Monday, October 2, 2017

Is the Left Wing Right?

"Study For the Nurse in the Film 'Battleship Potemkin'" by Francis Bacon
Oh for the days when political and artistic revolutionaries had something in common, right after the Russian revolution, for instance, when Malevich and Marx not only co-existed but cross-pollinated. Remember films like Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Dziga Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera (1929) or paintings like Picasso's Guernica (1937) whose innovations derived from revolt? Think back on the famous Odessa steps sequence in Potemkin and the wide open mouth of the horrified nurse which Beckett would expropriate in Not I (1972). All of this comes into focus with  both the current controversies at the Guggenheim (where three pieces by Chinese artists were removed) and earlier at the Whitney in the case of Dana Schutz’s Emmett Till painting, "Open Casket." Which way is your avant-garde turning, left or right? In a Times article "Guggenheim Museum is Criticized for Pulling Animal Artworks," NYT, 9/26/17) Ai Weiwei is quoted as saying, “When an art institution cannot exercise its right for freedom of speech, that is tragic for a modern society. Pressuring museums to pull down artwork shows a narrow understanding about not only animal rights but also human rights.” The Times piece went on to describe the three pieces which had been removed. Two were videos “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” and “A Case Study of Transference.” The third, “Theater of the World,” is described in the piece as featuring “hundreds of live crickets, lizards, beetles, snakes, and other insects and reptiles under an overhead lamp.” The Times piece also describes how “Scaffold,” a work by the artist Sam Durand was taken down at the Walker in Minneapolis in response to objections by “Dakota Indian leaders.” Amnesty International grades countries in terms of human rights issues. If they did the same for museums, the Guggenheim and the Walker would get F’s while the Whitney would received an A for exhibiting the Emmett Till painting despite attempts by protestors who tried to stop museumgoers from viewing it.

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