Abigail’s post yesterday on protest culture, Wisconsin and WAGE has me thinking about a lot of things, not the least of which is the visual culture of demonstration itself. Last week Eyeteeth’s Paul Schmelzer blogged a newsbit about the Smithsonian sending a curator to document the signs and placards being used during the protests. I had never really considered all those black Sharpie-scrawled cardboard signs and drawings as conveying anything other than the messages written on them, but as soon as I shifted my perspective to consider them historically, i.e. as examples of material culture worthy of historical documentation and preservation…well, that was a head slapping moment for me. This material is so obviously significant, and yet so easy to overlook. The fantastic set of images Abby used to illustrate her post also helped slam this point home for me, especially because several of those messages were delivered on something other than written placards. Protestors wear costumes and perform. They make collages and small drawings. They build installations and sculptures. There is an art to all this: whatever form the protest sign takes, it needs to be sharply worded (or visualized) yet concise, funny helps too, and even if the sign consists solely of text it needs somehow to be strikingly visual in nature. The Wisconsin signs reference Edvard Munch alongside movies like Kill Bill and Star Wars, and I think I even glimpsed a nod to the Librarian in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (ook!).
Smithsonian curator Barbara Clark Smith has her work cut out for her. Just think of the sheer volume of great material that must be surveyed and, ultimately, selected. Now that’s a fascinating idea to contemplate – what are the curatorial standards for determining which protest material is worth preserving for posterity? Also worth noting is the large volume of internet-based photo archives that are already collecting this material. Some of Abby’s images came from a Flickr archive by Marc Fischer from the Public Collectors photostream (Fisher documented protests occurring on Saturday March 12, 2011 in Madison). If you’re interested in scouring more of this material, other great sources include Brooklyn Street Art (link via Eyeteeth), who in turn culled a number of great images from Buzzfest.com, TheArcadeFlame, MarkonF1re, MarkTasman, pinku_pinku, and Lost Albatros.
The Andy Warhol Foundation has sent a letter to Wayne Clough, The Smithsonian Institution’s Secretary, demanding the reinstatement of the censored David Wojnarovicz piece in the National Portrait Gallery’s Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition. If the work is not reinstated, The Warhol Foundation says it will cease funding all future Smithsonian Institution Exhibitions. Here’s the text of the letter, which the Warhol Foundation posted on its website today as a press release:
December 13, 2010
For Immediate Release
Contact Joel Wachs, President, 212.387.7555
The following letter was sent today by The Andy Warhol Foundation to Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution:
December 13, 2010
Mr. Wayne Clough
SIB Office of the Secretary
PO Box 37012
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012
Dear Mr. Clough,
The Warhol Foundation is proud to have been a lead supporter of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, but we strongly condemn the decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition. Such blatant censorship is unconscionable. It is inimical to everything the Smithsonian Institution should stand for, and everything the Andy Warhol Foundation does stand for.
Although we have enjoyed our growing relationship during the past three years, and have given more than $375,000 to fund several exhibitions at various Smithsonian institutions, we cannot stand by and watch the Smithsonian bow to the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred and fear.
Last week the Foundation published a statement on its website www.warholfoundation.org, condemning the National Portrait Gallery’s removal of the work and on Friday our Board of Directors met to discuss the long-term implications of the Museum’s behavior on the Foundation’s relationship with the Smithsonian Institution. After careful consideration, the Board voted unanimously to demand that you restore the censored work immediately, or the Warhol Foundation will cease funding future exhibitions at all Smithsonian institutions.
I regret that you have put us in this position, but there is no other course we can take. For the arts to flourish the arts must be free, and the decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression wherever and whenever it is under attack.
cc: Ms. Patricia Stonesifer, Smithsonian Chairwoman of the Board
Directors of Smithsonian Institution museums
Board Chairs of Smithsonian Institution museums
This week: Tom, Amanda, and Duncan talk to super collector Hubert Neumann. He’s candid, he doesn’t mince words and he knows a ton of stuff, don’t miss it.
