Sunday, June 26, 2005

Art at "Ground Zero"

The Drawing Center, noted for its formalism, recently came under attack, because the gallery, which is to be "part of the projected International Freedom Center at ground zero," has shown a few pieces of "political art critical of the current Bush administration" since 2001 (Holland Cotter, "Where Drawing Is What Counts," New York Times, 25 Jun. 2005). How political? Here is an artwork currently being exhibited at the Center which has drawn attention of politicians and the corporate media on the Right.Orthographic Projection of the Axis
Charbel Ackermann's "New Geometry" is . . . about confusions of perspective, but of the conceptual as well as optical kind. The piece takes the form of a mock-PowerPoint computer presentation, projected on the wall, and its subject is a drawing by someone else that already exists: namely, the Axis of Evil traced by President Bush, linking nations hostile to the United States.

Mr. Ackermann's piece, sly and funny, was, of course, among those cited by The Daily News as a problem. Just as the show as a whole pushes the notion of drawing as a medium to absurd lengths, testing its limits and possibilities, so does Mr. Ackermann push the image of the Axis of Evil to the max, extending, dividing it, passing it through a pseudo-scientific prism of Ptolemaic geometry, orthographic projection and statistical analysis, until it ends up in a crazy tangle. Depending on your perspective, that tangle represents either a political critique, or political reality, or art doing its ambiguous, needling thing, which is exactly what it's supposed to do, wherever it lands. (Cotter, 25 Jun. 2005)
According to another New York Times article on the same controversy, "Gov. George E. Pataki delivered an ultimatum to two important cultural players [the Drawing Center and the International Freedom Center] at ground zero yesterday, demanding 'an absolute guarantee' that they would not mount exhibitions that could offend 9/11 families and pilgrims to a proposed memorial nearby" (Patrick D. Healy, "Pataki Warns Cultural Groups for Museum at Ground Zero," 25 Jun. 2005). While there is no reason why Ackermann's deconstruction of "the Axis of Evil" should offend any 9/11 family, since none of the countries that the Bush administration bundled into an imaginary "Axis" had anything to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is impossible to guarantee that it won't, art being in the eye of the beholder.

Nay, it is nearly a virtual certainty that at least some of the "9/11 families and pilgrims" will be offended by art at "ground zero." Take a look at Fred R. Conrad's photograph of "about 200 relatives of 9/11 victims" and others protesting against "inappropriate programming" at "ground zero." Protesting a Planned Museum near the 9/11 MemorialWhat are artists and curators to do? One way would be to insist on total freedom for artists and curators, resisting pressures from politicians, victims' families, and the corporate media. After all, what better way to survive terror -- terrors wrought by the fundamentalist empire as well as its fundamentalist enemies -- than to celebrate artistic freedom that both would deny? Another way would be to refuse to participate in the highly politicized project of 9/11 commemoration at all. Absence of art can be as eloquent as presence of it. It will speak volumes about the nature of a society that cannot tolerate art except as an object of investment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I worked at the Trade Center and am in that sense a Survivor. Many of my colleagues at my job and I consider ourselves "WTC Survivors against the War."

We want our kind of art to be there!