Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, August 28, 2004
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, August 25, 2004
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, August 24, 2004.
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, August 19, 2004.
Exuberance is Beauty. -- William Blake
Flower Arrangement (Celosia and Roses) and Photograph by Catherine King, August 15, 2004.
by Jerome du Bois
[This article includes a lively, annotated list of the exhibition artists, with some links and popups, after the jump, as an appendix to the post. (The Herberger's list is here, on their helpful website.) The backstory to this piece is on the sidebar to the right, under the President. Joe Watson's fairly uncritical but otherwise excellent Phoenix New Times article is required background material.]
Seven months ago, two Arizona Art Museum curators -- Marilyn Zeitlin and John Spiak (though their deluded crew soon grew to six) devised a sneaky plan to embarrass the President of the United States by presenting him with a viciously anti-Bush art exhibition deceptively called "Democracy in America" when he came to the university October 13th for his final debate with Senator Kerry. This is the story of how their plan backfired and they were ordered to balance the show, thus exposing them as liars, cowards, and numbskulls. I'll explain that last one first.
One must be breathing real air, outside the hermetic academic fantasy world these people inhabit, to see the deluded hubris that dominates their minds. Ted Decker, Peter Held, Heather Sealy Lineberry, Jean Makin, John Spiak, and Marilyn Zeitlin must have actually believed that ASU President Michael Crow would eat crow: that he would, for one, put a multi-hundred-million dollar public institution, partially dependent on Federal funds, at risk, financially or by public embarrassment; or that, two, he would foul his own professional future permanently by pissing off the President of the United States -- whoever that man turned out to be.
And why would the University President do these things? Because over there on the far corner of the campus at the art museum (big cash cow) six pissants were scheming to promote their narrow hateful agenda through political cartoons while trashing the twin towers of Democracy and America and all who love them both. Riiiight. Read me that list of names again?
The curators huffed about freedom of expression, confident of their eventual victory, while ignoring their own subterfuge: it was never going to be about Democracy in America -- the message was "trash Bush" from the git-go. Zeitlin, Spiak, and some of the artists admit it. (Read Joe Watson's article.) They both commissioned specifically anti-Bush art as far back as February.
To drive home the level of delusion I'm trying to illustrate here, imagine this short scenario: ASU President Michael Crow returns to his office from lunch one late summer day, grateful for the air-conditioning, feeling that pleasant post-prandial glow.
(To his Admin.Asst.): Are there any messages, Lynn?
Lynn: Yes, sir -- here. Nothing urgent. But this one -- (holding up the slip) -- very curious. A Jody Jones called, saying he was a personal assistant to Andrew Card, the Pre--
Pres. Crow: The Chief of Staff in the Bush White House?
Lynn: Yes, sir, that's what he said. He gave me his cell phone number and a White House confirmation code, he said . . . What do you think it's about?
Pres. Crow (spitting it out): It's about art. Get me Marilyn Zeitlin on the phone, please.
That's all it would take to deflate these brave standard-bearers of Bush-hatred, proud heralds of the creative class. Seriously. Follow the scenario and dig the pecking order: President Crow is going to get the full skinny and take steps to correct the situation before he gets back to Jody. That is, a personal assistant to Andrew Card is far more important than Marilyn Zeitlin. It's a fact I bring up for Ms. Zeitlin's sake, to prevent future embarrassment. You greedy fool. (More on Zeitlin's greed below. Brief hint: Cuba, and pleasing Castro.)
How didja all get into this pickle? Because of your dishonesty. If all six of you had started out honoring your own Tocquevillean rubric -- "democracy in America" -- neither President Bush nor Senator Kerry could object to some ugly images. (Both of them are inured to such puerility, anyway, seeing it all the time on the campaign trail -- and, for President Bush, overseas as well. More leftist naïveté, thinking they're shocking.) Instead, by trying to submarine the President of the United States -- a man who has advance teams for his advance teams -- you reveal yourselves as not only powerless (and clueless of the truly powerful), but one-dimensional, intolerant, and deluded art professionals. And I'm going to give you a whupping.
Most of the story is a matter of public record, mainly in Joe Watson's article -- except my little scenario. I don't know exactly who talked to who, and who looked at what. The play probably went Michael Crow to Robert Mills (Dean of Fine Arts) to Marilyn Zeitlin, with maybe a short stop at HSFA Comm.Dir. Stacy Shaw. The upshot: the curators were backed into a corner, so they had to either sacrifice their jobs and the exhibition on principle, or fold like camp chairs, 'fess up, and try to salvage -- balance -- the show. Their answer was typical, predictable, and sad. The new subtitle of the exhibition is "Political Satire Then and Now," and the new artist list, though still dominated by low-concept political caricature, reflects the dilution. It's still anti-Bush, but the loony screaming has been reduced to an infantile whine. (The image they chose for the website is Julian Schnabel's vapid and innocuous Vote.)
