Following on the Spanish government’s violent crackdown on citizens in Catalunya for peacefully daring to exercise their right to vote and decide their own future, Rajoy’s authoritarian minions follow up with censoring artworks that bring to light the government’s violation of civil rights. In an unprecedented move, an exhibit by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra, created for Spain’s largest art fair ARCO Madrid 2018, was removed by the gallery Helga de Alvear apparently intimidated by the fair’s organizers IFEMA in deference and fear of Spanish authorities that cannot admit to jailing political prisoners. The exhibit apparently showed photographs of various Catalan political leaders (faces pixelated) who are held indefinitely in Spanish prisons since the referendum of October 2017, some in spite of being legitimately re-elected in elections last December (called by Madrid in hopes of squashing independence). Here is a link to the article in La Vanguardia: http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20180221/44959162425/arco-presos-politicos-polemica-politica.html. The return to Franco-esque fascist policies in what was once an exemplary democracy in southern Europe shows the dangers of fanatical nationalism that should provide ample warning to supporters of Brexit in the UK and Trumpism in the US. The situation in Catalunya grows more ugly with time and Catalans show no signs of backing down from their desire to separate from Spain. Who can blame them with the anti-democratic behavior of Spanish leaders and courts? Madrid continues to insist the minority of citizens in the region have more authority than the majority regional government while threatening legally elected representatives with prison just for voicing the opinions of their constituents working to make Catalunya autonomous and independent. No wonder many of these politicians are fleeing the new Spanish inquisition and asking for asylum in other countries of the European Union. In light of such serious consequences a frivolous censorship of art truly pales but it is still a sorry commentary on the trajectory of oppression when it extends into the cultural realm. The artist Sierra noted, “If Spain is not a dictatorship, it certainly looks like one.” Amen and OLE. The artwork was purchased by Tatxo Benet, of Spanish telecommunications company Mediapro, who promised to exhibit the work elsewhere. For her part, the mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena, boycotted the opening of the fair in protest for the artwork’s removal.
Due to the ineptitude and ignorance of our current president who is ready to cut practically all federal arts funding in favor of MORE military, former buffoon-in-chief George W Bush is getting a mandate-makeover and publishing a best-selling book of his artwork. Next, pigs will fly. This is the man who established the USA as a leader in: extraordinary rendition (otherwise known as kidnapping), ‘preemptive’ war (otherwise known as invasion), indefinite detention without charges, torture and dark sites, extrajudicial drone assassinations, mass surveillance and other high crimes. Art and political criticism have sunk to a new low in our times when such “artists” merit books and media recognition instead of jail time. I am convinced we have Dubya’s rogue administration to thank for the existence of our present orange buffoon and the public’s general acceptance of his many illegal and inhumane policy proposals. But why are legitimate media and art sites now sympathetic to our former monster of a politician? Here is a link to a Guardian article calling George W Bush a “…talented painter with an affecting vision…”: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/06/george-w-bush-art-painting-portraits-in-courage . Paddy Johnson of ArtFCity writes “…at least the one image from the series is really compelling.” These are dangerous times indeed for art and politics when praise and success are so misguided that Donald Trump is elected to destroy American culture and Dubya Bush is hailed as a serious artist.
There now seems to be an art world consensus that Donald Trump’s reign as POTUS will not bode well for art. Evidence the ‘general art-strike’ petition circulating online calling for all artists, art professionals and art spaces to stop work on inauguration day, “Towards an anti-fascist cultural front”. Here is the link… https://news.artnet.com/art-world/call-for-action-inauguration-day-808625 . This begs the question of where art activism has been for the past few decades while the art world transformed into a global industry dominated by appropriation frauds and art factory CEO’s supplying shiny commodities and mindless entertainment to the 1% looking only for appreciation of their investment. There is an interesting article on Artspace.com summarizing the passivity by artists and six questions they should be asking themselves: http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/the_big_idea/heading-into-2017-here-are-6-questions-the-art-world-should-be-asking-itself-54516 . BTW it was announced today that a large part of their editorial staff was dismissed by parent company Phaidon – another global capitalist corporate tactic adopted without regard for human cost now assimilated by art institutions and generally referred to as ‘downsizing’ in servitude to almighty profits. There has been a gradual and widening disconnect of the art world from communicating with the general public and limiting art audiences to the elite few. This trend has been perpetuated by the elitist attitude of the art world in general and the isolation of fine art in high cost and snobby museums. Long gone is the image of the artist as a poor and insulated bohemian personally creating a limited number of unique images for a few knowledgeable collectors. Today this standard is replaced by an immaculate corporate artist in a tailored suit, well-connected and wildly successful at managing popular icons, media, and his peon hordes. Getting from the present to an ideal of fine art that communicates with the masses and is shared by the general public seems like a long upward climb. For starters, artists would need to quickly pursue more common, political, and socially responsible images to confront any ‘fascist cultural front’ before it gets established. That is the artist as messenger of a higher cultural ideal. And you thought you could quietly produce in isolation with less stress? Happy New Year!
