Heil to the Chief

ASU's Art Museum is planning a show to coincide with this fall's presidential debate. The art would make Michael Moore blush.

Litt says he was surprised, but grateful, when he learned the ASU Art Museum was putting on the show.

"It's brave. We try to get shows at university galleries, and there has been some resistance to it," Litt says. "No one wants a student to go home and tell a parent that there were negative images about the administration or the war at the school's gallery or museum, and then have the parents question the university by asking, 'What are you doing with my money?'

"My feeling is that it's a college gallery," he adds. "They're doing something guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."

Bushwhacked by Alfred Quiroz
courtesy of Alfred Quiroz
Bushwhacked by Alfred Quiroz
Hug Bombs by Shepard Fairey
courtesy of Shepard Fairey
Hug Bombs by Shepard Fairey

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Peter Kuper, whose work has graced several covers of Time magazine and the pages of the New York Times, agrees.

"I stand shoulder to shoulder with any institution that stands up like this," Kuper says from New York. "I think that [the show] is brilliant and the university is very courageous. I'm anxious for the art to have some use socially, and I think that this is a prime example of that possibility."

Or, rather, impossibility, now that ASU officials are saying that the show must be balanced in order to run. According to all 10 of the artists who spoke to New Times, it isn't exactly an easy task to find contemporary art in praise of Dubya.

"I think it would be a delight to have anti-Kerry, pro-Bush art in the show along with whatever else is being exhibited," writes L.A. artist Robbie Conal in an e-mail to New Times. "The more the merrier. The curators might have a difficult time finding some, however, because to do this shiznit, you have to be a desperate, disenfranchised, angry artist willing to run around in the middle of the night in some of the most dangerous urban areas in the universe spattering yourself with glue and risking arrest.

"Why would beneficiaries of global capitalism . . . even bother?"

Zeitlin disagrees with Conal. She insists the alternative voices are out there and says she's on the hunt for them personally. She's been looking for pro-Bush or anti-Kerry art in New York and Chicago (although she admits that she's yet to find any). Other ASU curators, she says, are still searching as well.

"I think it's absolutely possible [to find a balance of work]," Zeitlin says. "It's not going to be easy, but it's our job.

"Regardless of our political ideologies, it would be too easy in a way to do a Bush-bashing show. That would be like shooting fish in a barrel," says Zeitlin, who, when reached by New Times, was on her way to see Fahrenheit 9/11.

In any event, "Democracy in America" could be over before it's begun, according to ASU spokeswoman Nancy Neff, who sent New Times this message via e-mail on June 24:

"There is no 'exhibit' at this stage of the process," the message begins. "Some ASU curators have simply invited artists to submit possibilities at this point. . . . There is a long way to go and no one is even sure having an exhibit to coincide with the debate is possible, since it generally takes at least a year, and sometimes as much as two years, to curate a professional exhibit. There are a number of community, academic, and/or cultural programs/events that are being discussed in connection with the debate, but nothing is even close to being finalized. Everything we do will be done in a thoughtful, professional and educational manner, and nothing will be finalized until going through a full approval process."

According to Zeitlin, approval will come via addition, not subtraction. "We won't pull any of the pieces we have already," she says. "We'll work to add balance."

Spiak originally told New Times that he sent both Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano and his Presidential Debate Steering Committee co-chair Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU's executive director of public events, information similar to the release he sent New Times weeks ago, providing the basics of the show and a list of the artists involved. Yet even though the show is in print (albeit "unofficial" by ASU's standards), the gallery has been selected, the artists have been solicited, and much of the artwork has been received, College of Fine Arts spokeswoman Denise Tanguay also says the show "is in flux."

"What you have is an unofficial release," Tanguay tells New Times. "More artists might be added, other things could change."

Stacey Shaw adds that while the show is all but up, no contracts have been signed by artists, and that Bob Wills, the dean of the Herberger College of Fine Arts, has yet to approve it.

After seeing a preview of some of the art in the exhibition, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack -- who's been busy with the committee planning security and parking issues mostly -- says a bipartisan effort is a must.

"I'd like to sit down with John [Spiak] and have him show me the entire exhibit," she says. "I would hope that [the exhibit] would explore the breadth of democracy -- not just one small corner."

For at least one of the show's artists, though, it's not the imbalance of the work that's bothersome, but rather the blatant messages in "Democracy in America." Although Phoenix artist Colin Chillag, who submitted his painting New Babel (which uses the biblical Tower of Babel as a metaphor for a "sinful society" -- an image of the work was not available), admits that he leans on the left side of the fence and voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, he says that as he learns more about the pieces in "Democracy in America," he's beginning to get a little peeved.

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