04 December 2007

Multiple Interpretations

Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former
secretary of defense, in “Line Up” by Nora Ligorano & Marshall
Reese, at the New York Public Library.

In today's New York Times is this report on the controversy that various right-wing news outlets are seeking to generate around an exhibition in the 3rd floor gallery of the New York Public Library. Now, it is unsuprising that the 'fair and balanced' set at places like The Daily News and Fox News are a bit bent out of shape by the exhibition of contemporary printmaking, which is called "Multiple Interpretations" and which contains the images shown above (as well as similar portrayals of Bush, Rice, and Rove). After all the right do not countenance any interpretation other than their own.

On the account offered in The Times, the show seems relatively tame ~ as compared to the "Line Up" prints, we are told, the rest of the work on display "looks quiescent." (The reporter does exempt some prints by Daniel Heyman, about whom I have posted before, from this judgement. I think his work is terrific.) That said, even The Times reporter seems surprised that we might actually encounter dissenting works in a public venue:

"It is at first mildly shocking to come upon such bluntly partisan artwork on a New York Public Library wall. ... [W]e don’t expect anything so brazenly tendentious in the public library context."

This is probably correct. We tend to expect that exhibitions presented in museums, cultural centers, and libraries to be more or less bland, conformist, and non-threatening. This, though, is a function of low expectations, not a reflection of the aims that such insititutions ought properly to pursue. The point of such exhbitions, of course, should not be to tell us what to think; but it should be their point to prompt thought and discussion and even - gasp! - disagreement. By including the "Line Up" works in this exhibition curator Roberta Waddell is doing what we should expect of her.

That said, I myself do not find these images especially "tendentious." The various officials of the Bush Administration shown in these faux mug shots, in my estimation, both have broken International Law and, I suspect, (at least) connived in breaking domestic U.S. law as well. Ligorano/Reese may seem "brazen" in suggesting that out loud. But the suggestion itself does not seem tendentious in the least.
P.S.: One thing I find astounding in the reports from Fox & The Daily News is the complaint that the NYPL is "publicly funded" ~ aside from the fact that the claim is not actually true I would much rather see my tax dollars at work there than in Iraq.



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