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Hard Lessons, Blogs and Swan Songs

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Art News

A Hard Lesson

Teacher Fired Over Art Made With Butt

Respected Virginia high school art teacher Stephen Murmer was recently fired for his artwork outside of the classroom. Under the pseudonym of Stan Murmur, he creates paintings using his butt and genitalia. Wearing a disguise of Groucho glasses, a towel turban on his head, and a thong, he demonstrated the creation of his butt print art on the now cancelled show, Unscrewed with Martin Sargent, in 2003. When Sargent asked why he hid his real identity, Murmur said, “I do have a real job where I do have real clients, and I don’t think they would be too understanding if I was also the guy who painted with my ass.” And he was right.

This video clip appeared on YouTube.com in early 2006. Once school officials at Monacan High School in Chesterfield County learned of his art, his website, and the video’s popularity among students, they put him on paid leave in December 2006, stating that teachers are supposed to set an example for their students.

On January 9, the School Board voted for his termination claiming his conduct was unbecoming of a teacher, reports PoopReport.com. When asked about his future, the teacher/artist told PoopReport, “My future is so uncertain right now. The dismissal has led to quite a few offers for legal representation and the teaching positions offered are out of the area. My community was supportive before, during, and after the controversy. I really don’t want to leave.”

Nevertheless, Murmur continues to do his artwork. The subject matter usually includes flowers and butterflies, and prices reach as high as $900. Examples of his work can be found on Buttprintart.com.

Blogs Expose Bogus Fees

Exploitive Writing Contestsblog

A book contest for unpublished writers, which lured authors in with the sentimental story of a literary foundation started by an aspiring writer who struck it big in Silicon Valley and then founded the Sobol Agency, has been cancelled. The Agency claims a lack of interest. The winner would, allegedly, have received a $100,000 cash prize and a contract with Simon and Schuster, along with one year of representation from the Sobol Agency.

According to Sobol’s contest rules, “All Round 2 writers must sign, in order to win Round 2, a representation agreement with the Sobol Literary Agency/Simon & Schuster’s contracts department.”

As soon as the contest was announced last fall and aspiring writers on the Internet started buzzing about it, industry bloggers got a hold of the contest and ripped it to shreds. Bloggers said the first red flag was the $85 entry fee, which literary agents decried for looking suspiciously like “reading fees.” In the publishing world, agents aren’t supposed to charge a fee to read a manuscript.

Once suspicion was raised on blogs, there was no turning back for the Sobol Award. Despite extending the deadline until March 17 and claiming that respected authors like Alice Hoffman would judge the contest, the Sobol Awards were cancelled early in January. Sobol Award organizers said they “did not receive a sufficient number of entries.” Though over a thousand manuscripts were submitted, more than 1175 applicants would have been required for the agency to break even on their alleged cash prize. Was it a lack of entries or a beating in the blogosphere?

Now that the contest is cancelled, organizers say manuscripts will be destroyed, and applicants will be given a refund.

Art as Swan Song

A Meal Fit for a Queen

British artist Mark McGowan has quite a history of staging crowd-stopping public performances. Last year, he lay down in the middle of a busy shopping street, wearing army fatigues, in a performance titled, “Dead Soldier, 2006,” which was, according to his website “an artistic comment on current times.” Originally the performance was to last two days; however, the police requested that he not return after the first day. Later that year, he tied his arm to a lamppost outside the Brick Lane Gallery in London. McGowan stood there for two weeks as Christmas shoppers passed by, in order to “promote peace” during the holiday season. In 2003, he rolled a peanut seven miles through London with his nose, to protest student tuition fees.

