Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Where is the CAC?

Since the pulling of the David Wojnarowicz video, A Fire in My Belly, from the Smithsonian last week, art critics are not the only ones angry about their cowering to the demands of the Catholic League and John Boehner. Museums and galleries are now joining the protests. You can find the best coverage of this story on Tyler Green's blog at Artinfo.

First to lead in the move to support the artist's work was the Transformer Gallery in DC, which responded by installing the video. New York's New Museum has announce it too would install A Fire in My Belly.

Nearby museums are also stepping up their support for Wojnarowicz. The Indianapolis Museum of Art will show his Untitled (One day in this kid....) and Ohio's own Wexner Center just announced they will join other museums by hosting a screening of A Fire in My Belly tomorrow at 4:30.

So where is the CAC?

Since this video was pulled, a few people have recalled the Mapplethorpe controversy about 20 years ago. Some comments have compared the CAC's willingness to stand up for artists as opposed to the NPG's response. I've contacted the CAC for a statement of support for David Wojnarowicz. This is what Molly O'Toole, Director of Communication and Community Engagement sent to me:

"First of all, it needs to be said that we strongly stand behind the statement made through the AAMD. It is in direct alignment with our unique institutional (obviously) perspective on issues of censorship and political pressure on the arts. Specifically, I’d like to underscore the section that reads:
'freedom of expression is essential to the health and welfare of our communities and our nation. In this case, that takes the form of the rights and opportunities of art museums to present works of art that express different points of view. Discouraging the exchange of ideas undermines the principles of freedom of expression, plurality and tolerance on which our nation was founded. This includes the forcible withdrawal of a work of art from within an exhibition—and the threatening of an institution’s funding sources.'
It is alarming to be confronted with another example of the arts’ vulnerability to this kind of attack. Just as we saw 20 years ago, this public debate can shed light on that. And if there is something that history has shown, it’s that public support can change the dynamic. It’s possible, we’ve seen it happen.
The arts play an invaluable role in creating community and public dialogue and—in the end—the more we can show that, the more successful we will be at neutralizing this kind of attack in the long run."

This is not really the support for the artist I had hoped to get from an institution that stood firm with Mapplethorpe and in the 20 years since recalls their historic stand with the opening of nearly every exhibition since. This failure to openly and aggressively stand up against attacks and support artists is exactly what led to the decision to pull the video from Hide/Seek.

The CAC statement does shed light on an inherent problem with the arts in Cincinnati. The language of public support ($$) and arts creating a public dialogue to "neutralize this kind of attack" illustrates how much of Cincinnati sees the arts.

As I mentioned to Ms. O'Toole, our city suffers from a conversation in the arts that is upside down. As local arts organizations continue to work by first asking the public what they define as art, institutions like the CAC fail to take the lead in art's discourse. Yes, the arts may create a community and a public dialogue, but the public looks to the CAC, the CAM and the Taft as well as the number of private galleries to take the lead in the discussion. Especially with the current story, of any of Cincinnati's art organizations, the public should be able to comfortably defer to the CAC.

The CAC is preparing to open Keith Haring soon. I expect their press release will again mention Mapplethorpe, AIDS, street art, homosexuality and other seemingly controversial topics in art. But until they are willing to openly engage in discussion and actively support artists including David Wojnarowicz, the CAC will continue to permit the following lesson to be re-learned: silence leads to self-censorship.


Larry-bob said...

Weak as water...

Keith Banner said...


Me said...


You do not know how relieved I am to see someone else in Greater Cincinnati engaging this debate.

I do believe most in the local arts are aware of what is happening in DC (and LAMOCA) right now), though I've been so disappointed with what seems to be silence. This is an issue that hits us here at home historically, though I've seen little.

Thanks so much for posting your thoughts.