Astonishingly bad taste at the Skirball

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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/04/11 09:29 PM

Apparently, several artists were approached by the Jewish Historical Society to render works inspired by Houdini. Some of the art on display was created years ago, and some seems to have been created for this current exhibit.
One of the works is what appears to be a large pen and ink drawing of someone we are to understand is Houdini on a cross with three dialogue bubbles above his head. The middle one says "F##k God" and the lowest one says "I do it all myself."
I am against censorship, I just turned a blind eye, but, last Thursday, I was in that exhibit with about a hundred 6th or 7th graders. I don't doubt that nearly every one of them has heard that word repeatedly and even used it, but, it's in bad taste--and what has it got to do with Houdini?
I didn't write "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." And I do take all kinds of names in vain.
But I don't pretend to live by those rules and I don't hang "F%%k God" on the Goddam wall and parade busloads of 10 year old kids past it.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/04/11 09:38 PM

I hope you write to the Skirball. Their removing it wouldnt be censorship: It would just be the correct thing to do. The artist can hang the drawing elsewhere if thats his/her choice.

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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/04/11 10:24 PM

This was at the NYC exhibit too. It is in poor taste there too, IMHO. Many of the artsy-fartsy things I could have lived without. The pigeon project comes to mind quickly.

Just the things that they passed over from my collection would have been a better choice of space. Imagine what was passed over in truly great collections.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/04/11 10:46 PM

It's an art exhibit, not a reading lesson for grade schoolers.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/04/11 10:57 PM

I'm with Richard on this one. I'll take a boatload of bad taste over censorship any day.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/04/11 11:06 PM

We join a tour in progress:

"and we're walking - and we're walking...
and over here we have potty-mouth Houdini - the struggle to escape from a poor choice in words.
And we're walking - and we're walking..."
Last edited by Jonathan Townsend on 05/04/11 11:12 PM, edited 0 times in total.
Reason: added context
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/04/11 11:45 PM

Richard,
The brochure out here has a beaming curly blond eight year old girl, her beaming face taking up a third of the front page, as she enters the Skirball to "See the Magic."
Nobody is more against censorship than I, but, we have different kinds of audiences. We are asked not to say "[censored]" when we are performing in the rooms at the Castle--no censorship, just a matter of taste.
I think that particular piece doesn't fit the audience they are reaching out to with that brochure.
I'm against censorship. I'm also against [censored].
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/04/11 11:50 PM

Richard,
You just proved my point.
"It's an art exhibit, not a reading lesson for grade schoolers."
Well, Rich, that's who they are selling this thing to: grammar school kids.
And anyway, who is censoring anybody? Oh, I forgot, that was you censoring me in my last post. I just said the Skirball was exhibiting bad taste.
I forgot to mention they're hypocrites.
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Postby Larry Horowitz » 05/04/11 11:58 PM

Censorship is denying the right to use foul language.

Class is choosing not to display it.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/05/11 01:35 AM

The exact same piece by artist Raymond Pettibon was on display in the same exhibit in New York for many months. No one said anything about it.

If you want to get into the whole business about "what I wouldn't show to children," then it would be even easier to make the arguement that certain children might see some of Houdini's exploits in the show and try to duplicate them at home ... and accidentally drown or otherwise put themselves in bodily danger. I think that's a lot more likely than some kid's life being corrupted by the possibility that he or she might notice the word f*u*c*k in a piece of art.

The Forum's censor is an automatic funcion that keeps people from using really bad language.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 05/05/11 02:12 AM

In searching online for the offending image (didn't find it) I stumbled across this collection of photos by famed photographer Jill Krementz of the New York exhibit, which includes photos of Richard Kaufman, David Blaine, Jon Stetson, Mark Mitton, Kenneth Silverman...:
http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/1904278
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/05/11 02:14 AM

I have heard from several people that some of the art is irrelevant to the subject of the exhibit. It sounds like this piece is among those. Heres the test: Separate from the Houdini exhibit, would the piece bring Houdini to mind? From Patricks description, it doesnt.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 05/05/11 02:25 AM

Since the Skirball is "renting" the Houdini exhibit from the New York Museum, I wonder what liberties they can take with it? One of the works of art on display consists of an overdue library notice of a book on Houdini. Another is a photograph of an exhibit at the Louvre which the artist/photographer entitled "Houdini's Top Hat and Wand". It is clearly not Houdini's but Robert-Houdin's. Does it belong in such an exhibit? The artist (now deceased) thought it was Houdini's...
That photo can be seen here:
http://tinyurl.com/3opb69c
Compounding the error in the title of the photo, the exhibit in question was apparently not at the Louvre, but at the Musee D'Orsay:
http://tinyurl.com/3vgblbt
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Postby jason156 » 05/05/11 02:54 AM

Chris Aguilar wrote:I'm with Richard on this one. I'll take a boatload of bad taste over censorship any day.


