Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Happens When Ignorant City Leaders Comission Public Art?

When El Paso wanted to boost its lagging economy its business and elected city leaders decided to finance the XII Travelers Memorial of the Southwest - twelve sculptures commemorating the history of the American southwest. This was supposed to attract tourists and give the city the kind of 'we love creative types' attitude that attracts creative types. Not knowing much about Juan de Onate other than he helped to colonize and Christianize Texas, they commissioned a statue of the famous Spanish conquistador. They hired renowned sculptor John Houser (the son of Ivan Houser, assistant sculptor in the early years of the carving of Mount Rushmore). He worked for ten years in order to sculpt the world's largest bronze equestrian statue ever created in human history (it's gorgeous and stands 36' tall!). During this time, the sad and violent history of Juan de Onate came to light.

Juan came to the upper Rio Grande in 1595 ordered by King Phillip II of Spain to spread Roman Catholicism and to search for gold and silver. The summer of 1598 his party encamped in present day New Mexico among the Pueblo Indians. In October of 1598 Onate's men demanded winter supplies from the Acoma tribe. The Acoma were unable to provide the supplies without endangering their own survival and resisted. Thirteen Spaniards were killed, among them Juan's nephew. He retaliated by ordering an attack on the tribe - 800 villagers were killed and 500 women and children were rounded up and shipped back to Europe to be sold as slaves. Juan had the left foot of the remaining 80 Acoman men amputated. Nice guy - the kind of guy you would want to pay tribute to with history's largest bronze equestrian statue, no?

In 1606 Spain tried and convicted Onate of cruelty to Indians and colonists. He was banished from New Mexico but was eventually cleared of all charges. He is sometimes referred to as the Last Conquistador.

This is such a sad story as the statue is just breath-taking but it cost the city of El Paso $2 million dollars, and is offensive to almost everyone living in El Paso. The artist has apologized for the pain he has caused the Native American population, but city leaders have not publicly expressed any regrets. They have renamed the statue The Equestrian - I guess that is something.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Conservative Point of View

Philistines at the gate - controversy over National Endowment for the Arts funding of art with erotic content - editorial

National Review, June 11, 1990 by John O'Sullivan

We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the arts establishment in one of its periodic fits of immorality. It sets out boldly to shock the bourgeoisie, but when the bourgeoisie is shocked, it starts back nervously and babbles about Babbitry. See the controversy over the National Endowment for the Arts passim.

For years now the arts establishment has repeated mantra-like that the purpose of art is to shock, to disturb, to challenge. This view has achieved such dominance that it is mouthed even by the NEA'S critics, such as William Safire, who duly wrote last week that art's central purpose was "to outrage the placid." The problem is that the placid are increasingly hard to outrage. Once it was possible to stimulate their newspaper-letter-writing glands with a painting like Manet's Olympia, a nude demi-mondaine with a hard sly smile. Today, more extreme measures are required: blasphemy, explicit depiction of homosexual sado-masochism, women wrestling in chocolate, etc. And when the placid eventually saunter to the barricades, the existence of the NEA gives them a better argument than the old Comstockite cry for censorship. They simply ask to be excused from paying to be outraged.

