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Artwatch: March 2004

Guerrilla Girls // Tibetan Protest in the OC // Censorship at LAX

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Guerrilla Girls receive an award

The infamous art gang Guerrilla Girls, “the conscience of the art world,” has been awarded the 2004 Frank Jewett Mather Award by the College Art Association. The Guerrilla Girls received the award for their “unique and evolving adaptation of art criticism as a vital, socially relevant, and transformative art form.” The completely anonymous collective, who use the names of famous women artists such as Frida Kahlo and Käthe Kollwitz as a decoy, have been in existence since 1985. The group has been creating posters that attack the museum’s role in society and its attitude towards women in particular. One such Guerrilla Girl campaign was a poster of Ingres’ Odalisque who’s face was superimposed with the Girls’ signature monkey mask. The caption reads: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.” The group has since attacked various galleries, Jesse Helms, the Oscars, and the Internet, which the Girls consider “too pale, too male.” The collective has published their third book, Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers, which dissects the female stereotype. Ms. Kahlo, a member, has remarked to the New York Times, “It’s a little disquieting that a lot of people who hated us early on tend to be fans of ours now.” Ms. Kollwitz emphasized, “or say they are.”

More info: Guerrilla Girls

Tibetan groups protest the Bowers Museum of Orange County

Tibetan demonstrators came out to protest against the exhibit Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World at the Bowers Museum in Orange County, California. The exhibit includes 200 sculptures, paintings, and other artworks never before seen in the U.S. Tibetan groups are calling for a boycott of the national traveling exhibit because it lacks any reference to Tibet’s occupation by the Chinese government and the exile of the Dalai Lama. They claim this is in part due to pressure from China. The absence of political undertones was intentional on the part of curators and museum administrators. Rick Weinberg, a spokesman for the Bowers Museum, remarked that “we’re in [the] business of art; we’re not in the business of politics. We have to remain neutral. It’s inappropriate for the Bowers to take a political stance.”
Cuban art crackdown

Since the Bush administration has canceled most licenses for culture-related travel into Cuba, art collectors are realizing that collecting Cuban art could no longer be a possibility. According to Art & Antiques, Americans who are caught taking unlicensed trips to Cuba from Canada or the Caribbean must pay up to $10,000, making official licensed cultural trips to the country an impossibility. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which sponsored trips for collectors, has stopped such activity, and, as a result, many Cuban artists are feeling the sting. After a cultural renaissance in the ’90s, Cuban artists began showcasing their talents across the globe, especially in the U.S. However, State Department officials still insist that legitimate, non-commercial artistic exchanges will remain possible. How such exchanges would be implented were not explained.
French intellectuals fight back

In a climate of increasing economic cutbacks backed by the government, French intellectuals have signed a letter of protest claiming the conservative French government of starting a “war on [the] intelligentsia.” More than 20,000 French artists, thinkers, filmmakers, scientists, lawyers, doctors and academics signed the letter, which was published in Les Inrockuptibles. Signatories include philosopher Jacques Derrida, filmmakers François Ozon and Catherine Breillat, and several prominent politicians, including Danny Cohn-Bendit, a hero of the May 1968 student uprising. The letter denounced the state’s economic cutbacks affecting universities, research labs, actors, medical staffers, judges and lawyers, as “massive attacks that are revelatory of a new anti-intellectualism of state.” It further states that these economic policies which are “carried out in the name of good economic sense and budgetary rigor, have an exorbitant human, social and cultural cost and irreversible consequences.” The economic setbacks have affected many spheres of French society. Emergency room doctors blamed the government cuts for nearly 15,000 deaths as a result of a devastating heat wave in August 2003. Last year, actors invaded a live evening news broadcast and a popular TV program to protest the cuts in unemployment benefits.

What can U.S. intellectuals and artists learn from this? If, as sociologist Alain Touraine suggests, American economists have taught the world that the “knowledge industry is what moves a country,” what can we say about the U.S.? Have our intellectuals confronted the challenge of the government-backed increase in Medicare costs, dwindling funding in education, and the rise of censorship in art?

Censorship on the fly

The public project Eye Speak, selected by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department (LACD) to be showcased in the city’s nternational airport LAX, elicited fervent reactions by city officials, airport employees, and passengers. The project, curated by Los Angeles artists June Castillo and Joseph Beckles, is a 150-foot long tapestry created by a collective of 115 Latino, Chicano and African American artists in two community colleges. The project began in 2001 when the curators asked artists to interpret the first year of the new millennium. A few months later, September 11 shook the world and, naturally, the artists enlisted by Castillo and Beckles responded to the crisis within their own work. Victoria Delgadillo, a participant in the project, commented that being “bewildered by the events of those few days, many of us created artwork that related to those feelings of loss, confusion, [and] impending war.” The tapestries, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, include images of a “bare-breasted women holding a bleeding heart with the World Trade Center’s twin towers on fire behind her,” a “winged image jumping from a skyscraper to the ground, where chalk figures lay on a city sidewalk,” and a “skull that lurks behind black cross bars,” made city officials respond to the tapestries as “bizarre” and “scary.” After receiving complaints, the airport agency ordered LACD to remove the artwork. Kim Day, the airport agency’s interim executive director, complained that the “artwork is inappropriate for the airport. We are not a museum, and we need art that does not offend anyone, and does not in any way add stress to an already stressful experience.” After a petition circulated by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the subsequent media coverage, airport officials reversed their decision and decided the tapestries would stay during their originally scheduled exhibition. The controversy has re-kindled anxieties of censorship, free speech, and the role of the public. Castillo responded to initial warnings of censorship as “insulting.” “They’re trying to silence an entire community of artists in Los Angeles in 2004. On Rodeo Drive they just put in a nude torso of a woman in the center of the street and no one bats an eyelash, and people come from all over the world to Beverly Hills.”

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