To coincide with the final debate in the most important election so far in the Twenty-First Century, during wartime no less, these deep-thinkers -- six professionals, maybe more -- want to join the conversation with debased political humor, most of it stale. Well, they had to; after already accepting so many caricatures and cartoons, what other option did they have? They told everybody they weren't going to send any accepted work back (but they ditched two anyway.) They were stuck with their choices. Once again, they were trapped by their cultural narrowness, academic arrogance, and political ignorance.
Here are the brave new words of the revised press release on the website, which I downloaded August 11th, in toto:
This exhibition presents works that depict political figures and events, some reverential but most satirical.
Contemporary works are placed in historical context to demonstrate the persistence of the satiric spirit in political discourse and the recurrence of similar concerns from the 17th century to the present.
The exhibition presents a variety of media by regional and nationally known artists, and a wide variety of points of view.
The goal of the project is to encourage discussion and raise awareness of the privilege and responsibility of voting.
The exhibition offers the opportunity to bring children to learn about the election process through Kids Voting.
Plus, you can register to vote at the museum through October 2, then VOTE on November 2!
Compare these vapidities with excerpts from the earlier, edgier, now unofficial release put out by John Spiak (courtesty of Joe Watson's July 1 article; I hope you do a follow-up, man):
. . . includes artists -- both regionally and nationally known -- who will "explore what are current images of the United States and of democracy." . . .
"'This is not the America I know,'" the "unofficial" release begins. "That was George W. Bush's response to the initial revelaton of the abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"To encourage discussion, raise awareness of the upcoming presidential election, illuminate some of the underlying issues, and educate visitors about the electoral process, the curators . . . have curated an exhibition of work by contemporary artists . . . Taking a broad approach to the subject, the exhibition will present a variety of media."
I'll leave detailed comparisons to the reader, but clearly there's a difference in emphasis. Abu Ghraib? Whazzat? Look over there: Kids Voting! Yay! What happened to these curators between February, or even July 1, and August? To be as fair to everyone as I can, remember that Joe Watson covered the facts of this before, so I am going to add a few reasonable, but totally unfounded speculations to the round out the narrative.
So . . . let's go back about seven months, and find the place where it all began.
It all began when the year began, when Marilyn Zeitlin, Senior Curator, and John Spiak, learned that Grady Gammage Auditorium, on the ASU campus, would host the third and final Presidential Debate, on October 13, 2004. They decided they would do their best to put together an anti-Bush art exhibition. Months later, as Watson was researching his article, he received a June 24th email from Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Nancy Neff, which read in part:
There is no 'exhibit' at this stage of the process . . . it generally takes a year, and sometimes as much as two years, to curate a professional exhibit. There are a number of community, academic, and/or cultural programs/events that are being discussed in connection with the debate, but nothing is even close to being finalized . . .
By August 11th it was finalized: the show's announcement went up on the website, to open at the end of this month, with the revised information and artist list. The curators moved fast, and it shows.
Now, I don't know John Spiak's motivation for hating President Bush, or wanting to hide the true nature of the show. I know he started ducking questions around the beginning of July. I speculate it started with standard thirty-something academic liberalism; who knows what turned it virulent? (It's also as if 9/11 never happened to the guy.)
About Marilyn Zeitlin I have better idea: I speculate that she's trying to please her Cuban connections, developed over twenty-plus years, and thus preserve her Cuban art cash cow. Nothing would please Castro more than to see President Bush embarrassed, and he would remember the source. I suspect Ted Decker's motivation is similar, since he's all over the island, too.
I don't know about the other curators' motivations, but if they dissented, it doesn't show.
So Spiak and Zeitlin, beginning in February, solicited some paintings, making their preferences crystal-clear. In Watson's article, he reports that every artist he contacted on the (earlier) artist list knew what the message was supposed to be -- trash Bush, his policies, and the war in Iraq -- and agreed with it.
Everything was purring along until Joe Watson started asking questions. The administration stepped forward. The curators seemed defiant. After the article came out, the juking and jiving began; after July 10, the publicity died down, and now, on August 11, there's a new, diluted exhibition which threatens no one.
I'm going to break it down in some detail in the appendix, but first I must point to two kinds of art one might obtain by taking the notion of "democracy in America" seriously. The first comes from our own parodical preview of the exhibition. We actually thought highly of this idea, and still do:
Cindy Dach, Greg Esser, Wayne Rainey. Depicting A Diptychted Democracy: Operating as "The DocuPosse," this trio collaborated on an ambitious project. They have/will spread out over the Valley to record in still photos every public meeting they are allowed into, from homeowner's associations to school board meetings to city councils to the state legislature committee meetings. In each case, two photos exist: on the left, the panel or those running the meeting; on the right, the audience at the same time. The resulting diptyches should cover an entire wall.
