Monday, December 13, 2004

Chimpanzee Bush

A friend tipped me about this NY Times article. I overlooked it today until he tipped me off. Enjoy! It reminds me of the time that an artist used elephant dung. What will artists come up with next?


Bush Portrait Draws Fire Over Details, Not Subject

December 13, 2004
By HOWARD O. STIER

Artwork in an exhibition that drew thousands to the Chelsea Market for its opening last week was abruptly taken down over the weekend after the market's managers complained about a portrait of President Bush fashioned from tiny images of chimpanzees, according to the show's curator.

Bucky Turco, who organized the show, said that a market director had expressed reservations about the Bush portrait, a small colorful painting by Christopher Savido that from afar appears to be a likeness of the president but viewed up close reveals chimps swimming in a marshy landscape.

"I approached them with the idea of bringing an edgy show by emerging artists here. I showed them an issue of our magazine, and they were psyched," said Mr. Turco, publisher of Animal, a quarterly publication with offices in the market that features photographs and graphics inspired by urban culture.

Mr. Turco said that while he had cleared the work to be hung with Irwin Cohen, a director of Chelsea Market, the management took issue with the image of Bush.

"When we hung the show on Wednesday, we were asked to take down the Bush piece," he said. "I agreed but said I thought it makes a strong addition and I would re-hang it for the opening."

Mr. Turco did that, and last Thursday, the meandering hallway of the market on Manhattan's West Side filled with a gallery crowd of artists, models and rap singers. But the presence of a disc jockey and open bar created a nightclub milieu. That provoked another person who helps manage the market, Mr. Turco said.

"The party's over right now," Mr. Turco said the market worker told him before calling security to clear the crowd.

"I said, 'Let's walk and talk this over,' and when we passed Chris's painting, he flipped," Mr. Turco said. "If I didn't take the show down he was going to have me arrested, seize the art, and evict me from of my office," he said.

Mr. Turco delivered a contrite letter to the market management the following day but was forced to remove the 60 art works, photos and paintings on Saturday, about a month before the show was supposed to end. The offices of Around the Clock Management were closed over the weekend and there was no response yesterday to repeated messages to a market representative.

The 23-year-old artist at the center of the controversy had been excited about the show. Mr. Savido said, "It's a portrait-slash-landscape and the monkeys just seemed to make sense. I saw one woman gave it the finger but I think it wasn't directed at the painting.""I came to New York to express myself," said Mr. Savido, 23, of Pittsburgh. "I would never have expected this censorship to happen here. I really feel powerless."

The offending painting is on display temporarily at the magazine's small gallery on East Ninth Street.

"I'm hoping to find a sympathetic gallery to put on this show," Mr. Turco said. "I don't like being censored."

Most people at the market yesterday seemed indifferent to the empty Plexiglas display panels, but Rebecca Benhayon, 23, an actress, who was reading at a cafe table yesterday, expressed disappointment. "It's the architecture and the art that make this place so interesting," she said. "Taking the show down because someone didn't like an image seems oppressive. It's un-American."