Also, Richard thinks that the Smithsonian and National Portrait Gallery are striving to redefine “spineless cowards” in their role in the museum word. Great job guys, I look forward to seeing what a Fox News curated museum looks like!
Please be sure to take a moment and e-mail the following people your thoughts on their caving in to political censorship.
Public Affairs Specialist
Public Affairs Assistant
Director of Development
and External Affairs
Deputy Director of Development
External Affairs Specialist
I flew to Washington, DC this week for many reasons but while here made a point to see as much Art as I could and after a few galleries, museums and private collections some of which were sprinted through, some I could spend more time in I found much of the art venues to be a tad sparse and fragile. Lacking the solidity and permanence you would think would come naturally in the nation’s capital. The one gem that stood out surprisingly was The National Portrait Gallery.
I mentioned it last week in posting the video that Spielberg/Lucas produced to showcase their collection of Norman Rockwell works and planned to take time to see the show but had low expectations even though I did like the attempt to contextualize Rockwell as a directors painter. The Rockwell series was enjoyable and pleasant to see his paintings side by side with his preparatory drawings (which in many ways do overshadow the finished works) and the Spielberg/Lucas collection is a well curated and thought out collection with only a few stranglers (works based on the four seasons) which could easily have been early purchases and they were smartly set aside in a small corner by themselves apart from the main body of work. I wish I could have photos to share but they were militant on retaining their photo copyrights and even chased me away from photographing the entrance to the exhibition from over 15 feet away (which is a all time high for me after 8+ years of trying to document things like this).
What made the National Portrait Gallery stand out for me above the various Smithsonian collections including the National Gallery (which is staffed by some of the most pleasant customer service & guards I have ever dealt with, makes you wonder if the fact that the recession hasn’t even scratched this town having anything to do with that disposition?) was that it was both a dense collection of works that were smartly pooled into thematic bite size chucks but also very romantic and intimate as a venue. A throwback to the turn of the century parlors of old where you felt you had a more intimate one on one with a artist or series of works.
The term portrait gallery is apt for portions of the collection but it’s just meaningless for a large part and gives a misconception of what lies under the roof of that building. Many of the works being smart or rarely seen examples of pastoral or figurative 19th century works that feel fresher and challenging then their age would hint in this day of clinical detachment.
One of the interesting temporary exhibits in the museum was the annual portrait competition by various young artists, grad students and such. The work was surprisingly strong and continued to show the diversity that still exists in this 21st century bouillabaisse of style. About 20% of it wasn’t worth comment but much was fresh and well executed and even the parts that were derivative from more established but lesser known artists were still interesting.
For once as well the top award given by the public to Margaret Bowland’s girls in wedding gowns and white face was more deserving in some ways then the top juried choice. You can see a gallery list below. Have a great weekend!
August 6, 2010 · Print This Article
Art = ((Money + Love)* Infatuation) its a equation we all know and like gravity you ignore it at your own peril. Everyone advocates for what they love or to be more mercenary, what they have invested money in and we all live in the shadow of that fact. The Economics of Art is much the same as everything else just tweaked a bit more. This is nothing new to anyone that has been in the Art world for any length but sometimes is worth restating.
Norman Rockwell plays into that fact neatly and had been promoted and actively shoehorned into the modern art cannon discussion with increasing persistence starting in the mid 90′s and continuing today. Nothing wrong with that, its the active debate that keeps the art world fresh and acts as oxygen sometimes when the fishbowl we live in starts to be a tad hypoxic.
Right now George Lucas & Steven Spielberg have loaned their collection to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to be on display from July 2nd to January 2nd. Most of the time anything having to do with Lucas or Spielberg I would not mention since I largely view the quality of their work to be in a holding pattern and their grip on contemporary anything to be a bit loose but the video brought to you again from Art Babble for the first time makes a semi cogent argument for Rockwell’s inclusion in the larger discussion on modern art.
The video is well worth your time if for no other reason then to see some lesser know works of Rockwell’s and get a feel for the body of work from a cinematic point of view. Some of it was very interesting even to a jaded individual as myself and when I am in DC next week will actually go out of my way to see their collection in person among other higher priorities.