Thursday, December 2, 2010

Smithsonian Has A Christmas Ant Problem

The National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution is largely federally funded. It has occasionally gone off the rails, but art is in the eye of the beholder. However, this time they went off the rails and into a cesspool. The Christmas exhibit, mostly paid for by you and me, belongs in a sleazy Castro District back room in San Francisco, not at a museum that is a national icon.

Let's first establish that I'm not a protector of the public morals. I haven't lived a cloistered life, and spending my college years in Berkeley in the 60s followed by the single life in San Francisco and New York City before getting married is not exactly the life of a monk. This is all by way of saying that it's nearly impossible to shock me. Disgust, yes. Shock, no. I'm disgusted with the Smithsonian, and I admit, almost shocked. The Institution has put together a Christmas-time exhibit that rivals the piss Christ and elephant dung Virgin Mary exhibits elsewhere, as well as those of the pornographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Among the works of high art for the Christmas crowds at the Gallery are a portrait of nude brothers kissing (above photo), male genitalia, Ellen DeGeneres in mime whiteface cupping her breasts, and multiple homoerotic photos and portraits. But the piece de resistance was a continuous loop video featuring a crucified Christ covered by crawling ants. The exhibit is called "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." Why does crap always have a lofty title? Gay porn is gay porn, no matter how lofty the title.

As the art connoisseur enters the exhibit, he is greeted with the following plaque: "The National Portrait Gallery is committed to showing how a major theme in American history has been the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America's promise of equality, inclusion, and social dignity (and I thought I wrote run-on sentences). As America's museum of national biography, the NPG is also vitally interested in the art of portrayal and how portraiture reflects our ideas about ourselves and others." That mission statement is high-fallutin' prose for "we'll show any damned offensive thing we choose to show."

Although the exhibit has multiple private sponsors, the Gallery is a federal taxpayer-funded location. In response to an outpouring of indignation from various Christian groups, the Gallery has removed the highly-offensive ant-covered Jesus video. Too bad the "artist" didn't represent a naked Mohammed covered in pig fat and ants. That would have eliminated any need for civilized formal complaints. All the rest remains, including graphic sado-masochistic representations of men in chains, and whole or partial nude bodies that look like the aftermath of major surgery.

Most of the "art" is so homoerotic or irreligious that it should be given an X rating. So bring the kids to the Smithsonian for Christmas. And speaking of Mapplethorpe, get a load of this description of a photo of his that appears in the exhibition: "In this playful inversion of the classic family photograph, leather-clad Brian Ridley sits in an ornate wingback chair, chained and shackled to his dominant, horsewhip-wielding partner, Lyle Heeter." Well, isn't that special? Frankly, I don't know whether to laugh or puke.

The Ellen DeGenerate photo by famed Annie Leibovitz had the legend: "Amid the madcap mugging in the photograph, notice the aggressive presentation of the breasts versus the exposed boxer shorts. De Generes's mimelike mask both reveals and hides, and the cigarette gives her a tough-guy look." WTF? Yeah, and it'll give her cancer, too. I haven't read that much flowery wording and lengthy verbiage since the last time I wrote the article descriptions for the Boys and Girls Club Auction catalog. Of course, those items were much tamer. My thought upon seeing the photo was "now there's a woman who knows nothing about makeup, and can't accessorize worth a damn." Did she miss every episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?

I checked out the reaction of the Washington Post to the removal of the video (no mention of the retention of the rest of the garbage). The supporters of the video had the standard arguments, so the WaPo merely went along with them. Naturally, there was the auto-pilot argument that anyone who would want that video removed would want da Vinci's and Michaelangelo's nudes suppressed. Yep, male kitten with a whip is pretty much the same thing as Moses and David. Says another, "I believe that, instead, it means that all of us need to take a deep breath when we feel put upon by art we dislike. For the good of all of us, all of us might sometimes need to bear with the occasional offense." I can put up with an occasional offense, but an entire gallery exhibition that is wall-to-wall offense might just be a different thing--particularly on my dime. And while you're at it, tell that to Mohamud Ahmed Mohamud when you want to offend Muslims.

After patronizing a commenter who asked about the offensive "blatant defamation of a symbol of their Savior, Best Friend and reason for living," Post writer Blake Glopnik responded: "I can also see how an artist, witnessing the hideous, heart-rending loss of a loved one to AIDS (ah, the magic word against which there is no defense), might choose to express his feelings by showing an effigy of Jesus crawling with ants--a young man abject and miserable, defeated and cast in the dirt, without the strength even to defend himself from the tiniest of insects." Boy, is that a purple-prose stretch. The blasphemy aside, is this art or public indecent exposure? Or maybe group therapy?

Glopnik goes on to talk about the "many devout, traditional Protestants who would object to seeing their Saviour (yeah, he spelled it that way) depicted in any way, shape or form, and might prefer that even the most precious Renaissance paintings of him be taken down." Well, that certainly came out of left field. In my six decades, and my travels from coast to coast and border to border, I never met one of those Protestants. Maybe there's a small congregation in backwoods Kentucky which thinks that, but I doubt they're planning on spending a lot of time at the National Portrait Gallery.