Speaking Truth to Power is always intoxicating and these days it’s a trend to show politicians without clothes and ridicule them through art. Over the summer Australian artist Lushsux was forced to ‘censor’ his mural of Hillary Clinton in a bikini by over-painting a burqa to avoid being penalized by the city council… https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/aug/02/hillary-clinton-mural-covered-with-niqab-after-public-decency-complaints. Then we had nude statues of both Donald Trump (titled ‘The Emperor has no balls’ LOL) http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/disturbing-statue-nude-donald-trump-pops-union-square-article-1.2756617 and Hillary Clinton appear in NYC’s Union Square… http://www.cbsnews.com/news/statue-of-naked-hillary-clinton-leads-to-tussle-in-nyc/. Both sculptures were promptly removed by the police, and the Trump statue subsequently sold for $22K at auction. Today we have news that a nude painting of the Uruguay ex-president and his Senate wife titled ‘Uruguay’s Genesis’ by Julio de Sosa was forcibly removed from a PRIVATE gallery… https://www.artforum.com/news/id=64432. Seriously the censorship in our supposed ‘democracies’ is going too far and the politician’s sensibilities are getting too delicate. Soon we will become like Cuba or Turkey, where president Tayyip Erdogan continues to purge from active society anyone who even looks at him the wrong way, with the same intolerance that saw him try to sue a German public broadcaster over the airing of a satiric song then a German poet over a lewd poem. Obviously the powerful don’t like it when you are candid and creative in rendering raw their political ambitions. In more repressive society you can spend 10 months in jail for just painting your country’s leaders names on pigs, like artist El Sexto did in Cuba last year… http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2015/10/21/cuba-releases-street-artist-el-sexto-after-10-months-in-prison-pig-paintings/ or even receive a DEATH SENTENCE (commuted to eight years and 800 lashes) like the Palestinian poet Hopefully artists will always continue to show courage and dissent by revealing the faults of the ruling class through freedom of expression and freedom of speech – and help exile all forms of unwarranted institutional censorship by pushing the boundaries of modern progressive society.
So Damien Hirst is hosting a show for Jeff Koons at his narcissistic London gallery this summer. This culminates the incestuousness that comes from two appropriation sellouts promoting each other and now apparently attempting to exclude as many middle men as possible from their business of art. In other words, maximize profits and the bottom line – the 1% ‘Corporate America’ ideal that has brought this country to record inequality and near economic ruin. So appropriate from these CEOs of Art who’s talent is really only for business. Incredible move from two artists who have enough money to burn but refuse to spread the wealth. Oh sorry, I recently read that Koons “sometimes takes a helicopter to his farm” in Pennsylvania from NYC but thinks he’s not rich LOL. These guys need to actually try to draw something on their own that isn’t primitive genitalia. Hirst has his serfs paint grids of polka dots in paint store swatch colors and Koons has his peons paint internet images of digital collages. This passes for great art from these two great executives who never get their hands dirty and promulgate the Warholian idea that an artist’s hand should disappear from their art. Of course they do – their one hand can’t even trace their other haha! These CEOs show talent in stealing images from real artists, never mind that their factories also produce the objects – and on the few ocassions when they don’t appropriate, they manage to produce bad porn or prudish science projects. The great mystery is why no-talent artists who sellout by embracing consumer society and kitch have such success in the contemporary art world.
