Perhaps my fifteen minutes of fame has yet to arrive. Or perhaps, like a cat has nine lives, I'm destined to experience repeated quarter hours over the course of my life and career. This time my fame comes from controversy (who's surprised?).
This weekend, Burlington held its annual ART HOP and through a series of unfortunate (or perhaps fortunate?) events, I found myself at the center of an old debate: What is art? Is it decoration? And when a business agrees to host an art show, do they have final editorial license (or in my case ultimate veto?)
This was my first (and likely last ART HOP) and I signed up to exhibit two pieces - one for the outdoor juried show, and one for the indoor juried show. Through a clerical error, ART HOP assigned me an additional exhibition space to hang a personal show.
I found this out late last week when they phoned to tell me the time and place to drop off my artwork.
"Um, Mr. Art Organizer...I didn't sign up for a show."
"You didn't? Oh."
"Does this mean my name is printed in the program as showing somewhere?"
"Yes, but we could put up a sign that says you're not showing if you like."
"I don't think so. I'll have something for you as soon as possible."
So I put together a show of 24 postcard sized images of mostly bucolic postcardy stuff. The ferry returning for the evening on Lake Champlain. Scottish Highland cows lined up and staring into my lens. Macros of flowers etc. All benignly beautiful and uncontroversial except for the few images of dolls and mannequins I slipped in for my own good pleasure.
Three of the images were of a snow covered doll.
A day after I hung the show, and two days before the public exhibition officially began, I received a phone call from the organizers.
"Kimberley, I'm afraid I have some bad news....The business owner has asked that you take down your show."
"She said that she didn't appreciate that you hung pictures of 'dead baby dolls' in her space."
"Baby dolls can't die because they were never alive."
"Well, she doesn't want them there."
He offered to let me move the show to SEABA headquarters. The problem was (other than the obvious) that I didn't really have time to move the show and anyway WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO?
So I thought about it and ranted about it some and thought about it some more. I decided to take the show down and wear it on the main day of the festival. I made a poster with an enlargement of the offending image that said, "Does This Photo Offend YOU?"
I also made fifty copies of the image with that slogan and my contact info that I gave out to people at the ART HOP and friends who wanted to support my cause.
For the record, I did not want to make this a pissing contest between me and SEABA or the business owner but the papers and their readership are sure trying to make it into that.
All I want is for this to stimulate dialog about how to avoid this type of situation in future. If I'd just sat still and done nothing about it - the business owner would have had the advertising she'd signed up for, the traffic funneled to her site and I would have had my name in the program with a blank space where my art should be simply because the host had a reaction to my work (isn't art supposed to illicit a response? Any response is good, right?).
People are pretty pissed that I didn't allow the situation to be swept under the rug, but I'm sticking to my guns (again, who's surprised?). I feel I represent all artists and that the business owner represents all business owners.
The question is, who has editorial control to decide what is and what is not appropriate for showing at businesses? What is art? Are these art shows, craft fairs or is this plain old fashioned business as usual?
”Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you'll be criticized anyway .” -- Eleanor Roosevelt