Snowing Over the Town, 26" x 20", oil on canvas
I had the joy of visiting the ICA Boston for the first time last week and saw the James and Audrey Foster Prize Exhibition, the work of Mark Bradford, and the film A Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz which was censored by the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.
Mark Bradford's paintings/collages have the existential light of Rothko combined with the grittiness of the streets of LA where he collects papers for his work. He also uses the tissue paper used for permanents from the hair salon where his mother works. They are semi-transparent rectangles which he applies shingle-fashion similar to silver and gold leaf. It is very exciting to see new paintings to love that are so about what painters love about paintings AND they are by an African-American artist who incorporates his background and experience. In an interview with New York Magazine, Bradford says when he says he is a painter, some people think he means a house painter. His paintings are selling for $250k, not that I write often about pricing but in this context it is ironic.
It was a surprise to be able to view A Fire in My Belly, shown by the ICA in support of the film, freedom of speech, and against the Smithsonian's decision to pull the work after controversy broke out. The AIDS crisis is the content of the short-film and the controversy is a reaction to the few seconds of footage showing ants crawling on a crucifix. Republican Congressmen Eric Cantor and John Boehner, and William Donohue, president of Catholic League lead the charge.
The imagery is shocking because it is so visceral and the crucifix is a sacred object. My personal interpretation of the film is that Jesus is a symbol of human suffering and injustice. During the AIDS crisis people with the disease were condemned for the way AIDS is transmitted. Many ignorant people, some religious, thought that it was a deserved death sentence, some taking it so far as to say a judgement by God. The illness is harsh and in the beginning very fast at attacking the body; it desecrates the physical self. The ants are like a plague like the disease and also insects known for their societal organization, thus perhaps a metaphor for society's reaction to the person affected with AIDS.
The film also addresses sexuality, religion, and death, always scandalous. [It is a combination I have worked with, having a show in 2006 at the Bowery Gallery called "Sex, Death, and the Spirit". Click to see From Adam's Rib, an image from the show and see below* for a description from Image: A Journal of Religion and the Arts.] Even in cases when art criticizes religion it is important to allow for freedom of speech so that a majority does not gain the power to suppress others and provide the only opinion. Part of the debate is whether it is appropriate to use public money for art that some see as offensive, as is the case with the Smithsonian. I say that it is because "offensive" art is often politically charged in which case voices should not be rubbed out. Diversity and debate are American values that should trump religion which is supposed to be separate from government.
Don't forget history. Pythagoras, Plato and others were accused of heresy against the Greek gods for their idea that mathematics and music have a structure that relates to the universe. Aristotle was executed. NPR has a story called "A Musical Message Discovered in Plato's Works".
Snowing Over the Town is relatively peaceful, having the charm and beauty of snow falling over a community. The trees are edgy and press in, perhaps clues to emotions that may exist between the walls of otherwise homogenous homes.
*Sex, Death, & the Spirit
Fair warning: you’ll see some graphic images viewing the work of painter and printmaker Nicole Maynard on display this month at the Bowery Gallery in New York City. Just consider the subject matter of the exhibition: sex, death, and the spirit—or “all the things we are not supposed to discuss at a dinner party.” The title painting is a creepy mixture of eroticism, dread, and spiritual ecstasy. One painting portrays Eve with both male and female anatomy, a snake as a penis, and a look of enjoyment on her face. Many of the works in this exhibit draw inspiration from the book of Genesis to explore religious and political themes. While we cannot predict the range of responses our readers might have to these paintings, we don't believe Maynard's work is gratuitous. Some will call it misguided, but others will praise it for courage and insight. - Image: A Journal of Religion and the Arts