It’s always something of a shock to me when an art critic I respect starts talking about politics. What startles me is how quickly someone who is intelligent, cultured, and well-educated can sound downright stupid.
Such is the case with the New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman. On the front page of today’s Art section, Kimmelman makes one nonsensical comment after another about the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue. Many of the elites in the arts world are still outraged by the decision of Wayne Clough, head of the Smithsonian, to pull an anti-Catholic video depicting a crucified Christ covered with ants.
Kimmelman suggests there was an orchestrated right-wing conspiracy between Donohue and “the likes of John A. Boehner and Eric Cantor, the newly empowered Republican Congressional leaders”:
They capitalized on Mr. Donohue’s protest in what seems, in retrospect, like an awfully well-choreographed pas de deux to rekindle the culture wars. Mr. Clough’s capitulation was a diplomatic Hail Mary pass. But the truth is that appeasement never works.
I’m sure Donohue had a good laugh over that one. Kimmelman obviously assumes that if sensible people agree that the American taxpayers should not be subsidizing grotesque and hateful characterizations of Jesus Christ — whatever its “artistic” intentions — then they must have conspired together in a smoke-filled room.
Kimmelman, by the way, describes the video by David Wojnarowicz as tapping “into a long and established history of Christian symbolism and is, if anything, a spiritual cri de coeur.” Needless to say, Wojnarowicz’s used Christian symbols associated primarily with Catholicism to attack the Christian faith for its “established history;” one might put it, of condemning homosexual acts.
But, this is not the most jaw-dropping comment. Kimmelman goes on explain how the government never interferes with the arts in the UK and contrasts that with the US:
In the United States, where no hubbub over art interests the tabloids or cable news unless it does become a federal case (or involve newly obscene auction prices), there is nonetheless the presumption that ordinary taxpayers have a right to intervene via their political representatives in curatorial affairs because museums get tax breaks. It has something to do with the ideal of the American Everyman. As with the military or medicine, so with museums, we are by national inclination meddlers.
His condescending use of “ordinary” tells me everything I need to know about the attitude of Kimmelman towards the people who provide the funding for the museums that provide him his living as an art critic. Without the “American Everyman,” Mr. Kimmelman would have very few museums in which to ply his trade!
The rest of his NYT’s piece describes the predictable beatification of Wojnarowicz now underway in the arts community. But you can be sure the images of his sanctity will never be debased with the application of ants or horse-dung.