As part of our on going effort to bring you interesting snippets from other publications you might not be reading, here is a post made by our old friends Whitehot Magazine that our mutual contributor and Miami artist David Rohn sent me this morning. Part of Whitehot Magazine’s weekly “Voice of Art” series, which asks interesting voices from the online arts community to continue existing dialogues Whitehot Magazine’s New York editor Jill Conner asks: “Art Basel Miami Beach 2010 was a success while David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” was censured from the National Portrait Gallery in DC. How do activities of art leisure rank in contrast to issues effecting contemporary art?” A video featuring Wojnarowicz, whose work in progress “Fire in my belly” is currently installed in the lobby of the New Museum, discussing right-wing backlash against the NEA and arts funding twenty years ago provides a poignant backdrop.
How do you continue telecasting a football game when you’ve just announced that John Lennon has been shot? Howard Cosell admitted the difficulty live on Monday Night Football. How does a young artist in England enjoy reading about the party in Miami when their nation proposes cutting funding for all art colleges to zero during the same week? The “artworlds” are at odds with each other as often as the world itself.
The art world is a gigantic universe filled with multiple realities. Money is thought to be the big mover in all plays of the field, but it is high passions that are the bloodline that feeds the beast. ABMB waxes the wheel with spectacle, keeping the current electric. When the largest museum complex in the world, the Smithsonian Institute, is responsible for the repression of an art piece, it is akin to taking an axe to the wheel. Worldwide our nation makes the statement that we have little tolerance for a point of view that is called outrageous by one small politicized group that yells the loudest; the result is the art world is held hostage by ignorance.
I don’t think art leisure is in contrast with issues effecting contemporary art; not at this juncture in time. After all, aside from the commerce and parties, art fairs are a great way for artworks to be seen by a global community. Although the system is flawed, it is an invaluable system. The issue around Fire in My Belly is an unfortunate incident, but as a result of the censorship, ten times as many individuals are viewing the piece through networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo etc.. This is definitely a positive outcome.
I have a love/hate thing with both Miami and the DW/NPG brouhaha. Vis-a-vis Miami: the more private jets we can lure, the better, but yeah, it’s a cheezy scene. But fun. As for DW/NPG, it’s just so heavy handed, desperately political, and martyr-complexy, but you can’t help but feel for and love the poor guy, and therefor his work. Life is complicated and tragic and whatnot. We should just soothe one another, I guess.
Ignorance is an essential ingredient in manipulating an electorate to vote against it’s own best interests. A powerful artwork like “Fire in My Belly” requires visual intelligence and cultural literacy from the viewer that is not cultivated in the American public education or media. These are the same qualities that a modern Democracy requires for survival. Contrast the intellectual and aesthetic freedom on display at the privately funded Miami Art Fair with the Smithsonian’s publicly funded censorship and there is the evidence of an intellectual, aesthetic two tier system that mirrors the greatest unequal distribution of wealth since the Depression.
The Art World always needs some Giddy-Up & Art Basel Miami delivers the Weird, the Wacky & the Overwrought in spades. Form without content seems to rule the day but no matter the usual sweaty bankers, trust fund party-ers, famous wanka’s and seriously Rich collectors of ‘bizarro incomprehensible ginormous stuff’ indulge until they pass out prostrate & naked on a Miami beach somewhere! On and waaaay off the main Art Basel site there is a Feverish mix of Art, Music, Innovation, Technology and Cocksmenship! Whats not to love! Gird thy Loins! Get down there! and Kick up a stinka! Art is starting to live Again Baby and not a Cleric in sight!
P. Elaine Sharpe:
Beyond the fact that these events shared a date in common with Day Without Art, this query is a little like comparing apples and oranges. While both involve a certain kind of contextualized perusal of the workings of art, one is free market and the other is policed by public funding. American right wing conservatives have found two targets in Wojnarowicz’s video. The more convenient subject is the one of ants crawling on a crucifix, a benign event which happens in cemeteries around the world every day. The less-discussed but more likely culprit in the object/revulsion/fear sweepstakes is the instant in which a man is finding comfort in his own staff and rod, stroking his penis. A similar video was shown in Miami at Raul Zamudio Gallery’s Scope booth. The piece (by NY-based artist Agni Zotis) is of a male curator stroking himself to climax under cover of darkness while a group of bystanders urge him on. Both these videos are arousing, stirring deep-seated fear and revulsion in equal measure with passion, and unfortunately the art worlds we inhabit are still driven by men who fear the revelation that they may not measure up. The difference is that in Basel the market controls what will be shown as opposed to artworks being censored by politicos who are self-appointed arbiters of my inner moral life.
First things first! No artists. No art. No issues. Which in brief leads me to believe neither censorship nor the rich effect serious artists. Let’s forget for the minute knee-jerks against censorship and the outlandish dealings of the rich. Are they connected? Sure. Politicians and moneyed people seek acceptance, publicity (or notoriety), and inner- circle massaging. In both cases, a disgustingly high degree of ignorance exists about contemporary art. The point, however, is not federal funding, nor parties, nor sales, though at times all are essential. Let’s not ignore the starting point. Art is first about the work.
Art Basel-Miami was from its beginnings a prime mover in transforming Miami from a regional to an international art center. South Florida has been one of the areas that has been hardest hit, and slowest to recover, from the current economic recession. The success of the fair gave a much needed boost to the local economy, and will have a lasting effect as other fairs and conventions look to Miami for their future events. David Wojnarowicz’s video would have not have created a stir if it were shown in a private venue. Correctly or not, many people outside of the art world claim a ‘right’ to veto works that are shown in public, tax-payer supported venues. The censoring of this work comes at a time when civil liberties of many kinds are under assault, and we will not make headway in resolving these issues until we can discuss them within a larger social and economic context.
Context alters the comprehension and meaning ascribed to works of art. A thoughtful and timely exhibition presented in a major museum, containing elements that may threaten those who wish to stifle ideas and expression, can stir up volatility and controversy. An art fair may easily pass unnoticed by most except for art-world insiders, art lovers, and collectors. Both are important and vital, as is every other possible venue where art can be displayed and experienced. David Wojnarowicz’s video is as powerful today as it ever was– a current, a basenote, a source of strength that will not be easily silenced[.]