I remember someone once said, "I'm willing to put up with a hundred Andrew Dice Clays for the right to listen to a single Richard Pryor"
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/05/11 09:19 AM

Richard Hatch wrote:Since ...It is clearly not Houdini's but Robert-Houdin's. Does it belong in such an exhibit? The artist (now deceased) thought it was Houdini's...
That photo can be seen here:
http://tinyurl.com/3opb69c
Compounding the error in the title of the photo, the exhibit in question was apparently not at the Louvre, but at the Musee D'Orsay:
http://tinyurl.com/3vgblbt


Any chance the artist had the courage to make a critical statement by way of that work?
Duchamp/Mertz/Dada was a centry ago and one might expect artists to continue pushing the boundries of artifact and contextual framing as expression.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 09:24 AM

Imagine how many other exhibits they'd have to censor and dumb down to a child's level if they did so for the Houdini exhibit.

It's a slippery slope trod upon by those who decry censorship while simultaneously asking for it.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/05/11 10:52 AM

It's still not censorship to have taste. If you left a out some of these artsy-fartsy pieces and had some more Houdini-era pieces, the exhibit would be that much better. And it wouldn't dumb down anything. IMHO
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 11:04 AM

Censorship in the service of "good taste" is still censorship.

Especially when one is free to attend other exhibits that one might find less challenging (in this case, probably something approved by Barney the big purple dinosaur or the crew at Sesame Street)
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/05/11 11:20 AM

Kevin Connolly wrote:It's still not censorship to have taste. If you left a out some of these artsy-fartsy pieces and had some more Houdini-era pieces, the exhibit would be that much better. And it wouldn't dumb down anything. IMHO



While there's no disputing matters of taste the "artsy fartsy" fretters are by and large better off looking at decorations and memorabilia, leaving matters of art and meaning to those who want to explore "what's new" by way of novel expression.

Did Houdini leave the chains and handcuffs inside the boxes from which he escaped leaving the lot all closed/locked?
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/05/11 11:22 AM

Not true, but a weak try. There's a place for everything. Have you seen this little gem?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/05/11 11:33 AM

Look, the entire concept of the exhibit is "Art and Magic." Notice that the word "art" comes first. There would never have been any exhibit without the artworks by these well-known modern artists accompany the Houdini pieces.

Just because you don't appreciate or understand modern art, don't call it "artsy-fartsy." I happen to think the business with the pigeons is incredibly stupid, but modern art speaks to each individual in different ways. Pigeons don't speak to me.

As to Dustin's remark about the piece in question by Raymond Pettibon, it is a pen and ink sketch of Houdini so it's very definitely a "Houdini art" piece that is appropriate to the exhibit.

When I toured the original exhibit in New York City at the press preview with Ken Silverman, we stopped at Pettibon's piece and read it and both laughed. He thought that the phrasing of the language certainly captured the brazen nature of Houdini's ego perfectly. (This is not to say that Houdini would ever have spoken those words, but that they captured Houdini's attitude that he could defy anyone or anything.)
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/05/11 11:34 AM

Raymond Pettibon is a satirist that draws and he has become famous for it. I would assume that the New York bunch--and the New York curator, Brooke Rappaport's specialty I am told is interior design--asked Pettibon to create something for the exhibit.
It looks to me as if they got what they asked for.
Pettibon did a drawing with dialogue bubbles filled with satire and vulgarity aimed at Jews.
The philosophy seems to be: "The Jews have this rule about not taking God's name (or names) in vain--so, since the Jews have commissioned me to create a work of art inspired by Houdini, that's what I'll do."
That's what Pettibone--not to mention Mel Brooks--does.
It's not appropriate, but, it should remain with the exhibit, which is being pitched to grammar school students, here and when it travels--as a monument to bad taste.
Why is the first issue of "Super-Magic" (from the second issue on, called Super-Magician) on display? that's Blackstone on the cover.
I can think of a reason for it to be there, but, I'll bet they don't know what it is at the Skirball. A nice Hardeen item could have fit in that spot.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 05/05/11 11:42 AM

I may be wrong, but I don't believe that any art was specifically commissioned/created for the "Houdini: Art and Magic" exhibition. I believe the curator sought out pre-existing art inspired by Houdini. I believe the Pettibon pieces all date from about 1989/1990, more than a decade ago.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/05/11 11:57 AM

Thanks. Then who put that particular piece in the show--and why?
Putting a sketch of Houdini on a cross saying "Fu*k God"--and who knows how many hundreds of grammar school kids have seen that and will see it. Shee-it!
Well, I can be proud of one thing. Among the 125,000 words in Houdini--the Key, I only used the word [censored] three times.
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Postby Kardova » 05/05/11 12:07 PM

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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/05/11 12:12 PM

Art came before magic for probably two reasons. One is alphabetical. The second, and probably more so, is the Jewish Museum is up the street from Museum Row. They probably think they have to keep up with the Joneses.

