council hopeful Shaun McClusky told the Arizona Daily Star, apparently referring to Scholnick’s work. "Is that something you want a nine-year-old to see?"

MoCA Tucson is set to take possesion of its new headquarters at 265 North Church Ave. on Dec. 1, 2009. The institution has been granted $1 a year lease by the city, and right-wing critics have painted this as a subsidy for degenerate art. The museum points out that it was the sole applicant for the space, which it won in an open application process; furthermore, MoCA has also assumed responsibility for upkeep and renovation. In fact, the Tucson Police Department declined to move into the same building in 2006, precisely because it couldn’t afford the renovation costs. As part of its efforts to raise indignation, Tucson Vision Committee has spread the rumor that the Department of Homeland Security wanted to rent the space for $84,000. City representatives say this claim is untrue.

Nevertheless, misinformation has spread far and fast. A TV report on KGUN news not only repeated the discredited Homeland Security talking point, but also let Bruce Ash assert that MoCA Tucson had recently purchased the Scholnick work with "taxpayer money, in the middle of a budget crisis," a bald fabrication. Even more egregiously, KGUN’s own reporter wrongly claimed that MoCA Tucson was preparing to open its new facilities with a show that would highlight the suddenly controversial work.

All of this has left the museum fighting to defend itself, pointing out that its move to new headquarters is part of a citywide effort to revitalize downtown Tucson, and that the institution has brought tourism and acclaim to the city through its admirable programming. (It is, for instance, set to debut its new building on Feb. 6, 2010, with a gala honoring well-known Swiss artist Olivier Mosset, co-sponsored by Bomb magazine [for more on Mosset, see below].)

"Anyone who has questions about the kind of education we do, the kind of programming we do, can just look online. It speaks for itself," MoCA Tucson director Anne-Marie Russell (co-founder of Mixed Greens in New York) told Artnet News (info about MoCA Tucson’s programming can be found here). Russell also defended the value of Scholnick’s work. "From Praxiteles to Michelangelo, there are penises in art," she said. "It’s a fact."

Nevertheless, Russell called the current uproar a "distracting fight," coming at a moment when her institution should be preparing for the triumph of opening its new space. She expressed concern that the controversy would do "lasting damage," despite its thin basis in reality.

In a humorous footnote, the decency-loving Tucson Vision Committee has itself been censored for being indecent. Its billboard campaign around the city features the message "Tell Us What You Think about City Council," and lists a phone number where citizens can call in and leave messages to be used in future attack ads. Original plans had the billboards reading "Tell Us What the Hell You Think about City Council" -- but the strong language was nixed because of an “ongoing dispute” between Clear Channel and the city council (although this tidbit comes from KGUN, so take it with a grain of salt).

Brian and Anna Haughton launch the 2009 edition of the International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show, Oct. 16-22, 2009, at the Park Avenue Armory, with a gala preview tonight, Oct. 15, benefiting the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Tickets begin at $200; contact (212) 639-7972. Spaciously organized with larger stands (three aisles only), the fair boasts 65 exhibitors, a few more than last year. General admission is $20.

The fair includes some of the art-world’s best-known names, including A La Vieille Russie, Agnew’s, Axel Vervoordt, Galerie Boulakia, Douglas Dawson, Peter Finer, Hyland Granby, Koopman, MacConnal-Mason, Maison Gerard, Mallett, Lillian Nassau, Jill Newhouse and Phoenix Ancient Art. Economic strictures have prompted a number of veteran exhibitors to sit it out this year, some 15 in all, including Ralph M. Chait, the Chinese Porcelain Company, Colnaghi, Richard Green and Hirschl & Adler. But one player’s discard is another’s opportunity. The fair easily signed up new dealers, including Ariadne, Donald Heald Rare Books, Clinton Howell Antiques, Jason Jacques, Keshishian, Galerie Lefebvre, Primavera, Steinitz, Tomasso Brothers, Waterhouse & Dodd and Wienerroither & Kohlbacher

The fair catalogue, which features a special article by Seattle Art Museum curator Julie Emerson on the Room of a Thousand Porcelains, can be downloaded online at

The Haughtons also recently announced plans for a fair in London designed to take the place of the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, which typically occurs in June (the veteran fair, after a long run, announced earlier this year that it would not continue). The new Art Antiques London, organized by the Haughtons, is slated for June 9-16, 2010, sited in a custom-made facility in Kensington Gardens opposite Royal Albert Hall.

