Monday, December 20, 2004

Will The Bush Monkeys Become Extinct?

Chris Savido is a young artist trying to make a name for himself. Like many young artists, his work was included in a group show hanging in a public space.

You've seen these shows in lobbies, and cafes, and markets. Sometimes the establishment does a good job hanging the show and the work gets the attention it deserves; sometimes it is just thrown up on any blank wall because the landlord is too cheap to decorate.

In the late 90s I bought a painting that I found hanging on the wall of a Starbucks in Downtown Boston. Paintings were lovingly displayed. Brochures, a price list, and a contact number were all available. The artists name is Tuesdee Halbert and the painting is an abstract work that currently hangs in my daughter's bedroom.

It is not easy for artists like Halbert or Savido to get publicity for their art, and I'd be willing to bet that this is the only internet article every to mention Miss Halbert's piece that was purchased at a Starbucks. I Googled Tuesdee Halbert and found references to her at an Austin, Texas, catering site, and a series of obituaries for her grandfather. Her name is unique enough that I assume it is the same Tuesdee Halbert.

This article is not about Tuesdee Halbert, however, it is about Chris Savido, whose recent painting "Bush Monkeys" has been the catalyst for an attack on Free Speech mounted by the Right Wi . . ., er, Reich Wing.

This is the story I heard:

Chelsea Market in New York City uses part of their public space to hang art exhibitions. Mr. Savido's "Bush Monkeys" was one of many pieces selected for the show. A patron who saw the painting complained that he was offended by it. Which is good. Art should evoke feeling and dialogue. Mr. Offended Public complained to building management, or the curators, or someone in authority that he was offended by the piece. As I said, this is good because he was sparked to talk about how the art was impacting him. Sadly, Mr. O.P. is obviously a member of the Right Wi . . ., er, Reich Wing, because he was not interested in discussing the feelings evoked by the art, he simply wanted it removed! However, the great thing about freedom of speech is we all get to talk about what we don't like, but we don't get to prevent others from disagreeing or presenting their opinions. Nothing was done by the management or curators. Then next day, Mr. O.P. confronted management again and demanded that the piece be removed. The curators acquiesced, removed the piece, and replaced it with a quote about Freedom of Speech from George Washington. Then next day, Mr. O.P. saw the quote and surmising (probably correctly) that it was directed specifically at his personal attack on the United States Constitution, complained further. So, the curators removed the quote and replaced it with the original "Bush Monkeys" piece. I suspect that Mr. O.P. must be not just a member of the general public at Chelsea Market, but is someone with authority or the power of persuasion within the Chelsea Market organization, because the issue escalated. Now, I repeat: this is the story I heard -- I have no facts about the sequence of events, but it sounds plausible and very much like the tactics used by the Right Wi . . ., er, Reich Wing. When the show finally came to its Opening, the owner/president/head honcho of Chelsea Market had security remove Mr. Savido from the premises, along with the curators of the show. They were put on the street without their coats, briefcases, or personal possessions, and were told to leave now and come back to have the entire show removed from the market by the following midnight. I do not know if they were able to meet the deadline, but I do know that "Bush Monkeys" is now hanging in a gallery in New York's East Village. You can see a photograph of the painting and the painter at Reuters.

I think this is an important news story because it points to a problem you hear discussed regularly: the erosion of personal freedom and the dismantling of constitutional rights. Oddly, this story is not news. I have found almost nothing about it in the Untied States media, even the New York City media. When I Google News "bush monkey" I find hundreds of news entries, but of the top ten entries, the first seven are from India, England, Phillipines, Qatar and Ireland, and only the next three are from the USA (and they only reprint the AP feed). No New York media outlet deemed this story worthy of news coverage!

Yahoo! Entertainment found room for it, but it did not appear in their news section.

The building that houses Chelsea Market is also the home of NY1, a cable news channel owned by CNN. A television station specifically for broadcasting NEWS does not think the removal of controversial art, art that is protected by the First Amendment, from their building is newsworthy. I can only suspect that NY1 officials who broadcast plenty about the lack of freedom in Saddaam's Iraq have no interest in discussing freedom so close to their office.

Yes, it is true that Chelsea Market is a private business and has no constitutional obligation to display anything it does not like; but their fascist tactics leave something to be desired and point to the bigger problem we face: The Right Wi . . ., er, Reich Wing thinks they can behave in an uncivilized, bullying manner, and they know they can threaten anyone they dislike because they know there will be no ramifications! They know the media will not expose them, and if anything, the media will shield them from criticism. They know that American citizens will not speak-out about injustice. They know you are all too stoned on television and iPods to take any action at all.

If the owners of Chelsea Market received any tax breaks or government assistance to develop their project, if any public monies or givebacks have been involved with their project, then they should be required to abide by the Constitution when it comes to displays of work and speech in their public space. It would be interesting to know if the New York City government assisted these fascists during development.

Why is the media silent about this event?

Will the media ever stand up and expose incidents like this?

Good luck Mr. Savido! I hope you make a bundle on prints of the piece. Remember, when you sell the piece, you should retain publication rights so you can make the prints! I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hang a picture of George Bush in their home, but it might sell big!

In the meantime, I encourage all my New York friends to please contact Chelsea Market and all the vendors inside and ask them what they think of this decision, and the removal of the artwork. Then, refuse to do any business with those who support these tactics or refuse to take a position. Your power is in your money. So, put your money where you mouth is!

The tenants of Chelsea Market are:

Manhattan Fruit Exchange & The Juice Factory





Imports From Marrakech




You will be pleased to know that Chelsea Market Baskets replied to my email to say they thought it was wrong to remove the artwork. I did not ask their political affiliation, but they obviously support the Bill of Rights and that’s good enough for me to support them. So, buy something from Chelsea Market Baskets! (If other vendors reply to my contact, I will publish an update.)

(212) 941-7800

Ronnybrook Farm Dairy

The Lobster Place

Hale & Hearty Soups






Hugh McMahon, The Pumpkin Man



Ruthy's Bakery & Cafe

Let them know what you think of this issue, and ask them what they thing about this issue!

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