On January 13, McGowan sat outside the Guy Hilton Gallery in London and ate a roast swan. The performance, aptly titled, “Artist eats a swan, 2007,” was intended as a protest against the monarchy. An archaic British law rules that only the Queen is permitted to consume the foul, and anyone else caught doing so may be imprisoned. In a press release, McGowan stated: “With this art/performance/protest I want to make a statement, just because you are the Queen of England, it doesn’t give you the right to abide by different laws… They break laws, they start wars and they kill people. Basically they do as they like and get away with it. What’s the point of the royal family anyway?” He added in an email to F Newsmagazine, “I don’t feel that I can make a difference but what I can do is offer a resistance.” As with much of McGowan’s work, “Artist eats a swan,” prompted interesting reactions from the public, of which he stated, “I like to bring my art out onto the streets rather than have it stuck away where only a select few will cast their all seeing eyes.”

The performance did not, however, result in any legal action against McGowan, although several newspapers reported that he had received death threats from members of the public. McGowan, a vegetarian, assured the public that the swan had been found dead, and was not killed for the purpose of the performance.

Bite-size

“You Are Not a Cannibal If…”

Marco Evaristti is inviting viewers at Galeria Animal in Vitacura, Chile, to go ahead and eat him. Evaristti, who has raised the proverbial eyebrow recently by proposing to cover the tip of an iceberg off the coast of Greenland in red paint, underwent plastic surgery in 2006 to extract enough of his own fat to cook and can 48 meatballs. Two cans of his meatballs, which boast a lower fat content than your average meatball, have already sold to collectors for over $4000 a piece.

Galeria Animal has presented visitors with a long glass table elegantly set for six, including a complimentary red wine to wash down the meatballs. Meatballs are canned and printed with images of Evaristti displaying doe-eyes and liposuction scars.

Evaristti invited the Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, to partake in the dinner of agnolotti pasta and meatballs, but received no word on whether she would ingest a meatball. Evaristti, daring others to cannibalise him in his company, insisted he would enjoy the meatball even if no one else would, “You are not a cannibal if you eat art.”

Though Evaristti’s canned meatballs are reminiscent of Piero Manzoni’s “Merda d’artista,” Evaristti says his art is a commentary on the plastic surgery industry and less of an institutional critique. Evaristti points to the absurdity of humans gobbling up animals only to pay large sums of money to have the resulting body fat sucked out of their body and discarded.

Evaristti may not be a household name, but many may remember talk of his 2000 Danish exhibit, “Helena,” where he invited viewers to kill goldfish swimming in working blenders, therefore, forcing them to fight with their conscience. On the exhibit’s opening night, protesters broke into the exhibiting facility and smashed the installation to bits. Evaristti left the exhibition in its wrecked form for the remainder of show’s run.

Kiefer in Connecticut

Narrow Are the Vessels

And you thought your condo association was a bitch. Owners of an original Anselm Kiefer sculpture titled, Etroits sont les vaisseaux, or Narrow are the vessels, have the historic town of Southport, Connecticut, in an uproar over the placement of the piece; it’s in their front yard.

The historic riverfront home owned by Andrew and Christine Hall was purchased in 1991 for over $3 million, and the Kiefer piece was acquired in 2002 for around an estimated $2 million. It cost $33,000 to install in 2003, and the installation of shrubbery to shield the neighborhood from their outdoor art collection, which includes one neon sculpture, wasn’t free either.

The town of Southport is taking the Halls to court, demanding they apply for a “certificate of appropriateness,” if the Halls wish to keep their artwork in place.

The 40-ton, 80-foot-long, 4-foot-high, wave-like pile of concrete, steel and lead required five flat-bed trucks to transport it and a crane for reassembly.

Keifer studied briefly under Joseph Beuys in the 1970s. He has said his most recent work focuses on collective memory, theology and mysticism; the trauma experienced by entire societies; and continual rebirth in life.

Though Connecticut courts have sided with the town, they did not enforce the removal of the piece, in order to provide the Halls with time to appeal the decision.

Perhaps they should draw from Keifer’s own beliefs for help making a decision: “I believe art has to take responsibility, but it should not give up being art.”

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