If last fall’s ugly wrangling over the Nolan Street Clogged Caps mural didn’t convince you that all art is politics, consider the critical issue of transparency, which, like video art, is not embraced equally by all cultural institutions.
Take, for instance, Centro Cultural Aztlan, the subject this week of a petition by the National Coalition Against Censorship. NCAC has sent Centro Director Malena Gonzalez-Cid two letters since the venerable Westside community art center was accused in December of excluding a painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe from their annual show celebrating the Mexican icon. `See “Virgen matricides,” December 27, 2006-January 2, 2007, and The MashUp, January 10-16.`
Centro — which Alma Lopez has also accused of censoring her famous “Our Lady” painting in 2002 for similar reasons — has not responded to NCAC’s queries, but instead issued a public statement calling it an “emotional misunderstanding.”
Lead artist Anel Flores has sided with the artist, Anna-Marie Lopez; it was Flores who first referred to Lopez’s exclusion as censorship. She maintains that the two Centro staff members who assisted her in curating the show never contacted her to say that the gallery was over-crowded or to consult her on which paintings to cut. Since then, another artist who was invited to participate has come forward to question the basis of his exclusion (see his letter in Mail, page 4).
The NCAC’s Svetlana Mintcheva, who is organizing the petition campaign, puts her finger on the heart of the problem. “I know there is some dispute about the facts, but no matter what the facts exactly were, it indicates that faith in the Centro’s upholding of freedom has been shaken,” she says. “… you have this kind of repeated pattern of Chicana feminist non-traditional representations of the Virgen being rejected.”
NCAC is collecting signatures until January 31, at which time it will add them to a letter calling on Centro to adopt “a free expression statement and a curatorial selection policy, as well as guidelines for response to objections against specific works.” For more information or to sign the petition, visit NCAC online at Ncac.org or contact Mintcheva at Svetlana@ncac.org.
Now then, who to petition if you don’t like the idea of the Tobin Endowment auctioning off works by Joseph Stella, Robert Indiana, Jean Cocteau, Christo, and Georgia O’Keeffe to help fund the McNay’s new Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions?
You can bang your head all you want against the McNay. Can Rene Barilleaux, chief curator and curator of art after 1945, reassure critics that the works slated for auction — most of them in storage at the McNay until last week according to Christie’s auction house — would not add significantly to the museum’s collection? “Rene would not be able to comment on this,” said McNay Public Relations and Media Manager Margaret Anne Lara.
Would Director Bill Chiego be available to argue that the $1.2-1.8 million the works are expected to draw at auction outweighs any advantage of keeping them on permanent loan or accepting them as a donation from the Endowment? `Not incidentally, works donated by the Tobin family make up more than half of the museum’s collection.` “I can tell you that Dr. Chiego would not want to add anything to the release,” said Lara.
OK, would Lara at least tell us why on January 22 she didn’t just forward us that January 19 press release from Christie’s rather than clam up and send us on a little phone-tag chase? “It was their press release to send out,” she offered cryptically.
More likely the reason is that the Endowment has come under fire in the past over the sale of Tobin-Estate artwork. Off-the-record critics have already called the Current, alarmed that the O’Keeffe — “Blue I” from 1917, based on information from Christie’s — is going on the block.
Interestingly, it was the oft-scolded (and no more so than in the pages of the Current) Tobin Endowment chairman and trustee Bruce Bugg who responded quickly to questions about the sale, sending a professional and courteous Christie’s representative our way.
Museums, as well as charitable foundations, do sell artwork to raise money for other acquisitions or projects (conventionally, museums are supposed to do it only to acquire other artwork) and it may be that this sale to support the building campaign does make sense for the McNay — the 50-year-old museum needs the new exhibition space, built with today’s technical know-how. But being willfully opaque in your public communication about it doesn’t encourage confidence, and public confidence is, in the end, what cultural organizations thrive or die on.