May 20, 2004

Censorship as kindness.

Speaking of art and The New Yorker, Gawker has been covering the story of an art exhibit at the offices of The New Yorker. It was supposedly an exhibit of censored art, but then the curators of the exhibit had a couple of the pieces removed as too offensive to be suitable for the exhibit. It seems pretty amusing: they censored the censored art exhibit. One piece they removed was an acrylic painting of Osama Bin Laden, another, which you'll see if you click on that link, is a rather untidy assemblage of dirt, bottles, coconut shells, and a skeleton. The creator of the skeleton piece wrote:
The explanation I was given for the last minute removal was that the management did not want to expose disturbing images and ideas to employees and visitors who thought they were coming to a "place of business", that, unlike visitors to an art gallery, their guard would be let down and they would be ambushed. I found this to be a hypocritical perspective coming from a magazine that sandwiched a photograph of a naked Iraqi prisoner being tortured between a cartoon and an article about knuckleballs.

So, in other words, if a general interest magazine provides a mix of writing and imagery, some very heavy and some light, it gives up the right to be selective about what sorts of large physical objects are left about in its hallways? Looking at the photograph of the piece, though, I see a more salient point. I think they were being rather kind to the artist by telling him this is simply too disturbing to have in the hallway of an office building. That left him his pride and gave him some outrage he could use to fuel further art production. He's responding to the reason they gave him when they broke the news to him that this thing would have to go. But look at the piece. Isn't it more likely that what was really on their minds was not objection to any shocking message, but a harsh judgment that this is an embarrassingly bad work of art that will detract from the rest of the show?

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