The second example comes from my wife, Catherine King, who described getting excited by doing an installation -- "America the Beautiful" -- around the idea, "Democracy in America." In her piece, she writes about a 24-hour emotional arc, right in the middle of the year, showing her initial euphoria, the excited planning and description in the middle, to the all-too-rapid disappointment when she realized . . . well, read it.
I've gone through the new list, made my judgments, done my adding and subtracting, and here's the way I interpret the new exhibition, based on the data laid out in the appendix and using the criterion of pro-Bush / anti-Bush as my main discriminator:
43 total artists
-5 dropped (*), leaving
38 artists now
-16 who are innocuous, dead, and/or irrelevant (see Legend below)
22 artists now
-19 self-identified as anti-Bush by statement or artwork
3 artists now
-1 unknown political position
2 artists now
-2 artists who submitted anti-Kerry work
Total: 2 anti-Kerry, 19 anti-Bush. the 22 rest . . . educational hand-waving. Of those 19 anti-Bush artists, 14 of their pieces do not refer directly to President Bush. So now we've got 2 anti-Kerry and 5 overtly anti-Bush. There's no real balance, but simply a deflection into historical comparisons and irrelevancies. (Mussolini?) This deflavorizes the venom, and thus the impact. Most of the stuff is wall work, most of it small. Haddock's badly-made papier-maché installation of 98 Nazi-saluting Senator-puppets -- by far the largest piece in the show -- will probably be installed right in the center, souring the mood and lowering the discourse right away. (It's like a crystallization of Godwin's Law.) Dan Collins's piece will be technologically clever and conceptually dated (I cannot tell a lie!). Heide Hesse's gumball/change machine will typically be, as all her pieces are, insulting to American institutions, which seem to still be the best around, despite folks like these three fools. And the rest . . . well, check the list and make up your mind. I have. I see a sloppy attempt by caught-out cowards to cover their cushy, complacent asses.
[Comments are open. Bring it on.]
An annotated, updated list of the artists in "Democracy in America:"
(AB) means Anti-Bush by declaration or example of work
(ASU) means faculty member
(I) means irrelevant to the notion of being pro-Bush or anti-Bush because the artist is dead or innocuous or simply dated
* indicates not on final list
? indicates political position unknown
(AB) Eric Avery -- pychiatrist / printmaker. Inauguration Day, 2001, linoleum block print.
(I) Russell Barnett Aitken -- ceramic busts of Roosevelt, Hitler, and Mussolini, from 1940.
(AK) Jim Budde -- ceramics: Kerry In Idaho. Idaho-shaped jug with ketchup bottle panhandle. Budde himself is anti-Bush, though.
(AB) Enrique Chagoya -- a ripoff of Goya, from Disasters of War [what? you think the name similarity gives you access?], but what about this one, which would have been more right on, eh? He also contributes a lithograph entitled Untitled (Road Map), 2003.
* Michael Ray Charles (ASU) -- why did you get aced, man? You're a professor! of art! at The Herberger School!
(AB) Collin Chillag -- local painter (New Babel). This real stand-up guy said last month, "I feel like the show's overt Bush-bashing is going to compromise my work," but he's not going to pull it.
(AB) Sue Coe -- oooh, brand new, from the asafoetidan Brit: "dimensions to come." Title: The Shooting Gallery. Let me guess: a heroic, serious portrait, in trademark woodcut b/w, of the President bravely standing for freedom. Okay, wait, let me guess again . . . She also has an intaglio from 1992 entitled Supreme Court. Also, under the section on "Elections," another charming intaglio entitled They Cut Off Their Hands So They Couldn't Vote, 2000, referring to that infamous event in American history when . . . well, when did they cut those Americans' hands off? I forget . . .
(AB) Dan Collins (ASU) -- I Cannot Tell a Lie, 2004. "Sculpture/monitor installation incorporating Hiram Powers' bust of George Washington [him again!] (1849) from collection of ASU Art Museum [aha! how convenient, Dan.]
(AB) Robbie Conal -- comics / caricature. Read My Apocalips, from an edition of 250. [Hopeful, are we, Robbie?]
(I) William Coupon -- six portraits of presidents. (see sidebar photo)
(I) Honoré Daumier -- lithos of the French Parliament from 1834 and 1849.
(AK) Linda Eddy -- A caricaturist who was commissioned to do five 6" by 6" giclee prints, which must have cost a fortune. Here are three of the titles: Senator Flip-Flop, Kerry's Creation, and Veep Edwards. Two more to come and I can hardly wait. Honestly, how can the candidates survive this devastating show?
* Shepard Fairey -- cartoony painting called Hug Bombs. Definitely anti-Bush. No longer in show. Awwww.
