January 12, 2010
Where's the brave art world that stood up to John Ashcroft?
Art in the West has a long tradition of never shying away from controversy, and as New York is supposed to be on the cutting edge, the last place you'd expect to see censorship would be in New York's art museums, right?
Wrong. Controversial art may be one thing, but if the controversy involves Islam, the trendy elitists behave in a manner that rivals uptight Victorians who feared they might offend the "vicar's daughter."
In the Victorians' defense, it should be pointed out that they didn't literally live in fear of the vicar's daughter (any more than John Ashcroft "feared" those who might have been offended by breasts on Justice Department statues); they were in their own way being "gentlemen." (Ashcroft's goal may also have been to avoid providing political adversaries with photo opportunities.) Today's censors are not behaving as "gentlemen," but as simple cowards.
Which is a roundabout way of expressing my disgust on reading about censorship at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
According to the New York Post, they have a bad case of "jihad jitters." "The Metropolitan Museum of Art," the Post reported yesterday, "quietly pulled images of the Prophet Mohammed from its Islamic collection and may not include them in a renovated exhibition area slated to open in 2011." Why? "The museum said the controversial images -- objected to by conservative Muslims who say their religion forbids images of their holy founder -- were 'under review.'"Roger Kimball notes the different standard that is applied to things that might offend prudes, or atheists:
"Controversial images"? You know what, I'll bet there are some prudish types who object to the exhibition of naked women. What is the met going to do about that? Maybe atheists object to all those depictions of Jesus Christ and his mother. How is the Met going to deal with those "controversial images"?What is being forgotten is that these images were produced by Muslims themselves. There has never been universal agreement in Islam that all representations of Muhammad are blasphemous. So why are American museums censoring themselves in accordance with the most restrictive interpretation? It's obvious why. They are afraid. The "fearless" art world that stands up to John Ashcroft wets their collective panties over the mutterings of Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Kimball predicts that we will be "seeing more and more of these disgusting rituals of surrender." In May of 2008, I noticed that the Philadelphia Art Museum singled out one of Frida Kahlo's for special mounting under a protective locked case because it included an image of Muhammad. Here it is:
(Top row, left to right: Akhenaten, Jehovah, Jesus Christ, Zoroaster; Bottom row, left to right: Alexander the Great, Caesar, Mohammed, Luther, Napoleon, and Hitler).
At the time I praised the Philadelphia Art Museum for their courage in displaying the painting at all:
Of all the subjects in the painting, which one would so worry the curator that he felt the need to put it behind a protective encasement?So shame on the Met. But in light of their cowardice, I feel like asking a sarcastic question.
Can sandblasting the image of Muhammad from the Supreme Court building be far behind?
UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and adding his thoughts. A warm welcome to all.
Comments invited -- agree or disagree.
posted by Eric on 01.12.10 at 12:29 PM
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