Monday, September 10, 2018

Art World’s Version of ‘Punch A Nazi’ - Greenspon Edition

So yikes, have you been hearing about the hot mess that is the cancelled Greenspon show? Well if you haven’t read all about it here. So essentially, there was set to be a two-person show, curated by Chis Viaggio, to open on September 6th with Darja Bajagić and Boyd Rice. Greenspon is a hip cool gallery in the West Village that has in the past had hyphenate-partnerships but now is under the purview of Amy Greenspon. The show was closed via an email by the gallerist right before its opening. 

From what the internet’s various outlets have been relaying, Rice is alleged to be a Nazi (which he denies) as there is documented evidence (photos etc.) with him associating with both Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. This news was flash-alert-warned by an artists google group call Invisible Dole (I’m too irrelevant to be on this list so this is all third hand relay…) Anyways, in the group, Rice’s past associations were cast, passed on and forwarded until it created a firestorm of people contacting the gallery and demanding the show to be cancelled. So it was.

So what to make of this whole thing? It’s word against word, Rice says he isn’t a Nazi but yeah, it looks pretty bad when you search his name. It’s basically all Nazi, anti-women, anti-everything type of results. I mean wearing a shirt that says “RAPE” with a swastika charm necklace is pretty f-ed up regardless of how much time ago it was or how much dripping irony you embrace.

BUT. Here’s the thing. I, personally, do not believe in censorship in any form. And this holds especially true for art. Now, this show should have been wayyyy better vetted. I mean google takes you what, all of two seconds? BUT, I can see how this can get muddy too. I don’t think this show should have been cancelled though if it was already set. Shows take a long time to organize and this wasn’t a last minute add on… But it was completely in the rights of the gallerist and those who protested it to bring that pressure and to do what they did.

Someone who I briefly talked to about this mentioned the Dana Schutz incident. Where she painted Emmet Till’s body in his coffin and it was shown at the Whitney Biennial. They were saying that the Greenspon case was different because Schutz is a really good person and felt terrible that it was construed in this manner. I responded that in a way, the Shutz incident was just as sinister because to be so oblivious to the impact of subject matter at hand and also the apologist structure given to those who are ‘allies’ but make a ‘mistake’ is a part of the art machine in another way.

I don’t know Rice’s work. I don't’ really want to, to be honest, but if he is a Nazi or likes to play with the margins of political correctness, he is at least self-exposed. So the question of what is allowed in art and not is back to the brink and its something we have to talk about. As much as the affiliations Rice has been clearly attached to make me want to wretch, the idea of censoring art makes me existentially debilitated.  

What is the takeaway from this? It seems there was a huge lack of attention on Greenspon’s part to let this get as far as it had. But I feel for her. There is a community of trust and perhaps she relied on the vouching of others more then she should have. But in the end, you are the responsible party, either way it lands. The collective voice, which polices is essential but also fraught. There needs to be exposing not for the sake of calling out but for a transparency that is actually generative. For those that make art or live lives in the anti-state, chaos theory, anarchy-against-all modus, don’t play victim yourself when your show gets cancelled. You know this could have happened and part of you relishes it. Rice did say this episode was a “win-win” for him. (Can he be any grosser?)

Regardless, it’s making us think and talk and not necessarily take sides (for some it has) but for all who care about art, freedom of speech and expression this instance belies you to ask, what the terms are for all the above. It’s a nasty, messy conversation but we have to have it. There are so many things hidden in the art world. Everyone who participates in it is guilty of some association or another. Some form of enabling and justifying. It’s necessary to call it out when you see it but also to mine your own relationships and connections. It’s ugly but the truth often is and I’d rather have bitter conversations then none at all.