Originally Published on Carets and Sticks, February 9, 2014
I recently got cable. I know. Welcome to the 21st century. Scrolling through the tv guide, Family Guy, an infomercial about losing ass weight, hard core porn, and Ultimate Survival Alaska share an equal playing field. Seriously, I accidentally flipped to a channel with a dude tied up, pants down, while some chick whipped his dick with a feather duster. This is ON CABLE TV! Now, I know I’m late to the cable game, and this is probably not shocking to all you who are up to date on your television technology, but in the context of this week’s art censorings, I find it a bit unnerving.
Two Cranbrook Sculpture alumni, Tré Reising and Tony Matelli, are in the news this week because coincidentally recent pieces by each artist have been censored (attempted censoring in Matelli’s case) by the public. The same public that has access on their home TVs to the feather dusting dick ticklers.
Last month Reising sojourned to his hometown of Columbus, Indiana to fabricate a commissioned piece for the Indianapolis International Airport. He saved up money, and took time off of work to travel and complete the piece, and the airport authorities supported the artistic goal that was proposed in the contract: to blend fine art and hip hop culture. Until they didn’t. One day before Reising was to install his text based wall piece, in which styrofoam and glitter were used to construct comic sans lettering reading “# Belieb,” the airport cancelled the installation, saying that it might send some mixed messages to their “family friendly” airport. The airport authorities, I assume, are referring to Justin Beber’s recent escapades: sucking the breasts of strippers, drag racing while intoxicated, stoned, and on xanex, etc. Tré explains, “While I was adhering the glitter to the letter forms, I learned about the misbehavings in Miami, and thought…This is going to be perfect for me, or really bad. It was bad. It’s funny how 7 comic sans glitter bubble letters can communicate the support of drunk driving, marijuana use, pharmaceutical drug abuse, and racing rented Lamborghinis and Ferraris.”
Justin parties on. Luckily for Reising, this type of hype is what his work lives and breathes. His MFA piece at Cranbrook Academy of Art, with text that read “Jamies Franko” couldn’t have been timed better with the release of Harmony Korine’s movie Spring Breakers. His pieces for Gucci Mane and Project Pat have been written up on MTV, TrendHunter, Buzzfeed, Spin Magazine and more. Not quite your ArtForum audience. He’s been on stage gooning for Project Pat, and delivered a sculpture to Gucci Mane’s dressing room at a show in Detroit. Hype becomes a part of the work. Although, Tre laments, “the way media coverage participates online is very important to me, and it would have made national news in the airport had the piece been installed.” (1)
Matelli’s conundrum is a bit more puzzling to me. His piece Sleepwalker is installed outdoors at Wellesley College (an all girls school with such alumni as Hillary Clinton) as part of a larger temporary installation of his work (the majority of which lives inside the indoor gallery space). The piece, which is an extremely lifelike painted bronze figure of a man in his skivvies, has an admittedly haunting presence – eyes closed, arms outstretched, jaw slack. Yet apparently this sculpture so emotionally bothered enough students that a petition with over 600 names (which is about a quarter of the student body) has been started at change.org to have the sculpture removed. “This highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community,” says the petition. “While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work in this space.” (2)
Here’s my Seth Meyers:
I absolutely do not want to make light of sexual assault, but COME ON. What’s next? I can’t eat a banana in public?
When asked in a recent interview if there were any plans to actually take down the sculpture, Matelli responded, “As far as I know, there are no plans to remove it…There’s no sidewalk there, so students aren’t forced to walk next to it. As far as it being moved, there probably are other locations, but I’m not eager to move it and I don’t think museum is planning to move it either.” (3) Remember, this is a temporary exhibit, scheduled to close in May. We’re talking about a few months here.
American culture is at a point of such tremendous dichotomy: on one hand we have political correctness a la Super Bowl Cocacola commercial, which montaged “American life” making sure to touch on every race, gender, age, ethnicity, disability, etc. And, of course a healthy spoonful of pro-military propaganda. On the other hand, we have 50 shades of Grey, the sexual revolution, the cable dick ticklers, and the Justin Biebers in the news. This is all cultural production, that the average blue jean wearing American is entranced by. We can’t have a sculpture referencing Bieber in our airport, but we can read about him in US Weekly. A sculpture of a half naked man elicits an uproar, while our televisions, magazines, and public beaches are filled with actual half naked men. People often choose to act out their worst cultural fears by demonizing artists or artwork. As though it were an effigy signifying all sinful deeds everywhere.
Yet, This whole hullabaloo signifies more than just a social media news blip. It further cements divides between the sometimes considered elitist art world and a broader mass media / pop culture. What is admirable about Reising’s work is that he rides this tainted line, and embraces social media alongside a more traditional art setting (gallery / museum). His twitter feed, hashtags, and online presence act as a secondary gallery / and live performance of a specific art object. The hoity art world would do well with more of these renegade artists; shifting context of their work, and allowing for a democratic audience, rather than fencing off the average Taylor Swift listening soccer mom in lieu of a more academically educated art audience. Yet, the censorings this week seem to give the art world yet another excuse to remain an exclusive gig. When we step outside of our magical free expression snow globe, we enter the real world: where political correctness reins. After this week, maybe we should keep our slippers on and stay in the snow globe a little longer. After all, we have cable.