Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Controversy that won't go away.

Both Tyler Green at MAN and J.T. Kirkland at Thinking About Art, as well as Chris Shott at the Washington City Paper (who beats all other DC published media and breaks the story today), are seeing unidentified black helicopters flying between DCCAH and the Corcoran.

Not so sure myself, but as much as I trash the Post for their lack of visual arts coverage, I am still stunned that this whole controversy has been ignored so far by the world's second most influential newspaper.

I know that Jonathan Padget is working on this story for his "Arts Beat" column; but it is not scheduled to come out for another week.

Why not allow this story to be printed in the Post now, when the issue is hot!

I should know better.

If this had been a case of Septime Webre over at the Washington Ballet firing a guest choreographer because he excluded dancers that had participated in a rap video dance scene a year earlier, from the new Washington Ballet version of The Nutcracker then we'd be reading about it everyday in the Style section.

Makes my head hurt.

Letter to the Editors by James W. Bailey

To The Readers of D. C. Art News,

I have distributed the following Letter to the Editor to the national arts press, as well as the general mainstream media.

I am very appreciative of Mr. Campello allowing me to post this Letter to the Editor on DC Art News.


James W. Bailey


Should Art Curators Enjoy the Same Basic Rights of Freedom of Artistic Expression that Artists Enjoy?

by James W. Bailey

I am an experimental photographer from Mississippi who currently lives in Reston, Virginia. I am also a member of the WPA/Corcoran.

I have taken a very strong public stand in support of freedom of artistic expression for curator, Philip Barlow, who was recently fired by The Board of Trustees of The Corcoran Museum of Art and the WPA/Corcoran. Mr. Barlow was hired by the WPA/Corcoran to curate a cutting-edge exhibition called OPTIONS 05.

D.C. art critic, Mr. F. Lennox Campello, first broke this story on his blog, DC Art News, a week ago. The story was immediately picked up by D. C. art critic, Mr. J. T. Kirkland, on his blog, Thinking About Art, which has featured an ongoing debate over this issue. Mr. Tyler Green, national art critic for the Bloomberg news service, has come down firmly in support of artistic and curatorial freedom for Mr. Barlow on his site, Modern Art Notes, and opposes the actions taken by the Board of Trustees of the Corcoran Museum of Art and the WPA/Corcoran. The story is now entering into the mainstream media.

In the interests of full disclosure, I believe that I was under consideration for this major exhibition by Mr. Barlow.

Mr. Barlow is, in my opinion, a victim of curatorial censorship committed by the Board of Trustees of the Corcoran Museum of Art and the WPA/Corcoran. I believe that both artists, and curators, deserve to be protected by the same basic principles of freedom of artistic expression.

I subscribe to a definition of freedom of artistic expression that can be read on the web site of The National Campaign for Freedom of Expression:

"Freedom of artistic expression is the principle that an artist should be unrestrained by law or convention in the making of his or her art. Artistic freedom is vital to both the cultural and political health of our society. It is essential in a democracy that values and protects the rights of the individual to espouse his or her beliefs.

Just as our nation’s free speech heritage protects the rights of artists to create, display, perform, and sell their artwork, so too does it protect the rights of the general public to dislike, criticize, and be offended by artwork. What we will call a 'challenge' to the freedom of artistic expression is more than mere criticism or commentary. A "challenge" arises when the critic takes the significant leap from merely voicing distaste of the art to questioning its right to exist or be seen, and seeking to stop its exhibition or performance.

Artistic freedom is threatened when art is challenged because of its content, message or viewpoint, rather than because of its aesthetic qualities or artistic merit. A challenge may be motivated by disagreement with the perceived message or the fear of negative public reaction. A challenge may be part of an organized effort to protest specific social issues. Challenges may come from members of the general public, representatives of organizations, or governmental officials. Challenges may also originate from within the arts community—for example, from curators, artistic directors, or funders."

The WPA/Corcoran issued a press release that justifies in their mind Mr. Barlow’s dismissal as follows:

"While it is the responsibility of a curator to exercise both professional and personal judgment in the selection of works of art, this process must be based upon the artistic merit and suitability of the works in question to the themes or purposes of an exhibition or its related materials. It is inappropriate to base curatorial decisions upon the political, social or intellectual opinions an artist may hold, upon an artist’s personal behavior, personal life, or relationship to the curator or to the institution."

