Sunday, December 09, 2007

Agitprop Revisited

New York Times art critic Ken Johnson offers his thoughts on the NYPL's print exhibit featuring a gratuitously dishonest portfolio of anti-Bush Administration works:

It is at first mildly shocking to come upon such bluntly partisan artwork on a New York Public Library wall. Biting political satire is deeply a part of printmaking history — see Goya, James Gillray and Daumier — but handmade prints are no longer a significant form of political communication, and we don’t expect anything so brazenly tendentious in the public library context.

Seen elsewhere, the prints would not be so provocative. As a commenter on one blog pointed out, Ligorano/Reese’s work would hardly raise an eyebrow, much less get a laugh, were it shown on “Real Time With Bill Maher” or on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” So the news media squall it has precipitated seems overblown.

That said, Ligorano/Reese’s piece does pose a challenge to the rest of the exhibition, which looks quiescent by comparison, even taking into consideration that the show is not meant to focus on political work. Organized by the library’s curator of prints, Roberta Waddell, the display is intended to present the range of contemporary printmaking styles that the library has collected during the last 10 years.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Mr Johnson is right that the prints in question would not be an issue if shown elsewhere. After all, they are nothing more than a heavy handed and unimaginative expression of a belief that most urban ultra-liberals take as gospel. He misses the whole point about the controversy being overblown, though. It is seeing something "so brazenly tendentious in the public library context" that is exactly what is at issue.

Again, I think Mr. Johnson's reaction reinforces my view that no one at NYPL could imagine that these prints would be considered controversial.


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