(I) Arthur Habegger -- folk artist? "Three carved and painted wooden canes" (of Gore, Bush, Hillary Clinton), c. 2000. Waow.
(AB) Jon Haddock -- cartoons and caricatures; warlord troll of the resinous heart. One of our main nemisi. We guessed right about his contribution, 98-107, in our first, truly satirical piece about this show.
(AB) Heidi Hesse -- We predicted she'd be in this show, too. We're just shocked her Gummer Hummer isn't going to make it. American Dream is a gumball machine and a change machine, and a drawing, "dimensions to come." You can read my piece about this perpetual non-citizen here.
(I) William Hogarth -- four engravings from the 1750s.
* Charles Howe -- Rockwell knockoffs; innocuous. Gone, no explanation.
(I) Benito Huerta -- Abraxas Suite . . . five boring atmospheric monoprints with a single bill of Latin American currency stuck to the right lower corner of each one. That's it. How does this relate to the subject?
(AB) Peter Kuper -- cartoons and caricatures, including Richie Bush, which shows the President with bloody hands. I warn Mr. Kuper that bloody hands nowadays is often correctly read as anti-Semitic. Even if that is not his intention or motivation, as an experienced NYC graphic artist, he should be hip to this by now.
(AB) Carolyn Lavender (ASU) -- painter. Anatomy of Polarization I & II, 2004.
(I) Roy Lichtenstein -- "Oval Office," 1992. Pretty but irrelevant. (See image on Herberger site.)
(AB) Larry Litt -- film: deadpan face testimonies, a la Channel 5 PublicCam. Before You Don't Vote . . . 2003.
(I) Leopoldo Mendez -- d. 1969. Four Mexican wood engravings from the early 1940s.
(I) Thomas Nast -- two political cartoons about municipal corruption from 1871.
(AB) Mark Newport -- Desert Storm Series, 1991. These are beaded trading cards. Leftovers from a Liza Lou?
* Mear One -- cartoony painting called Let's Play Armageddon. Another ugly anti-Bush image gone, gone, gone.
(AB) Luo Xiao Ping -- stoneware w/glaze: Bush and Saddam from the Times Square Series, 2003.
(AB) James Poppitz -- conceptual / graffiti artist. Pledge Allegiance, n.d., painted wood.
(AB) Alfred Quiroz (ASU) -- painter of the peurile Bushwhacked. Bush snorting coke, money flying around, oil wells. Middle-school doodling by a university art professor.
(AB) Lynn Randolph -- painter of The Coronation of St. George. Joe Watson: "The five Justices who overturned Florida's manual recount of ballots are seen on canvas literally crowning Bush commander in chief, as demons hover and an upside-down American flag waves, signaling the union in distress."
? Michael Rich -- S.O.S., 2003, DVD loop. Don't know nothing. No judgment.
(AB) John Risseeuw (ASU) -- papermaker, printmaker. In 1991, he pulped some American flags and blue jeans into handmade paper, then printed The Bill of Rights on it. Or, at least that's the title. You could look it up.
(I) Mike Ritter -- Scottsdale Tribune editorial cartoonist; added by the curators after a suggestion by an editorial columnist for the same newspaper.
(I) Norman Rockwell -- Never heard of him. Two JFK lithos.
(I) Barb Ross -- six b/w drawings and an oil, all called Portraits of the Presidents and Candidates.
(I) William Sartain -- d. 1924. George Washington, 1899, a 5" x 4" litho. Note to self: bring magnifying glass.
(I) Julian Schnabel -- Vote, 1992 is basically a glorified invitation to a fund-raiser, funky but with its high-art reference nose in the air.
(AB) Gregg & Evan Spiridellis -- these are the guys from jibjab.com. This will a video loop with headphones of the This Land Is Your Land spoof. Rare: only available at every internet port in the world.
* Nancy Spero -- "Choice." Nada.
(I) Paul Szep -- political cartoonist. National Security Blanket. Nixon does Linus. This is ca. 1972.
(AB) Einar & Jamex de la Torre -- De Pilar de M. Pyre, 2003-04. Mexican-American (dual citizenship) glass artists; funky surrealism.
(I) Betty Wells -- courtroom drawings from 1979-1991. (She did the DC snipers, too.) It's about The Judiciary, you see.
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King.
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, August 12, 2004.
Flower arrangement and photograph by Catherine King, August 2, 2004.
FIREBALL V 2.0
FLOCK OF FLOWERS
BUGLES & TRUMPETS
MAJOR CLIMAX V2
ABOVE & BELOW
BLACK & WHITE
TWO WITH STANDING
TALL GREEN BEINGS
DREAM COME TRUE
CHANGE ALL AROUND
SHADES OF JOY
TOWER OF FLOWER