It used to be understood that Art Fairs were quaint affairs featuring mostly pedestrian artists and craftspeople showing poorly in cramped and blow-away booths set up in the open air for a day or two. But starting a few years ago, the ‘elite’ art establishment hijacked this provincial concept and perverted its meaning to include exclusive blockbuster affairs with major artists, publicity, and chic venues. Now there are hundreds of international art ‘fairs’ mostly serving the largest and most established galleries to regurgitate the same top artists to lazy local collectors unwilling to travel in order to increase the value of their stables. How did this come to pass and why have the ‘aristocratic’ artists elbowed their way into an art sales vehicle meant for the masses? Is this simply a natural extension of the relatively modern acceptance and appreciation of ‘Pop’ culture in Fine Art? These mega-fairs seem to only increase the ‘income gap’ among artists so that emerging and unknown artists are left behind at the expense of those who don’t need additional exposure. Indeed even dead artist estates are brought into these new exclusive events. Shouldn’t these mega art fairs instead concentrate on increasing the profiles and sales of lesser known artists and galleries? It seems cultural capitalism reflects all economic sectors by mainly serving to consolidate power to those who already hold it – and galleries are only too willing to conform. Why does it seem a sad statement on our culture that the new and relevant slogan in the art world is ‘Viva the bottom line’?
There’s a lot of unmerited anti-Muslim sentiment floating around the media these days due to Islamic extremist violence after the recent attacks in Paris but few talk about the one big source of this extremism, namely Saudi Arabia. Our largest Arab and 12th largest trading partner recently sentenced to death the Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh for abandoning the Muslim faith. In addition to repressing women and dissent, beheading more people than ISIS, and funding and spreading Wahhabism (the extremist form of orthodox Sunni Islam linked to groups like ISIS and Al-Queda), do we need any more proof how despicable the government of Saudi Arabia is? We won’t even mention that 15 of 19 hijackers of the September 11th attack were Saudi – oops just did. However, in spite of all these factors our leaders continue to literally hold hands with these Royal Assholes. Why? How can spreading a radical religion and executing an artist for failing such rigors be a standard we support? Fayadh was first arrested January 1, 2014 when he was accused of promoting atheism in his 2008 book of poems ‘Instruction Within’, then sentenced this past Tuesday, November 17 after spending two years in prison. According to The Guardian, he curated art shows during 2013 in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennial. Saudi Arabia needs to modernize quickly and join the 21st century – and our leaders need to distance our country and culture from them until there is visible progress and they abolish barbaric acts like this. Writing poetry cannot be tolerated as a reason for the death sentence of any human being anywhere on earth – and our country cannot continue to support regimes that do.
I was thinking about Cuba today after watching Abby Martin´s reports on RT and feeling kinna revolutionary and hopeful about the diplomatic thaw when I ran across another report on Cuban artist Tania Bruguera´s arrest, and subsequent harassment and suppression just for an art piece asking citizens to freely speak for one minute – and my fleeting respect for Cuba vanished almost immediately. Not many artists get involved in politics but it’s inspiring when they do speak directly to the ruling elite and run the same risks as honest journalists. Even though I use art more as an escape from the grind of that reality, I applaud its use as political protest and wish more was exhibited. Unfortunately the gilded collectors of our time prefer kitch souvenirs and objects of escalating investment to confrontational art. So where is American art showing outrage over our government’s “… endless War on Terror that seems the sum of its exceptions to international law: endless incarceration, extrajudicial killing, pervasive surveillance, drone strikes in defiance of national boundaries, torture on demand, and immunity for all of the above on the grounds of state secrecy”? That from Tom Englehardt at http://original.antiwar.com/engelhardt/2015/02/24/the-real-american-exceptionalism/. The Obama administration’s slogan of ‘Hope and Change’ has really been a bad joke on the public and I was happy to see Martin express it in one of her artworks – she also paints. But getting back to Tania… what is so threatening to the ruling class about citizens expressing their opinions in public? Isn’t Cuba’s one-party system supposed to be a model for citizen participation in politics as I saw in ‘Breaking the Set’? Tania’s performance is art (and politics) at its most basic and I was happy that Gustavo Buntinx is boycotting the Havana Biennial because of her persecution. If Cuba is really interested in joining the global political and art community it should be inviting Tania to perform her piece as part of the fair, front and center in Revolution Square. Fear of journalists ruins politics and fear of artists ruins cultural exchanges and art museums. In the USA we are living at a time when journalists are threatened by our ‘House of Cards’ – where Frank Underwood pales beside the real criminals promoting perpetual war for perpetual peace and security. But when politicians begin to fear artists as Cuba fears Tania, you know freedom is failing which begs the question – is any American artist challenging the politics of today or are they all ‘appropriating’ the flag? You can sign a petition to support Tania’s release https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1xlV4yidM7UvgdkTrgCtXS29SY35R2k4mhvfZgLYFLqk/viewform. The 12th Havana Biennial will likely feature the international ‘zombie formalism’ prevalent in such now proliferate art fairs but will really feature the cowardly officials who initially approved Tania’s performance in 2009 and now label it subversive. Viva political dissent and the assault by art!