info 03.25.05

Crimes of the Art

"I'm sorry someone punched you in the face; if it had been me, I would have taken a flat-nose shovel or crowbar to your head…so God bless America."

That was on the answering machine last year of a gallerist who dared to exhibit a painting depicting the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. The gallerist, Lori Haigh, had already had garbage dumped in front of the gallery. She had been spat at and punched in the nose. The message above left on her answering machine was one of many. And in what backward, intolerant town did this take place? San Francisco. (More here)

IMAX has announced that they're not going to show a movie about volcanoes in several Southern cities. Why? The references to evolution may offend fundamentalists. (More here)

All this surely can't happen here in our more…enlightened neck of the woods? Well, let's look at our neck of the woods — specifically, our parks and other public spaces. The NYC Public Art Program is considering new rules that would ban public art that "demonstrates a lack of proper respect for public morals or conduct or that includes material that is religious, political or sexual in nature…" (More here)

Maybe most disturbing of all, though is what is happening to artist Steve Kurtz. Last May in Buffalo, Mr. Kurtz woke up one morning and found his wife dead, having died of natural causes in the night. While responding to his 911 call, the police decided that art materials in his home were suspicious and they called the FBI. The FBI promptly confiscated his wife's body, research materials, and detained Mr. Kurtz for 22 hours. His cat was also locked up, since the FBI thought Mr. Kurtz might have been planning to use it as a way to spread contaminants. All the makings, you might think, of a grand black comedy.

As events played out, however, no one is laughing. Mr. Kurtz uses harmless and legal bacteria that are part of his art projects — the "suspicious" materials were part of an exhibition scheduled at Mass MOCA to test whether food has been genetically modified. While a seven-week grand jury investigation concluded that the bacteria could not be used in terrorist activities, the way Mr. Kurtz got the bacteria technically violated laws. (Samples are supposed to be for one user only, not passed along as the materials in question were, even though this is common practice).

What's behind all this is the fact that Mr. Kurtz is a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, a group of artists that explores how, science, technology, and government do not always serve the public interest. And that is the crux of the case: Mr. Kurtz may spend 20 years in jail because the government doesn't like what this artist has to say.

Once again, we can count on our fellow New Yorkers to support the First Amendment, right? You might want to check with the New York Council for the Humanities about that. They had awarded a grant to CUNY for a series on academic freedom — are you sensing an imminent irony? — but withdrew the grant because one of the scheduled speakers was…Steve Kurtz. Despicable. (You can voice your opinion to the Council's Executive Director, David Cronin, here.)

Here are some things you can do to help Mr. Kurtz:

On Sunday, April 17th, there will be an auction to benefit Mr. Kurtz held at the Paula Cooper Gallery, 521 W. 21st [10th/11th] 212.255.1105, 5pm-7pm. Kiki Smith, Alexis Rockman, Sol LeWitt, and Richard Serra are just a few of the artists whose work will be auctioned.

At the Critical Art Ensemble Legal Defense Fund, more on the whole sad story. And details on making a financial donation, signing a letter of support, offering legal aid, and publicizing the story here.

And before anyone else takes a flat-nosed shovel to freedom of expression, support the The National Coalition Against Censorship. You can learn about many cases of Art, Free Expression, and the Law thanks to the NCAC's database here.
MUG congratulates Joe Holmes on his six nominations for the 2005 Photobloggies Awards. Anyone can vote on these nominations here. Go, Joe!

In Wednesday's Hump Day article, we misstated the name of the Fading Ad Gallery owner. It is is Frank H. Jump, not Frank H. Ruth.

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