Batty Fox News talk show host fancies himself an art historian and critic
By Natalie Edwards
Art critic Jerry Saltz has challenged the inflammatory, paranoia-inspiring Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck to an art duel. Saltz would like Beck, who recently attacked the public art on Rockefeller Plaza, to curate two art exhibitions: one of images or actual works of art that exist in New York City which Beck would like to see demolished, and another show featuring contemporary art he approves of. “In the spirit of bi-partisanship,” wrote Saltz, he would “secure a first-rate New York venue for each exhibition,” and would write about each show in New York magazine.
On September 2nd, in Beck’s segment “Reasonable questions in unreasonable times,” Beck spent ten minutes working himself into a nutty frenzy, taking aim at the limestone relief of Youth Leading Industry by Attillo Piccirilli of the Piccirilli Brothers studio, on Rockefeller Plaza’s exterior. The plaza is an art-deco building which Beck implies is the first “gothic” structure ever built, and that prior to its existence there was “no American architecture in NYC or in the whole world. The main artwork under Beck’s attack, over the doors at 655 Fifth Avenue, shows a man on a plow driven by two horses, as a young man leads the charge into the sunrise. To Beck, the sun plays the part of “the bright tomorrow,” and the young man represents “the youth leading the way into the bright future of tomorrow.” A hopeful, if not banal sentiment to most, but an incendiary idea to Beck. “The wheel is always representative of industry in any of these progressive paintings or pictures or artwork. The horses on the chariot, the engines of industry,” he said, pumping his fists at the camera.
“Who is this? Who is this?” he asked. “This is the strong leader taking that, using that industry and those machines to lead us into the, uh, bright future, led by our children. Gee, who’s having indoctrination next week? Oh yeah, that’s right, our President,” he said, referring to Obama’s recent address to children, advising they stay in school and get good grades. “This represents, at the time this was made, Mussolini,” Beck said about the man in the relief. “This represents Mussolini.”
Beck went on to imply that because a Rockefeller had put the Piccirilli there, that Rockefeller, who he never identified specifically, was a communist sympathizer, even a fascist. “It drives me nuts that nobody knows what this is,” he said about the scenes on the building.
According to Beck’s website, it should come as no surprise that Beck is a huge fan of art because of his “vibrant wardrobe”:
He knows so many bizarre art-history facts he’d light up a Jeopardy category on the subject. Last night on TV, Glenn did a segment where he explained the history and the meaning behind much of the art at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Who knew that classic ‘American’ art would be so….communist?
To Beck, public art is just another fascist cog of the propaganda machine in “plain sight,” and he ties the assumptions he presents as facts together with tenuous strings. “Don’t let any of these people ever tell you anything other than the truth… the progressives of today–it makes sense that we’re headed down this road,” he said, closing his segment. “It makes sense that you feel a little uneasy, and everything seems to be a little hidden. It’s not if you look. You’re awake, you need to see the things hidden in plain sight.” Beck also dismantled Diego Rivera’s mural, Man at the Crossroads, identifying Lenin, Karl Marx, Rockefeller, and syphilis in the scene as tools of left-wing evangelism. The mural lasted only 8 months inside Rockefeller center before being hauled away in chunks by workers in 1934, but Beck referred to the mural as if it still existed intact in its original location.
Jerry Saltz, in his column in New York magazine seemed amused. “It was his own private Da Vinci Code, tying all these degenerates together with ‘death panels,’ ACORN, and socialism.” He wrote. “Since it’s always good when bears like this come out of the woods, let’s try to coax this one out a little further.”
But Glenn Beck has high standards for himself, and has yet to respond to Saltz’s challenge. “I have tried my hardest not to be a dirtbag,” said Glenn Beck on his show on August 26th. “I am only truly miserable when I am lying to myself or to others.”
“This is truly strange,” Chicago art critic Margaret Hawkins said. “The only trouble with Saltz’s idea is that Glen Beck might not be able to come up with anything–he doesn’t strike me as a person who actually likes things. Maybe he should curate a show of decadent art that contains secret messages just for him, which, once he exposes it, can be publicly scorned. He seems to have a lot to say on the subject.”
New City art critic Jason Foumberg thinks he has an idea of what Beck might include in his exhibition. “I think Beck might like Grant Woods’ American Gothic.” he said. “I’m glad Saltz got involved because I don’t watch Fox News and would not have otherwise known that someone on television was discussing visual art. Granted, he’s off his rocker, but found relevancy in visual art.”