And at long last, Glopnik admits "I can even entertain the possibility that an artist might, for any number of personal, political, theological or historical reasons--well-founded or not--be so disgusted by Christianity that he'd want to cast one of its central symbols in the dirt." I liked his "well-founded or not," allowing us rubes the benefit of the doubt. In any case, that's the "art as protest" argument that has nothing to do with art and everything to do with protest. There are plenty of places that "artists" can feature their "art," but I still haven't heard a good reason for why sick protest art has to be at the tax-funded Smithsonian.

Says Glopnik: "Generally speaking, the more shocking a piece of art is, the harder it has to work to get beyond its superficial shock value--the shock drowns out any other point the artist might be trying to make." That's the "cutting-edge avant garde" argument most often used to cover for the really lousy nature of the so-called art. You don't dislike the art because it's worthless and offensive. You dislike it because you're a backward, primitive boob who is too far behind the times to recognize the next big thing. I know I'd like it a lot better if it were properly displayed in a back-alley porn shop than in a gallery that I help to pay for.


Tennessee Jed said...

I wonder if they might consider a dog poohing on a likeness of the prophet as art?

Unknown said...

Tennessee: Only if the prophet is lying on a pigskin rug.

CrisD said...

I wonder if they would realize when I keyed their car door--that I was honestly expressing myself-- and that I found it a beautiful to recoup my investment in NEA?

Unknown said...

CrisD: Did you key the car in a male or female genital pattern?

Jocelyn said...

I love art, but stuff like this is disturbing and ridiculous. I'm all for art, even if I don't necessairly like it. If you have to invent rational for art, then it's not really art.

Unknown said...

Jocelyn: It's sort of like telling a joke then having to explain it. If you have to explain it, it probably isn't funny. I'm very loose about what I consider "art." I wouldn't buy a Jackson Pollock original even if I could afford one. His stuff looks too much like the dropcloth I put down when I'm painting walls and ceilings. But it doesn't come close to offending me. Salvador Dali's painting of Christ crucified is probably not great art for some, but I think it's downright transcendental. But that's taste. This isn't a matter of taste, it's a matter of one poor sicko who is mad at God or something like that going out of his way to be offensive and a taxpayer-funded museum that thinks it's OK to allow clearly offensive material on the public's money.

rlaWTX said...

I have a feeling that alot of folks would even let "artists be (left-wing, weirdo) artists" if they didn't decide to unveil this crappola at CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!! (or Easter) I mean seriously - that proves that their purpose is to irritate the provencials who are celebrating more than Santa Claus.

There's a scene in my fav movie, "The Philadephia Story" where Mike tells Tracy that the time for Lady Boutiful art patrons is past. I've always wondered WHY? Why did it become the tax-payers job to support artists and not rich folks (or interested folks) instead? Just wondered...

Unknown said...

rlaWTX: I'm with you. Where's the incentive to create great art if the government and pinky-finger liberals are willing to support your crap?

The Soviets and the Nazis were great patrons of crap art. And of course we always have the "why can't we be more like Europe? crowd" where they produce even worse trash than this. If the Europeans want to pay for junk, let 'em. But I object to it, particularly when I'm helping to pay for it in a building that is supposed to be a great museum, not Sigmund Freud's parlor.

Christmas and Easter are the preferred leftist scumbag holidays for insulting Christ and all His followers. Funny we never get feces-covered Mohammeds on the first day of Ramadan.

Unknown said...

I just ran into this at another blogsite. I had missed this when I was researching the exhibit: To make matters even worse, the Smithsonian promoted the exhibit to children through a "Hide/Seek Family and Friends Day" that included "music and hands-on arts activities inspired by the exhibition."

I was sufficiently appalled when I thought children would be unintended victims of this perverted sexual exhibitionism. If that quote is correct, these sleazebags are actually targeting children for viewing and participating in the exhibit. I don't even want to think what they mean by "hands on arts activity."

AndrewPrice said...

Sounds like a federally funded porno shop. I'm glad my tax dollars are going to this instead of things like paying off our debt. ** rolls eyes **

Tehachapi Tom said...

I guess maggots working a pile of soft dung could be considered art by the folks who put that together. What dictionary contains the words to adequately describe such tripe?
Have we as a people descended to such low depths? WTF has happened to us that such sickness can be fostered upon us as art? I just cannot get out of the questioning mode so I'll just say good night and hope for no recurring thoughts.

Unknown said...

Tehachapi Tom: I'm afraid it would take two thick volumes to answer the question "how did America come to this?" So we just try to pick at some of the most recent and most obvious examples of American folly, and hope we're asking the questions that will lead to the answers. You are not the first nor will you be the last who asked that question in despair. The mindless crudeness of American culture today is a very bad portent of things to come. Let's hope we, all of us, can reverse it.

Unknown said...

Andrew: This is more than a mere porno shop. It's an elegant porno shop. Would you rather spend your tax dollars on high-tone filth or counting beans, you philistine? LOL

Post a Comment