This is such a reasonable demand that a Harvard law professor, Kathleen M. Sullivan, had to call upon her full reserves of confusion to oppose it in the New York Tymes. Her essential argument is that the denial of a subsidy has a chilling effect amounting to suppression of the activity unsubsidized. "Bribing Warhol to copy Wyeth," she writes, "would have had the same effect as outlawing pop art." That would be the case, of course, only if Warhol distorted his art to get the subsidy. This is a vision of the Artist as Economic Wimp. Such grasping timidity is not unknown in Bohemia (see Browning on Wordsworth), but it applies to the giving of a subsidy just as much as to its denial. Artists may well seek to please the presumed tastes of NEA panels. (Outrage the placid-and be quick about it!) Professor Sullivan buttresses this argument for subsidy with what she imagines to be parallel cases. You cannot be denied a concert permit for controversial songs, she argues, merely because the taxpayer finances the police and litter collectors who patrol the event. The First Amendment, which ensures this, thus guarantees subsidies without strings. This is rather like arguing that British police protection for Salman Rushdie is a subsidy to The Satanic Verses. Neither example involves a subsidy. They are cases of people benefiting from general public services, and the principle involved is that such services should not be denied because the beneficiaries are engaged in controversy. But argument may be beside the point. Something more elemental is going on. A delicious thrill of horror is doing the rhumba up and down the spine of the art establishment: The Philistines are at the gate. Remember the Impressionists. If opponents of Serrano and Mapplethorpe are indeed philistines, that does not rob them of civil rights. Philistia may be condescended to, but it will not be taxed to finance a kind of sweetness and light that Matthew Arnold never dreamt of. As the NEA seems belatedly to realize, a decent respect for its opinions must be shown if the subsidies are to continue flowing. But are the philistines on only one side? The Impressionists, it will be recalled, got their famously dusty reception not from some nineteenth-century French Jesse Helms, but from the academic art establishment of the day. Today's art establishment is as much a social as an artistic phenomenon, built more around ladies who lunch than girls who pose. So the dispute is often between philistines who are uninterested in art and philistines who are interested in art. We favor the taxpayers.
COPYRIGHT 1990 National Review, Inc.COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Let's Get Political

Photos and Text lifted from:
"For more than twenty years, Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese have used art to address political and social issues. In Line Up, present and former high-ranking government officials, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and Karl Rove (Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz are not on view here), appear in a series of fake mug shots. They hold slates inscribed with numbers that refer to specific dates when the “suspects” made “incriminatory” statements about Iraq. President Bush in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, reported, “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa…. He clearly has much to hide.” On January 25, 2002, Alberto Gonzales reported to President Bush, “[t]his new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” In an accompanying DVD, these and other officials are heard making their assertions; the pop of a flashbulb is then followed by the mug shot of the speaker, growing progressively larger until it more than fills the screen. The screen goes dark, and a metallic clunk, presumably the sound of a prison door slamming shut, ends each sequence."
I guess I am left wondering what effect this type of political art has on the policies of our government. What is the artist trying to accomplish? What is actually accomplished? Any thoughts?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Painting for Peace

Quoted from Wikipedia:
"Guernica is a monumental painting by Pablo Picasso, depicting the Nazi German bombing of Guernica, Spain, by twenty-eight bombers, on April 26, 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The attack killed between 250 and 1,600 people, and many more were injured.

The Spanish government commissioned Pablo Picasso to paint a large mural for the Spanish display at the
Paris International Exposition (the 1937 World's Fair in Paris). The Guernica bombing inspired Picasso. Within 15 days of the attack, Pablo Picasso began painting this mural. On completion Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour brought the Spanish civil war to the world's attention. Guernica epitomizes the tragedies of war and the suffering war inflicts upon individuals. This monumental work has eclipsed the bounds of a single time and place, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace."
For more information on this painting check out:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Justice Department Covers Partially Nude Statues

This story made me laugh when it broke in 2002 - I was just reminded of it and it fits well with our topic this month...

After some searching I found the photo of former Attorney General Edwin Meese mentioned in the hyper-link article.

New Month - New Topic!

Happy July! I just love July - I love the fourth. What other holiday encourages you to both drink heavily and blow things up? At least that is the way we did things in Wyoming :)
Ashlei was scheduled to host this month, but sadly she has retired from the group. I have what I humbly believe is a great topic so I eagerly asked to host on August 5th. I hope that you will all agree...
I had the great fortune of meeting the highly acclaimed artist Justine Wollaston a couple of weeks ago and was immediately impressed with both her talent as an artist and her engaging and compelling personality. You may recall the firestorm in 2003 over a mural depicting a nude Eve being offered an apple not by Satan but by the hand of God painted on a Pilot Point, TX art gallery. This was the work of Justine, and the story of the mural and the controversy that it provoked is a fascinating tale.
Gracious Justine has agreed to meet with us August 5th to discuss art and politics. I hope that she will recount this event as well as inform us what drives an artist to create controversial art. I know nothing about this topic, but would love to learn more about art and politics.
Here are a couple of links to get us started:
1. To read all about Justine and Eve check out this article written by a member of the Texas Green Party (I don't know why the Green Party is writing about Justine, but it is a good article)
2. An article about Justine from Art on Trial: The Arts, the First Amendment, and The Courts
3. Justine's web site
See you in August!