My Words:

I ask your readers to substitute the word curator in the above WPA/Corcoran response with the word artist, and the word selection with the word creation. I do not know a living artist on this planet with any intellectual credibility who would embrace such a definition of artistic freedom as an artist.

I have taken a very activist stand concerning what I believe to be a blatant act of curatorial censorship regarding the WPA/Corcoran’s actions taken against Mr. Barlow.

My argument is very simple: I believe that curators should enjoy and be protected by the above definition of artistic freedom of expression and that this definition of artistic freedom for curators should be embraced by the visual arts community.

Dr. David Levy, President and Director of The Corcoran Museum or Art, and Ms. Annie Adjchavanich, Executive Director of the WPA/Corcoran, and I have agreed to disagree on this subject. I have deep respect for both of them and respect their opinions.

I firmly believe that curators should not have to operate under a different definition of artistic freedom than that that all artists of integrity would claim for themselves.

I am convinced that a national dialogue needs to take place in the art world on this subject. If anything positive comes out of this episode concerning the WPA/Corcoran and its relationship with Mr. Barlow, it will be a resultant dialogue that I hope will lead to an expansion and embracing of a consistent definition of freedom of artistic expression for both artists and curators.

I am urging The Board of Trustees of the Corcoran Museum of Art and the WPA/Corcoran to reverse its position and reinstate Mr. Barlow as curator for OPTIONS 05.

I am also offering to withdraw my name from consideration as an artist for OPTIONS 05.

Artists and curators have given their lives for the cause of artistic freedom of expression around the world.

My potential sacrifice is but a fraction of a molecule of a single drop of water from the ocean in this cause. But I will willingly make it, and more if necessary, to see the right thing be done in this situation.

Rules, policies, procedures, guidelines and laws do not create great art; nor do they inspire great artists or great curators.

Freedom of artistic expression inspires...


James W. Bailey
Experimental Photographer
Force Majeure Studios
2142 Glencourse Lane
Reston, Va 20191
Ph: 703-476-1474
Cell: 504-669-8650

Via AJ:

New El Greco Photo: David Levene It reads like a mystery novel.

"The art experts climbed four flights of stairs in a dingy block of flats in the north-west of Spain, with dwindling hopes."

When they met the old man who had responded to the Christie's ad, "He went off to hunt in a cupboard in another room, and fetch the proverbial brown envelope - and out of it came this wonderful thing."

It was an original painting by El Greco!

Read The Guardian story here.

Thursdays, according to the mid page banner on page two of the Washington Post's Style section, is supposed to focus on Art Galleries and Art News.

Over the last three years or so, the third Thursday of the month has seen the "Galleries" column do a set of mini-reviews, while the "Arts Beat" column, which used to come out every Thursday, has all but disappeared and now comes out every two weeks. I like the mini-review format once a month, but I regret the loss of the weekly "Arts Beat" column.

In today's "Galleries" column Jessica Dawson delivers a set of mini-reviews and reveals that Signal 66, one of her favorite galleries over the years, is closing at the end of the month.

However, much like the cosa nostra kiss she gave the Troyer Gallery when that gallery closed earlier this year, she sends Signal 66 away with:

"After nearly six years mounting some of the city's grittiest art shows, Signal 66 shutters its doors at month's end. More whimper than bang, the final show collects a trio of artists working in the most traditional of all media: paint."
Most commercial galleries close within a year or two; it's a tough business that is best approached realizing that if you decide to open a gallery, then expect to lose money.

Signal 66's folding is somewhat of a surprise though. It had established a good, strong footprint in our area's art scene, and being a cooperative type, artist-run gallery, it had the gallery formula that has allowed this area's longest running commercial art galleries to survive.

In fact, other than Zenith and Kathleen Ewing, I can't think of any commercial art galleries in our area that has been around for 25 years or longer that is NOT a cooperative, artist-run gallery!

Anyway, I will miss Signal 66 and the terrific contribution that they made over the last five years to our area's cultural tapestry.

P.S. By the way there are also three music and one theatre review in today's "Galleries focus" day at the Style section. They actually have more print space than Jessica's review. Does anyone understand why we keep insisting that the Post visual arts coverage sucks? You can complain to Gene Robinson, the Style section editor.


The Red Sox spanked those damned Yankees... wouldn't it be great if Houston also won and then we'd have a team from Massachusetts versus a team from Texas!

MA against TX - get it?