Say one thing for the Italians -- they know how to do public art in a really big way. According to legislation passed in 1949, two percent of the construction costs of new public buildings must be allocated for artworks, and so it was for MAXXI, Rome’s new National Museum of 21st-Century Art, designed by Zaha Hadid and due to open in spring 2010. The overall budget for the art is an impressive €1,130,000, or almost $1.7 million.

A year ago, the Italian authorities put out an open call for proposals for two works: one for the inside of the facility, and another for the outside. More than 500 proposals were submitted by artists from almost 50 different countries. The winner for the interior commission, budgeted at €430,000, is Maurizio Mochetti (b. 1940), whose project, titled Linee rette di luce nell’Iperspazio curvilineo, is described as "a space barometer" involving lights and sculptures.

As for the exterior work, for which €700,000 is allocated, the winner is Massimo Grimaldi (b. 1974), who proposed an Emergency’s Pediatric Centre in Juba Supported by MAXXI. This ingenious use of percent-for-art funds is described as "a photographic work of art" that results from the realization of a project "with a high social and ethical content." That is, Grimaldi plans to use the public art funds to establish an emergency hospital in Juba in the Sudan, and display photographs of the construction and start-up of the facility as a video projection on the MAXXI exterior.

One highlight of the forthcoming FIAC art fair in Paris, Oct. 22-25, 2009, is a performance by Christian Marclay to be presented in the Louvre Museum auditorium on Oct. 24, 2009. Pianist Steve Beresford is performing a selection from Marclay’s Ephemera, a musical score assembled from the "eclectic collection of decorative musical notations found in various ads, magazine illustrations, menus, candy wrappings, pieces of fabric, etc." The presentation is accompanied by a 28-folio musical folio of Ephemera, printed as 90 numbered and signed sets by mfc-michèle didier, Brussels. For reservations, contact

Have any plans to be in Grenoble in France this winter? If you are (it’s in the southeast, at the foot of the French Alps), then head for Le Magasin, the town’s hip contemporary art museum, which is hosting "Portrait de l’artiste en motocycliste," Oct. 11, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010, a wide selection of artworks from the collection of painter Olivier Mosset (b. 1944). The exhibition is designed to provide a portrait of Mosset without showing any of his own works, but rather by focusing on things he has collected over the years, many of which have been donated to the Musée de la Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland and other museums. The many artists in the show range from Carl Andre, John Armleder, Art Club 2000 and Dike Blair through Steven Parrino, Lisa Ruyter, Peter Schuyff and Joan Waltemath. For more details, as well as a short vid of Mosset discussing the show, see

This December, to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami is presenting "Yayoi Kusama at Fairchild," Dec. 5, 2009-May 30, 2010. The installation features works from Kusama’s new sculpture ensemble, Flowers That Bloom at Midnight (2009), sculptures from her "Pumpkin" series and a special new work, Guidepost to the New Space, designed to protrude enigmatically above the surface of the water in one of the ponds in the 83-acre garden. For more info, see

Tico Torres
, the Cuban-born drummer for the popular rock group Bon Jovi, is a visual artist as well. In conjunction with Art Basel Miami Beach, Torres is doing a one-night exhibition of his works, Dec. 5, 2009, 5-10 pm, at the MAC Fine Art Group Gallery at 2727 NW 2nd Avenue in Miami. For a preview of the artworks in the show, and to rsvp for the event -- "highly recommended," according to the gallery -- click here

Heather James Fine Art
in Palm Desert, Ca., opens its own survey of works by Pablo Picasso, featuring paintings, sculptures, works on paper and ceramics, Nov. 28, 2009-Mar. 14, 2010. The show highlights an important private collection of 80 examples of Picasso’s ceramics, and includes Grand White Vase with Four Panels, one of the artist’s major ceramic works. Other pieces in the show include La Petite Chouette (1953), an assemblage sculpture of a rooster from the Ganz Collection, and the exquisitely colorful linocut Buste de Femme d’apres Cranach (1953), made after Picasso left Paris for the south of France. Prices range from $5,000 to $25 million. For further info, see

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