Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Anyone who regularly reads DC Art News or J.T. Kirkland's excellent Thinking About Art knows that James W. Bailey is a damned good photographer and an opinionated, passionate, verbose human being and one of those guys that we wish we had a few-more-of around.

And James W. Bailey pipes in with his opinion on my posting on the firing of OPTIONS 2005 curator Philip Barlow. Here it is:

From: James W. Bailey, Experimental Photographer and Member of the WPA/Corcoran

RE: The WPA/Corcoran firing of OPTIONS 2005 curator, Philip Barlow.

Dear Mr. Campello,

I'm absolutely shocked to have arrived home this evening and to see posted on your site that the WPA/Corcoran has apparently fired OPTIONS 2005 curator, Philip Barlow.

You may remember that I emailed you on the day Mr. Barlow's comments appeared in the Thursday Style Section of the Washington Post
[I do remember] asking what your opinion was concerning his comments, especially in reference to his suggestion that artists who participated in the Pandamania project would not be considered for OPTIONS 2005, because I knew that some of his comments were going to reverberate through the artist community, especially with some artist friends I have or personally know who are in support of the Pandamania project, either as a believer in the project or as a participating artist, and who also have pull with the WPA/Corcoran.

Apparently what has happened here is that an angry group of artists has been allowed to hijack the curatorial intent of OPTIONS 2005 that was clearly evident in the curatorial selection in the first place of Mr. Barlow.

People who know him know what his views are on the state of contemporary art in the metro D.C. region. It is almost unbelievable to me that this firing has occurred.

This is a pure and simple case of artistic censorship, period.

There is no other word for it.

It would be no different than if I were selected to be in OPTIONS 2005 by Mr. Barlow and then told at the last minute that we are rescinding the invitation because we think that your views on digital photography are too extreme and exclusive. I don't want my small little role in the artist community to go to my head, but really, anybody that knows me, has met me, has seen my work, or read about my work knows what my views are.

I've been honest about where I'm coming from with my experimental photography and the concerns I have about digital media and the broader concerns of the state of the modern art world, just like Mr. Barlow has been honest about his concerns for the state of contemporary art in D.C. area.

People that know him know who is, what he believes and why he believes. There's no mystery here about what has happened.

As a member of the WPA/Corcoran, as a supporter of the organization, and as an artist who is listed in the WPA/Corcoran 2004/05 Artists Directory, I'm extremely angry about this decision of the WPA/Corcoran to fire Mr. Barlow.

Mr. Campello, you are 100% times ten right about your defense of Mr. Barlow to make the statements he made. His statements are part of his deep concern as a curator for OPTIONS 2005.

His statements, although I know they must have hurt the feelings of some artists, were honest and served to confirm in my mind that he was deeply serious about trying to involve work in OPTIONS 2005 that all too frequently is overlooked or missing from the debate of contemporary art in this region of the country.

I purposely contacted Mr. Barlow and invited him to view my work because I believed him to be serious about his commitment to exploring politically challenging and socially engaging work that simply has no viable commercial market because artist such as myself aren't in it for the money.

Mr. Barlow understands this concept.

I strongly believe that a letter or protest signed by the artist community should be written by someone, perhaps you, Mr. Campello, because of the serious weight you carry with the artist community, and submitted to the Executive Director and the Board of the WPA/Corcoran; and if necessary, to the Washington Post and Washington City Paper, as well as the general art media.

I would sign such a letter.

It would pain me to do it, because I have such respect for the WPA/Corcoran and am a supportive member of it, but I would do it because my concern over this issue of censorship overrides any other concern I might have. I also believe that there are many other artists and visual arts professional that will also want to sign such a letter as soon as the news of this incredible decision filters through the artist community.

This unbelievable decision of the WPA/Corcoran touches its very members in a very personal way.

Let me explain: Philip Barlow visited my "The Death of Film" exhibition and communicated with me about his strong interest in my work.

I say this because he was already in the community making the rounds and speaking with artists and evaluating work. I think this decision to fire him is terribly unfair to artists like me who proceeded in good faith to initiate contact with him and invite him to our shows and studios.

Mr. Barlow indicated to me in person and by email that he very much wanted to have a strong selection of politically oriented and socially conscious work in OPTIONS 2005. What are some of us to make of this decision now?

That such work will not be considered because the WPA/Corcoran will now have to bend over backwards to prove how accepting it is of less challenging work?

As far as I'm concerned, OPTIONS 2005 will have no artistic or curatorial credibility no matter who steps in or is hired at this point. Again, the WPA/Corcoran's decision is simple censorship.

Mr. Barlow was honest in his opinion in the paper and was honest with me in person as to his goals with the show. I accepted his premise as being legitimate and would have been thrilled beyond words had an invitation actually been extended to me by him.

I would not participate at this point in OPTIONS 2005 no matter who the curator is that is ultimately chosen. To do so would be an endorsement on my part of an art crime committed by the WPA/Corcoran.

James W. Bailey
Experimental Photographer

OPTIONS 2005 Curator Fired

Last Saturday I was told that Philip Barlow, who last August was announced as the curator for the WPA/C Options 2005 Biennial, has been fired.

Here's what happened and then my comments on the whole issue:

As reported in the Washington Post, in September Barlow made it known that he was excluding from Options 2005 all artists who participated in the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities' Party Animals and Pandamania projects. "They made a bad choice, and there are consequences to bad choices," Barlow said.

I am told that Barlow made it clear to the WPA/C (from the very beginning) that he intended to exclude all artists who participated in those projects; apparently it was no secret to the WPA/C.

However, when the issue made the papers and was then brought up to the attention of the Corcoran Board of Trustees, pressure was put on Barlow to quit; he stuck to his beliefs and as a result, he was fired.

My thoughts on this subject: I disagree 100% with Philip Barlow's decision to exclude all artists who participated in these two projects from being considered for Options 2005; however, I respect and defend his right, as the curator, to make that decision. He has that right and it was wrong of the Corcoran to fire him from the job.

Barlow's logic in excluding all Pandamania and Party Animals artists from Options 2005 is as flawed as the logic that says that all Art-O-Matic artists are bad, amateur artists. Barlow has worked very hard in the past to support and defend Art-O-Matic (which by the way, gets a large amount of financial support from the DC Arts Commission), and it is surprising that he doesn't see the logical relationship between what he was doing to Pandamania and Party Animals artists and what most art critics in this town did to Art-O-Matic's artists.

Having said that, I back Barlow's right to make whatever decision he chooses to make as a curator. It is his goddamned right to exclude whoever and whatever he so chooses, just as it is my and your right to disagree with his decision - but he owns the right to make it!

And Barlow has been working very hard for the last few months visiting artists' studios and gallery openings, etc. He is a constant figure at most visual arts events in Washington, and probably knows more about our city's art scene (I suspect) than most of the members of the Corcoran Board of Trustees added together.

I love the WPA/C and what they do for Washington art and artists - but they blew it in this case.