Astonishingly bad taste at the Skirball

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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.
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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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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 02:02 PM

Certain people certainly seem in favor of censoring the material based on their personal notion of "bad taste".

No one is claiming that it's already been censored.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/05/11 02:14 PM

Is it OK for one to be able to censor material and another not to?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/05/11 02:17 PM

What are you referring to?
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Postby John Lovick » 05/05/11 02:20 PM

I have no problem with the work of art in question, but all this talk of censorship is completely misplaced. There are different definitions of censorship, but it only really makes sense if we are talking about government action.

There are dozens of works of art that are on display in this exhibition and MILLIONS that are not. The millions that were not chosen were not "censored". Choosing what works to include (and not include) is what curators do. It has nothing to do with censorship.

If, because of controversy or complaints, the "offensive" piece were now removed form the show, it would be unfortunate, but it would not be censorship.
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 05/05/11 02:32 PM

What I'm talking about if a curator doesn't like a piece for what ever reason like the piece is too big, wrong message, not the direction they want, etc., is that "censorship"?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 05/05/11 02:37 PM

No, of course not.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 03:02 PM

Censorship isn't the sole (or even primary) purview of the government.

If a museum knuckles down (probably fairly reluctantly if it's a piece they've chosen) to protestors and removes art that others find interesting/challenging/etc. , they are certainly being forced to censor. The conditions leading up to that sort of censoring don't magically shield it from still being censorship.

It's still a group (often a very small vocal group) removing the rights of others to enjoy a certain piece of art.

Simple selection (picking out objects of art for an exhibition prior to it being shown) is not the logical equivalent of choosing something and then being forced against one's will by public pressure to censor it.
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Postby houdini's ghost » 05/05/11 04:31 PM

The Skirball is aiming a lot of advertising at kids.
Pettibon's humor isn't so much "adult" as it is "in."
Sometimes the humor is so "in"--it's only in his head.
Chris, this isn't about Houdini. I don't give a good Goddam if Rich and Ken thought it related to Houdini--if they did. They're a couple of hip, mature, New Yorkers and they have seen everything.
Perhaps the Skirball thinks it's okay to write fuc*k on the wall then lure children in to see it.
Perhaps it's a positive step. Perhaps they'll bond with the tots.
You know, a seven year old says, "Gee, the Jewish Cultural Center thinks I'm hip enough to enjoy a sketch of Houdini on a cross saying "FUC*K GOD"--these Skirball people must be pretty hip themselves."
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/05/11 04:55 PM

somebody has not seen South Park.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 05/05/11 05:04 PM

It's just a word. And a word that most kids hear all the time. Do I have a problem with a museum having that where a kid might see it? Absolutely not.

And yes, if the piece is as described, I agree completely with Richard And Ken about the relationship to Houdini.

If kids ask about it, use it as a teaching moment, explain it.

Most museums have plenty of violent pieces, naked people abound, etc. Responsible parents know what their kids can handle and react appropriately.

It's not the museum's job to be a parent for you.
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