University of Wisconsin – Green Bay Chancellor Bruce Shepard recently defended his decision to remove an artwork by Chicago-based designer Al Brandtner from the exhibition “Axis of Evil: A Secret History of Sin” with the following statement:
I have concluded that one piece in the exhibit does seriously cross an important line. That piece involves a representation of the current U.S. President with a handgun being pointed at and an inch or two away from the President’s temple, held by the hand of someone outside the frame, finger on the trigger. The flag is in the background. The words “Patriot Act” prominently label this scene.
I have heard the aforementioned piece described to me as “only art.” But, to call it “only art” is to disparage the important role of art in shaping our culture, forming our beliefs, and directing our actions. Art matters. Precisely for that reason and having come of age during a period in our history when political assassinations came in all too rapid succession, the advocacy of assassination is something I view as neither abstract nor theoretical. It happens, it is real. I further believe that the one piece of concern very reasonably can be seen as expressing advocacy of assassination.
It is not a question of being too provocative. There are other pieces in the show that, I think, various members of our community would find even more a provocation. It is a question of whether this campus will use publicly provided resources for what, very reasonably and by many, will be construed as advocacy of a most violent and unlawful act.
The artwork, which had previously shown at Columbia College in Chicago, has apparently raised some eyebrows and brought out both detractors and defenders of the work. Reportedly, after the work was removed, students protested the exhibition wearing t-shirts with the offending image.
On the news discussion site Plastic.com, which is the source of this news item, readers were split as to whether this was censorship or merely the Chancellor enacting his right to limit the activities supported by his school. Among the bloggers, however, it was generally agreed that the work was banal and the statement juvenile. User ‘musiquestar’ writes: “Personally, I think it doesn’t constitute a danger, mostly because it’s boring as hell.”
As unsurprising as it is that a University in the Bible Belt would remove anti-Bush artwork, perhaps the most shocking aspect of this act of arguable censorship is that the work censored barely required it. Had Chancellor Shepard done nothing, few outside of the University campus would know of the work, or the supposed controversy surrounding it. Like satanic rock lyrics, HR Giger posters and filthy rap acts, the scandal is bringing more attention than deserved to mediocre work.
All images are courtesy of the artist.