we go to press, the city of New York welcomes the Republican National Convention
(RNC) to Madison Square Garden starting on August 30, and ending September 2,
the city’s art community, from small galleries, artists’ bars to major museums,
will set the stage for a fierce aesthetic/political protest. Even the Whitney
Museum got into the fever. The museum curated a film series titled “War! Protest
in America” featuring films that addressed issues of protest during the Vietnam
The following are but a small number of activities by artists and galleries that will occur during the Republican National Convention in New York City.
The Van Brunt Gallery, located in Chelsea, organized an exhibition titled “AmBush!” whose message is blunt: “Bush Must Go!” The show features works by R. Crumb, Chicago-trained Leon Golub, and the Critical Art Ensemble, whose member Steve Kurtz has been repeatedly attacked by Homeland Security for possessing bacteria cultures related to his art practice.
The Brooklyn gallery, Schroeder Romero, organized an exhibit titled “Watch What We Say” that presents works with “pressing political issues of the moment in poetic, subversive, emotional and clear-eyed terms.” Artists included within the show are Palestinian-born, New York-based artist Emily Jacir; African-American Artist, William.Pope.L.; and artist-cum-activist, Krzysztof Wodiczko.
The non-profit public arts presenter Creative Time and New York’s Lower Manhattan Cultural Council will co-present the sculpture “Freedom of Expression National Monument” by architect Laurie Hawkinson, visual artist Erika Rothenberg and performer John Malpede. Originally created in 1984, the “enormous red megaphone” sculpture is being re-installed in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan near Federal and State courthouses starting August 19, and running until November 13. The sculpture “will provide a platform for people to speak their minds during the upcoming election season.”
A group of artists headed by Project Directors Joshua Breitbart, Nadxieli Mannello,
and SAIC alum Paul Chan, created “The People’s Guide to the Republican National
Convention.” The guide is in the form of a map and is intended to “standardize
communication among event-planners, protesters, media, tourists, wanderers, monitors,
hangers-on, and friends” during the Republican National Convention.
Considering the roster of the many galleries and artists that are critically attacking and protesting America’s political atmosphere in general and the Bush Administration’s political incapabilities in particular, it seems more than apparent that the following months are going to be very busy. Especially with the impending and crucial Presidential Elections set to commence on November 2, artists and cultural activists are setting the stage for fierce political activism in the art world.
Across the Atlantic in London, England, the elusive, stencil graffiti artist, Bansky, secretly erected a statue of the figure of “Justice” as a prostitute wearing leather boots, a thong and a garter belt stuffed with U.S. dollars. The 20-foot statue, which weighs a total of 3 1/2 tons, bears a plaque that reads “Trust No One.” Considering the sculpture’s monumentality, Bansky’s surprise and stealthy attack in London’s Old Bailey Square, which houses the city’s Central Criminal Court, has completely surprised police authorities and the public at large.
Bansky said that the timing of the sculpture’s unveiling was to coincide with the first anniversary death of Kevin Callan, a truck driver whose conviction of killing the four-year-old Amanda Allman by shaking her to death caught England’s attention as a gross example of the criminal justice system at work. England’s Appeal Court later overturned Callan’s conviction after he proved his own innocence by learning some fundamental facts on neurobiology and cerebral palsy, which was the condition that ultimately killed Allman.
Bansky, known for his impromptu attacks against the art establishment and England’s political institutions, has outwitted police officials with his art “stunts.” His past works include clandestinely hanging and displaying his own artworks in the Tate Britain gallery without permission; exhibiting a dead rat wearing sunglasses in London’s Natural History Museum for several hours before it was noticed by security; painting the Queen of England as a chimpanzee during her Golden Jubilee; and spray painting “Mind the crap” on the steps of the Tate Britain before the Turner Prize ceremony.
According to the artist in a written statement read by the rapper MC Dynamite, the “Justice” sculpture is dedicated to “thugs, to thieves, to bullies, to liars, to the corrupt, the arrogant and the stupid.” Bansky also stated, “We are learning that the people we trust with our liberty cannot be trusted.”
While the New York Times has written about Chicago’s decline as an important art market venue, the city is preparing to outfox other worldwide art market exhibitions next year through organizational competition. When Thomas Blackman Associates decided to dump Navy Pier as the location for its international art exposition ArtChicago in 2005, the Metropolitan Pier and Exhibition Authority (MPEA), who runs and organizes events at Navy Pier, has decided to welcome Pfingsten Publishing as next year’s organizer for Navy Pier’s annual international art exposition.
Blackman is still planning to organize an ArtChicago in a yet to be determined “tent” location in downtown Chicago in 2005 during the month of July instead of the annual month of May.
Pfingsten Publishing, an Ohio-based unit of the private equity firm Pfingsten Partners, won the competition to exhibit in Navy Pier over the established Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc., the producers of SOFA, a sculpture and functional art exposition. Expressions president, Mark Lyman, speaking to The Chicago Sun-Times, said MPEA’s choice of Pfingsten was unusual. “I am completely baffled by it,” said Lyman. One of Lyman’s concerns was that Pfingsten is a “company new to the business” of art expositions. Lyman also stated to the Sun- Times that Pfingsten “offered a more lucrative financial deal” to MPEA. The MPEA has declined to discuss the financial terms of the deal. Expressions of Culture Inc. is still strongly considering holding SOFA a week before the Pfingsten show at a different location.
