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.


The Arts & Policy

Dear Friends:

As you may know, I have just recently returned from a European tour where I opened a year-long retrospective exhibition of Tom of Finland in his home region of Turku, Finland. My reason in being there, and that of the exhibition, is one in the same – to continue to maintain the influence of this important Gay artist’s work on popular culture. By doing so, a forum is provided for his message: Being Homosexual is something beautiful and that sexual desire and love is something to be proud of and happy about – not ashamed or guilty. This is a task not easily accomplished when you are up against two thousand years of Homosexuals being classified as an “abomination”.

Many places have a population raised under centuries of inbred discrimination layered deep within their history. This prejudice can only be identified when it surfaces in forms that signal an exclusion of who we are as a minority group living within the larger, established society. It is not only the larger Heterosexual audience that needs to be made aware of the cultural differences they have with Homosexuals — our own community needs reminding, as well. We need to have an ongoing consciousness that protects, preserves and promotes who we are and how we express it. We do not want to sell ourselves short through our sometimes desperate desire to “belong” – to seek “acceptance” – on someone else’s terms.

The incident that occurred recently within the City of West Hollywood is telling, in that it has taken place in what we assumed was the safety of our own backyard. It shows how pervasive man’s tendency is to forget the cultural differences of minority groups, with regards to their heritage, when they share so many other things in common with them. At Tom of Finland Foundation, this issue is yet another example of what we have been addressing over the past few years. It raises the question: What might our community leave behind in the process of being received into the larger global culture? As our fellowmen, who inhabit remote areas of the world, are introduced to the global culture, it is our duty to respect their rites and practices, just as their chieftains do. Our own elders and leaders bear the responsibility to teach that understanding these customs allows them to become gifts from which all can benefit.

Not unlike the ethnic – be it Russian, Jewish, Italian or Armenian – communities that have settled here in the Los Angeles area, the Homosexual community is struggling to hold onto the cultural language that distinguishes it and continues its rich history. The visual arts of the LGBT community speak to, and speak for, who we are as sexual beings – thus, the Erotic Art Fairs. These Fairs not only give our artists an environment where they can get to know one another, but also earn the respect and appreciation from their own community for the important role they play in building our cultural identity. This art defines our family, constantly changing over the decades and always celebrating us as a people.

I suppose there are some who visit our Fair for the first time who come expecting an excursion into a seedy porn shop or the like. What they discover is a beautiful garden full of amazing flowers of many descriptions; the remarkable creations of nature’s brilliance and power. One need not be Gay to appreciate splendor.

What has happened here in the past few weeks is a very important wake-up call for all of us. Now we must stay awake — and attuned – to our responsibilities to our own cultural heritage and that of all others with whom we coexist in this shifting world. It will take some time for all societies to honor who we are as part of nature’s creation; this incident is just a bump in that road. We are wise and kind. No one wants to discard, destroy or ignore the wonderful flowers that are part of this Homosexual exposition. Please be our guests, attend this year’s Fair and explore the garden with us.

Thank you for all that you are doing to make all of our lives richer.

I look forward to seeing you soon,

Durk Dehner
President & Cofounder
Tom of Finland Foundation