Agitprop @Your Library
The New York Public Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library is currently hosting an exhibition titled "Multiple Interpretations: Contemporary Prints in Portfolio at The New York Public Library". According to an NYPL press release, this exhibition contains "(p)rints by some of the most intriguing and compelling artists active today".
The NYPL web site describes one of the exhibit portfolios as follows:
Nora Ligorano (American, born 1956) and
Marshall Reese (American, born 1955)
Portfolio of eight digital prints with colophon and DVD
Brooklyn: Madness of Art Editions, 2006
For more than twenty years, Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese have used art to address political and social issues. In Line Up, present and former high-ranking government officials, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and Karl Rove (Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz are not on view here), appear in a series of fake mug shots. They hold slates inscribed with numbers that refer to specific dates when the “suspects” made “incriminatory” statements about Iraq. President Bush in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, reported, “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa…. He clearly has much to hide.” On January 25, 2002, Alberto Gonzales reported to President Bush, “[t]his new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” In an accompanying DVD, these and other officials are heard making their assertions; the pop of a flashbulb is then followed by the mug shot of the speaker, growing progressively larger until it more than fills the screen. The screen goes dark, and a metallic clunk, presumably the sound of a prison door slamming shut, ends each sequence.
Wow, if this kind of infantile, dishonest agitprop is what "the most intriguing and compelling artists active today" are doing, then I'd really hate to see what the crappy and unimaginative artists are up to. Even in a heavily Democratic city like New York, this particular portfolio has been a source of some controversy. However, Fox News reports that the NYPL denies any political intent:
"This exhibition has no political agenda," the library said in a statement issued Thursday. "The work described in the media has been presented out of context and is not a complete or fair representation of the entire exhibition — which showcases 23 different contemporary printmakers from around the world, featuring a range of subject matters."
The library also said that nothing in the exhibit is reflective of the views of the institution.
"Portions of this exhibition ... should not be viewed as a political statement by the library," it said.
Maybe not. However, readers who believe that the portfolio in question does not reflect the views of most NYPL librarians and staff are invited to submit bids on my sizable holdings of prime beachfront property. Just supply your account information to my associates in Nigeria.
Seriously, this is a prime example of the groupthink I described two years ago in the Chronicle. Did no one at NYPL realize that some people might be offended by a publicly funded display of blatant agitprop? In all probability, no, because the portfolio in question undoubtedly reflects a viewpoint that almost everyone at NYPL takes for granted as true. Frankly, I suspect that they couldn't conceive of the prints as being controversial, because "everyone" knows that "Bush lied" about Saddam and WMD.
It's also worth remembering that three years ago NYPL thought that selling Che Guevara watches in its gift shop was a good idea.
According to the New York Daily News, a pair of angry exhibit goers plan to return and set up a similar display of Democrats. We'll see if they're allowed to do it, or if NYPL denies them on the grounds that they are not "some of the most intriguing and compelling artists active today".
Personally, I believe that if NYPL really wants to do an edgy, controversial exhibit, they should do one debunking the widely held canard that concern over Iraq's WMD programs was deliberately fabricated by the Bush Administration. The exhibit could include some images of Halabja; information on Operation Desert Fox; video of some of President Clinton's remarks on Saddam and WMD; a copy of the Butler Report; and finally, it could include a copy of former Clinton official Kenneth Pollack's influential 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. This last item should be quite easy to obtain, considering that the NYPL system owns six copies of it.
Now that would be intriguing and compelling.