Meanwhile, the MPEA is suing Thomas Blackman Associates for $375,000. The MPEA’s lawsuit stated that Blackman had not paid his rent for the 2004 ArtChicago show, and that in April Blackman wrote MPEA a check for $103,500 that bounced. According to the Sun-Times, the MPEA is also seeking to seize the property of ArtChicago—including exhibit booths, lighting trusses and other equipment—and, on top of all that, to stop Thomas Blackman from selling his assets. The lawsuit was filed a week before Blackman announced that ArtChicago would be leaving Navy Pier’s Festival Hall because the MPEA did not give him more “desirable dates for the fair.” Blackman declined to comment to the Sun-Times because he had not seen the lawsuit.
Whatever the outcome of Chicago’s art world exposition competition madness may be, the city will definitely catch the eye of international exposure in 2005.
Taxation Without Representation at the Venice Biennale
Four major agencies that organize and financially support the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale are turning their backs on the prestigious representation of the U.S. in next summer’s international bonanza. The New York Times is reporting that the following private and governmental agencies are cutting their ties with the arts festival: the National Endowment for the Arts has disbanded the committee that recommends an artist to represent the U.S.; the State Department is looking for someone to run it and financially support it; the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Rockefeller Foundation, who have supported American participation for 17 years, are withdrawing their financial ties with the American pavilion so they can refocus their grant programs. In previous years, the above-mentioned four agencies combined would raise $350,000 for the Biennale, while museums and artists would raise the other $650,000 needed to organize the Pavilion. Besides the expense of finding and supporting an artist, including the production costs of the installation, financial funding must also maintain the site from June to November. Basic expenses include paying the guards, the cleaning crews, and the Guggenheim interns that act as gallery attendants, while also covering insurance of the artworks and paying for the exhibition catalogues.
Many curators are saying the State Department’s new refocusing of funds could be the ultimate demise of their participation. Ann Philbin, curator of U.C.L.A.’s Hammer Museum and a member of the selection committee for three years, speaking to the Times, said, “One of the problems is that the State Department’s Culture Connect program takes away from serious cultural exchange in the arts and humanities and instead trots out second-tier Hollywood celebrities for international exchange purposes.” Culture Connect, a State Department enterprise, is “a year-old program that reaches out to diverse foreign cultures, especially people 12 to 25.” The State Department, however, denies that programs like “Culture Connect” are in anyway responsible for the lack of funding of the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which owns the actual pavilion, was approached by the State Department about organizing the 2005 Biennale. The institution refused, citing the short amount of time they had to raise money for the exhibition. While the Guggenheim denies that it wants to participate in the organization of next year’s American Pavilion at the Biennale, many, like artist Robert Gober who exhibited at the Biennale in 2001, are afraid that the State Department might hand the Pavilion over to the Guggenheim lock, stock and barrel. Speaking to the Times, Gober stated, “If the Guggenheim does it, it will become an arm of the museum.” The repercussions of such a move are drastic: complete curatorial and artistic control by one single American museum representing the whole country.
While the fate of the American pavilion is uncertain, the Venice Biennale’s board of directors has chosen the exposition curators for 2005 and 2007. In 2005 there will be two curators at large: Maria de Corral, curator and one of the founders of Barcelona’s contemporary collection Fundació La Caixa, will curate the historical exhibition in the Italian pavilion; and Rosa Martinez, the former director of Madrid’s Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, will curate “new” art in the Biennale’s Arsenale.
Martinez also organized Manifesta 1 in 1996, the Istanbul Biennial in 1997, and the Site Santa Fe Biennial in 1999. In 2007, Robert Storr, former contemporary art curator at New York’s MoMa, a professor at NYU, and an SAIC alum, will organize the Biennale.
Leon Golub, a prominent figurative and political artist, passed away on August 8. Golub, an SAIC alum from 1950, constantly worked counter to what the art world establishment was dictating at the time. For example, in the ’50s, Golub worked within a classical and figurative mode when figures and classicism were beyond being blasé thanks to Abstract Expressionism. Golub’s impact on the art world in general, and Chicago in particular, led critics to call the artists working within the same framework as Golub, such as Cosmo Campoli and Theodore Halkin, as the “Monster Roster.”
In the ’60s and ’70s, the artist took on political themes within his work instead of succumbing to Minimalism, the über-chic movement of the period. One of Golub’s works from the ’70s, the “Assassins” series, transposes mythological scenes with modern figures and, in the process, makes a direct mention of the Vietnam War.
In the ’80s, Golub created the “Mercenaries” series which includes images of military and paramilitary destruction on an international scale. By the ’80s, Golub started attracting younger artists who had the same outlook on how art can expose the atrocities of everyday culture.
By the ’90s, Golub was still consistently working and his career began to be noticed throgh solo exhibitions worldwide. Speaking to former F News reporter Dena Beard in February of 2003, in conjunction with a major retrospective of his work at the Chicago Cultural Center, Golub said: “I’m sort of political, sort of metaphysical, sort of smartass. I’m attempting to be young ... it’s a lost cause!”