There probably would have been a Houdini exhibit without the artsy-fartsy material. It's not making a cross-country tour to four cities for its' pooping pigeons.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/05/11 12:21 PM

Actually, the title is Houdini: Art and Magic.

Houdini comes first. So please answer the question: Outside the context of an exhibit on Houdini, would someone recognize that the individual on the cross saying [censored] God is Houdini: Yes or no?
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/05/11 12:29 PM

You know what? Never mind. Im going to make RKs and CAs argument for them:

If the piece is removed before I get to see it and make up my own mind, that would be a shame.

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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/05/11 12:32 PM

The exhibit and book is about how Houdini affected artists and effected art. If you want Houdini memorabilia or velvet paintings of Houdini like the Elvis and James Dean stuff - not likely museum stuff unless Jeff Koons or his ilk get involved.

Even a quick skim of the book would inform the reader that artists of the time were not so much effected by Houdini's work - and it was only later after the movies started to use him as a character that some explored using his work or image as an icon.

A 'self liberator' in an age of increasing conformity? That's not what the art community was working at as art - and not (IMHO) even sensible politics in an economy of attention. IMHO that kind of 'art' was a good fifty years ahead of its time.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 12:45 PM

Not all art is concretely recognizable in the manner that some seem to be asking for here.

In the context of the show, Richard K. and Ken Silverman (no Houdini slouch he), had no problem with connecting the piece thematically with the exhibit. If a younger person had trouble in that regard, I would hope that a handy adult (teacher perhaps) could provide context as necessary.

I suspect that it's primarily the religious aspects that are causing folks to have heartburn here. As religion (and anti religion) have a long history of being grist for the art exhibit mill, I'm not sure I see much of an issue here.
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Postby Richard Hatch » 05/05/11 12:51 PM

Just checked the exhibition catalog. The offending image is on page 111 and is dated 1992, on loan from a private collection in New York. Here's a link to the Mission statement of the Jewish Museum of New York:
http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/Mission
As I read it, they are primarily an art museum. If so, it seems unlikely that an exhibit consisting primarily of Houdini artifacts would have been of interest to them or their curators.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/05/11 12:57 PM

There is no issue for adults, simply (I think) whether kids might see it. Kids who already know the word will recognize it and titter; kids who don't know the word won't recognize it. If they ask about it later, so what? You think kids don't hear other people cursing all the time? Not parents (I'm assuming--but many parents seem to think their children are deaf), but when you're in a store, or walking on the street, or whatever. People use language when there are children around and don't even think about it. I've never heard my daughter say s*h*i*t, but I bet she's heard other people say it many times.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 12:58 PM

I'm with you on that one Richard.

Sometimes I don't think we give our kids enough credit.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/05/11 12:58 PM

They did just have the Dead Sea Scrolls there, off the top of my head, so it's not exclusively and art museum.
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Postby Kardova » 05/05/11 01:02 PM

Yes (to answer Dustin's question)! The whole sub-text of Houdinis art was defying death (a.k.a. challenging God). I fully agree with Kaufman on this. I think it is in the style of Harry's self confidence. The fact that he is Jewish makes the statement all the more provocative. Even Christ doubted himself, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Granted, Houdini cheated, but hey, that's what our business is all about, we make that perfectly clear upfront.

Remember his nude photos in chains (under the guise of having nothing to hide)? Pretty bold at the time and I think the piece in question is simply an upgraded version of the same bold message that Houdini was trying to create for himself. If your art doesn't provoke, doesn't upset, if it's simply pedestrian, then you aren't doing your job. If Harry taught magic one thing, it was be bold.

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Postby Robert Allen » 05/05/11 01:02 PM

Funny that the above mentioned thought bubble art isn't shown anywhere in the advertising collateral or coverage, while lots of kids are.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/05/11 01:02 PM

Just a matter of taste.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 01:18 PM

Funny how often people fall back on "Just think of the children!" in the service of censoring something that might be personally objectionable to them but of artistic interest to others.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/05/11 01:19 PM

Our dialog would be more interesting if folks were looking at Houdini's work in context of what people were starting to think about in public at the time

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy ... _Nietzsche

Where Sartre offered nausea as a response and Marcel Proust was suggesting acquiring new eyes Houdini was directly dealing with social constraints - our "outside the box" man.
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/05/11 01:36 PM

Do you think the material was censored before it even came to the museum in NYC?
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