6 Artists Who Were Banned, Censored or Arrested by Conservatives
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LA MoCA justified its actions by claiming sensitivity to veterans:
The Geffen Contemporary building is located on a special, historic site. Directly in front of the north wall is the Go For Broke monument, which commemorates the heroic roles of Japanese American soldiers, who served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, and opposite the wall is the LA Veterans’ Affairs Hospital. The museum’s director explained to Blu that in this context, where MOCA is a guest among this historic Japanese American community, the work was inappropriate. MOCA has invited Blu to return to Los Angeles to paint another mural.
A lucid reading of Blu’s original mural is not that it belittled the veterans or trivialized their heroism, but that it criticized the motivations behind the present long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it was whitewashed immediately after it was finished, before it could invite legitimate critique or conversation.
4. Karen Finley, 'The Chocolate Smearing Incident,' 1990. The late 1980s and 1990s were a tornado of art battles, with Jesse Helms having palpitations over Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic portraits and Andres Serrano’s crucifix-in-a-urinal. But feminist performance artist Karen Finley was the first of the targeted artists to have her NEA grant revoked because of a column written by two reporters scolding her without having even seen her work. Rowland Evans and Robert Novack took a belittling, paternalistic slant on Finley’s act, characterizing the 34-year-old artist as a “chocolate-smeared woman” based on a piece she created about male violence toward women. Ironic! Her NEA solo performance grant was defunded, then refunded, leading to a 1998 Supreme Court case in which she challenged the law that required the NEA to be held up to decency standards. She lost, but not before she got in a retort, 1998’s “Return of the Chocolate Smeared Woman.” This time, the chocolate was smeared liberally.
5. Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary, 1999. Broken windows weren’t blustery Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s only concern during his lengthy stay as head of New York. He was also markedly unenthused by “Sensation,” a provocative exhibit held at the Brooklyn Art Museum showcasing young British artists culled from the collection of Charles Saatchi. In particular, Giuliani had it out for Chris Ofili’s depiction of an African Virgin Mary punctuated by nude derrieres meant to evoke blaxploitation films -- and elephant excrement to evoke Ofili’s Nigerian background. He called the piece “anti-Catholic” and further, thought the art itself was “horrible” -- perhaps his first bit of art criticism on record during his tenure. He proceeded to file a lawsuit against the museum that sought to evict it from a lease it had held for over a century, in addition to slashing the funding it received from the city of New York.
After a several months-long fracas that included protests, support, amused patrons and gallerists -- “That was great! You’d pay a million dollars to get publicity on that scale,” enthused British art dealer Jay Jopling -- the city and the museum reached a settlement. But not before Giuliani’s lawyer, Michael Hess, got in the old standby quote -- that the art is “really not even for the general public the kind of exhibit that taxpayers should pay for.” Echoes of Boehner and Cantor in this statement -- it’s a particularly relevant tactic to invoke taxpayer ire, and fits in neatly with all the empty belt-tightening rhetoric.
6. Rose Bochovski, Second Life, 2010. It seems odd that art censorship should bleed into virtual reality, a mirror existence built on pixels inside the Internet. But this past June, when the video artist Rose Bochovski exhibited her computer-graphic, 3-D film Susa Bubble in a Second Life art gallery, it was promptly removed, with the censors citing Second Life’s rules disallowing nudity beyond spaces with an “adult” rating. The images, viewable below, depict a young girl who is naked but not in any real provocative way and is completely devoid of sexualization, whether in the rendering or in the context. Real 21st-century problems, these, but they illustrate the vast illogic of censorship -- a couple of keystrokes on the Internet and anyone can view anything from real-life corpses to hardcore pornography. And yet in an online gaming system, a woman whose art piece is moderately less naked than Henry Darger’s cherubic hermaphrodites gets the boot? Surreal. Go here to read Bochovski’s response.