A DECENT STATE: Art & Policy

A DECENT STATE: Art & Policy Symposium

Presented by the Tom of Finland Foundation at the 16th Annual West Hollywood – Los Angeles Erotic Art Fair Weekend, March 27th, 2011. Co-Sponsored by the California LGBT Arts Alliance

The theme of this panel discussion was the government’s role in determining what the public sees. The discussion focused on censorship of LGBT and erotic art by the NEA and NEH after the Mapplethorpe controversy of the late 1980’s, the creation at that time of the National Endowment for the Arts’ “decency clause” and the question “Can publicly-funded institutions be politically neutral spaces?”

The symposium was moderated by Sharp, VP/Curator for the Tom of Finland Foundation. Participants included: Ivy Bottini, Artist and activist; Greg Day, Southern California Coordinator, California LGBT Arts Alliance; Dallas Dishman, Commissioner, West Hollywood Art & Cultural Affairs Commission; Diane Duke, Executive Director, Free Speech Coalition; Leo Garcia, Executive Director / Artistic Director, Highways Performance Space and Gallery; and Abbe Land, Councilmember, City of West Hollywood.

This was a lively discussion about strategies for promoting LGBT arts and for fighting government censorship. The panel also discussed the impact on the LA LGBT arts community of LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Trust’s recent acquisition of 2,000 of Mapplethorpe’s most famous photographs including the “XYZ Portfolio” and the Getty Research Institute’s ownership of the Mapplethorpe archive.


Culture warriors’ cry to art museums: Toughen up against political pressure

By Jacqueline Trescott
The Washington Post

In the aftermath of the hys­teria around the Robert Mapple­thorpe exhibition 22 years ago, the museum world has become timid and predictable, veterans of that battle argue.

“I do think the museum world has became very safe,” said Dennis Barrie, the former director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. The center featured Mapplethorpe in 1990, and the center and Barrie paid a price. The local sheriff staged a raid, setting off a round of national news stories and protests, and Barrie was charged with obscen­ity. He was acquitted but left the museum.

So when the National Portrait Gallery opened a show last October on same-sex art and identity, the art world hoped it would reverse that trend of self-censorship. Instead, the artistic merits of the show were overshadowed by the Smithsonian’s decision to remove a video by gay artist David Wojnarowicz after complaints from conservative pundits and politicians.

The action was called “shameful” by artist and Yale School of Art Dean Robert Storr, who opened a meeting Saturday at the Corcoran Gallery of Art to discuss the aftermath of the two incidents decades apart.

“The culture wars are back,” Storr said, speaking to 100 people. Critics are insatiable and clever, he said. “We have to be cleverer.”

Veterans of the political and cultural frenzy over Map­ple­thorpe spoke of lessons learned. “You think you are through with politics — you are never through with politics,” Barrie said.


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