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The elite members of the print art press in Washington, D.C., including Chris Shott in his “Censorial Memorial” piece (Show & Tell, 3/25), have reared their ugly collective head in an effort to slander Annette Polan’s curatorial direction of “Faces of the Fallen” by labeling some of her decisions as being a form of censorship.
Many within the artist community know that I have taken a very activist stand concerning what I believe to be a blatant act of real curatorial censorship with regard to actions taken last year by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Washington Project for the ArtsCorcoran against Options 2005 curator Philip Barlow (Show & Tell, 10/22/04). Barlow simply spoke his mind, voiced an unpopular opinion, and was fired with barely a breath of commentary from the D.C. print art press; now that same press wants to actively target Polan because she refused to allow her vision for “Faces of the Fallen” to be dictated by a bunch of disgruntled left-wing anti-war anti-Bush wannabe protester artists who suddenly seek redemption from their pro-war propaganda sins to pose as angry art critics of the very project in which they freely agreed to participate. No doubt they’re now pissed because their credibility as freethinking artists is being publicly called into question by powerful elements in the art world because they painted memorial portraits of dead American soldiers rather than spewing anti-American venom across their canvases.
With Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post recently climbing down from his ivory tower to personally condemn the “amateurish artists” of “Faces of the Fallen” as being state-engineered tools of manufactured consent, one has to wonder if our city’s major daily and major weekly newspapers are now taking their art-review marching orders from michaelmoore.com.
As an artist and curator, I don’t genuflect before any power that demands me to surrender my artistic vision to a political or politically correct point of view, especially the self-serving vacillating views of a morally confused artist like Carole Greenwood. I subscribe to a definition of freedom of artistic expression that can be read on the Web site of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, http://www.thefirstamendment.org/ncfe1.htm: “Freedom of artistic expression is the principle that an artist should be unrestrained by law or convention in the making of his or her art. Artistic freedom is vital to both the cultural and political health of our society. It is essential in a democracy that values and protects the rights of the individual to espouse his or her beliefs.”
My argument is very simple: I believe that curators should also enjoy the protection of the above definition of artistic freedom of expression and that this definition of artistic freedom for curators should be embraced by the visual-arts community.
It’s quite obvious to me at this point, however, that the powers that be within the artist community in Washington, D.C., do not believe that curators should enjoy the basic protections of a consistent definition of freedom of artistic expression—especially certain members of the art press.
I am convinced that a national dialogue needs to take place in the art world on this subject. If anything positive comes out of the recent episodes concerning Barlow and Polan, it will be a conversation that leads to an expansion and embrace by the art world of a consistent definition of freedom of artistic expression that applies equally to artists and curators. Is there anyone ensconced within the cloistered community of Washington, D.C., art elites brave enough to lead such a dialogue?
Artists and curators have given their lives for the cause of artistic freedom of expression around the world; so have American soldiers. There’s nothing wrong with honoring and memorializing all of these sacrifices.
Rules, policies, procedures, guidelines, laws, and especially politically correct expectations do not create great art; nor do they inspire great artists or great curators.
Freedom of artistic expression inspires. If artists want to claim it for themselves, they had better start fighting for it for all, including curators.