CHAPTER FIVE. Who Needs Civil Liberties?
I was recently leafing through an elegantly produced art book titled A Creative Legacy: A History of the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists' Fellowship Program . The book showcases the National Endowment for the Arts' (NEA) support of living artists through a grant program initiated in 1966 and terminated in 1995 as a result of political pressure and public controversy. Among the works reproduced in the book are one photograph each by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, the artists most famously at issue in the culture wars that led to the dissolution of the Visual Artists' Fellowship program. The photographs featured in A Creative Legacy , however, seem to repress the culture wars rather than recall them: a Mapplethorpe photograph of a calla lily in close- up ( ), its white blossom and erect stamen set against a black rectangular backdrop; and a Serrano picture of an African American man taken from a series of studio portraits of the homeless. No mention is made of Serrano's Piss Christ nor of Mapplethorpe's photographs of gay sadomasochism. No recollection is offered of Republican legislators ripping up exhibition catalogues on the floor of the Senate or denouncing individual artists as “sick” or “filthy,” or “degenerate.” A reader otherwise unacquainted with the public controversies of the late 1980s and early 90s may wonder what all the fuss was about. A ... log in or subscribe to read full text
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