”The decision by the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland not to show the work of Palestinian children from Gaza makes me sad. But not discouraged.” Alice Walker
Me too, Alice. That banning and censorship of art can, and does, still happen in 2011 saddens, and impassions me. When the expression of souls may not be set free within museum walls, something is painfully wrong with our society, and not simply from the standpoint of polemics or politics. This particular action by the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland goes against the grain of the institution’s very mission, which is:
“To ensure that the arts are a fundamental part of the lives of all children through hands-on art experiences, arts training and curriculum for educators, and advocacy for the arts.”
The museum (MOCHA) further cites that its founding intention was to be “a place where children from all backgrounds could come together to make and celebrate art.” All backgrounds except Palestinians from Gaza? As a public institution, it is incumbent on museums and other nonprofits to uphold their mission, to be holders of the public trust. MOCHA, you’ve failed at least one of the public. In a blogpost titled “Empathy is a Wave,” Alice Walker writes, “I personally have never trusted museums.” Walker spares few words in her indictment of museums as she explains why. “It is because museums, broadly speaking, live off of the art and artifacts of others, often art and artifacts that have been obtained by dubious means. But they also manipulate whatever it is they present to the public.”
That they often do. How and where a curator places art within a gallery creates context that may or may not reflect the intentions of the artist or creator. What a museum elects to include in an exhibition may illumine or in the case of banning, limit the public’s access to “celebrate art.”
Back on the east coast, the Brooklyn Museum is once again rocking the shores of the art world by including a controversial work by the late gay artist David Wojnarowicz. Late last year The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery pulled the plug on Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly when it raised the ire of members of congress (including House GOP Leader John Boehner) as well as the Catholic League, who took issue with the work as being sacrilegious.
The film includes imagery of ants crawling on a crucifix, and is part of the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. The Brooklyn Museum notes that Hide/Seek is the first major museum exhibition to focus on themes of gender and sexuality in modern American portraiture, which The New American interprets as “a homosexual exhibit.” The ultra-conservative New American headlines with:
Anti-Christian Film to Open at Brooklyn Museum
and goes on to write that the exhibition’s catalogue is “demented,” and that Wojnarowicz “unsurprisingly died of AIDS.” Egad, shades of Jesse Helms and Piss Christ.
Hollywood has also had a recent share of anti-gay controversy. When producer Brat Ratner made an unfortunate gay slur he had to step down from producing the next Academy Awards show, which caused his friend and colleague Eddie Murphy to withdraw from being host of the Oscars. And such rumblings aren’t limited to the bright lights of Hollywood and the borough of Brooklyn. Far from the madding crowds of any metropolis, the grand, sparkly new Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas prompted yet another faction of citizens to join the ranks of Occupy Wall Street.
Bentonville is the home of Wal-Mart, and the Crystal Bridges Museum is the (preciously rich) brainchild of Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton. Coinciding with the lavish grand opening of the new museum, members of the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Wal-Mart), an activist group dedicated to improving working conditions for the company’s employees, joined OWS activities in half a dozen cities around the country. Wal-Mart may be catching flack for chintzy employee salaries and medical benefits, and for its designs on launching national managed health care (Wally-Care?), but with the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum, it can no longer be faulted for stinginess. (Tongue in cheek alert.) Because now, Alice Walton’s 1% fortune of an art collection is on display for the other 99%.
It is enough to be discouraged, but I’m a yogi, and courage is a yogi’s stock in trade. Yet, I still have a question. We liberals (most yogis are liberals, and are increasingly being encouraged to take a stand) want to ensure free expression. Should any and all opinons be granted carte blanche gallery space? Consider the current hot ticket retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim by celebrity artist Maurizio Cattelan, which includes a provocative if ironic sculpture of Hitler…
How would you decide what is put on a pedestal, and what is not?