Ford writes in an e-mail to New Times that he understands neither why Austin would cancel an entire show after seeing just a few of the works nor why she took issue with his art in particular.

"Personally, I don't see what she found objectionable about The Dolls or The Motel Room, which were two of the three pieces to which she objected," he writes. "I can understand to a point potential concerns about The Sodomite, although I find those concerns to be a little silly as well."

Ford continues: "From the e-mails, it appears that there was never an attempt at compromise. It was never suggested that perhaps I substitute different images. It was simply decided that my work wouldn't have an opportunity to be shown in that space, with no explanation given as to why. I think that's where the censorship issue comes into play. As I said, I understand that different venues have different guidelines. What I find troubling is that there was no discussion about how, exactly, my work was objectionable. Had there been a discussion, I could have responded to the objections and a potentially useful dialogue could have taken place. But I wasn't given that opportunity. The cutting off of all discussion is what I see as censorship."

Scenes from the anti-censorship protest held September 5 outside Herberger Theater Center.
Scenes from the anti-censorship protest held September 5 outside Herberger Theater Center.
Scenes from the anti-censorship protest held September 5 outside Herberger Theater Center.
Scenes from the anti-censorship protest held September 5 outside Herberger Theater Center.

As for the other artists, Ford writes, "I think they were censored in that they were prevented from displaying their work sight unseen. That, really, is more troubling to me than someone finding my work disturbing or objectionable."

Mendez writes in an e-mail to New Times, "The silver lining is that I have new additions to my body of work, but the disappointment is that the contract I signed will not be honored. This is not based on the work I created for the exhibit but on the inability to communicate and compromise.

"As artists we are free to express ourselves and our views on society. I do understand the need for guidelines and parameters in certain instances, but unfortunately in this case, no such parameters or guidelines were ever stated or communicated."

Meanwhile, Herberger has maintained that the cancellation was not an act of censorship.

Herberger posted an unsigned, confusingly written message to its Facebook page on Saturday, August 31:

"The Herberger Theater Center has supported the rich diversity of the arts and celebrated free expression of artists throughout Arizona since its inception in 1989. Since the gallery opened in 2002, all artwork has been overseen by guest curators, including Robrt Pela, and selected by a blind jury with the exception of a few invitational exhibits. In all those years, we have never refused artwork based on its content. The cancellation of 'Prime Example' was not an act of censorship, nor in any way a negative statement against any of the artists selected for the exhibit. Mr. Pela recently decided to feature other artists instead of showcasing his own art, as was the original intention of the curator exhibit. As an arts venue that caters to diverse audiences of all ages, we are not in a position to display artwork sight unseen. Concerns for this particular venue were expressed, but ultimately we had to make the difficult decision to cancel the exhibit."

In an interview with New Times, Austin says otherwise.

"It's not that he changed the lineup last-minute," she says. (This point was obvious to anyone who had seen the show announced on the Herberger website, complete with a few images and artist information.) "We can't put artwork up sight unseen. We're a theater first. And we really have to respect the patrons that come in and the resident theater companies that come in and rent our space."

She adds, "I talked it over with our president. We didn't feel comfortable. At this late date there was nothing to do but cancel the exhibit . . . It wasn't a negative statement against any of the artists."


Austin says that if she had received images of all the artwork from the artists, which she says she requested multiple times (although e-mails that Austin and Pela turned over to New Times do not show that she did), then perhaps a settlement could've been reached.

On Wednesday, September 4, Bowers offered a new explanation for the show's cancellation, via Facebook:

"It is fine to disagree on an issue, but labeling it with an inflammatory word and misrepresenting the facts is something else entirely. The Herberger Theater Art Gallery has had a well-defined process for themed and exhibition art selection since its inception in 2002. The process has been shared with every volunteer guest curator, and allowed us to fairly showcase hundreds of talented Arizona artists over the years and raise funds that benefit local Youth Outreach programs. In this case, many elements of our process were not adhered to and the reason 'Prime Example' was cancelled."

This explanation came after representatives from the Mayor's Office organized a phone call for Bowers and Pela to discuss the situation with Mahoney and Spencer. Mahoney says that the goal of the call was to work with both sides to reach an agreeable solution. Pela and Bowers agreed to have follow-up discussions, Mahoney says. It's unclear what their outcome would be.

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86 comments
brucefcard
brucefcard

Censorship, especially of artists in the public arena must be good, and that phrase "good" is really the problem. Is that a bummer? Does everything HAVE to be "good"? Do we see where this is going? Is filth "good"? Is freedom, real freedom, the right to barf all over everybody? Is crap good to eat? No. Good is good, and crap is crap, keep blurring the line and what do you get? Sodom & Gomorra. WAKE UP! That pic says it all, the white face paint with "SODOMITE" written on the forehead. And while I'm here please past this in YouTube,,, "A vision of swords"... It is about p o r n. 

dmaher95
dmaher95

Why not start your own alternative, private theater? All you need is some old warehouse somewhere, and it could be funded privately, by those that want it. If it is private, then you can have any kind of venue you want.

tondojondo
tondojondo

OK wow that makes no sense at all man, None.

www.Got-Privacy.com

ptownsend777
ptownsend777

If you want or need a place to display controversial art, create your own "Burning Man" and have everyone come out to the desert where you can worship whatever you want.  Not EVERYTHING is "appropriate" for "everywhere" -- that doesn't mean censored, but perhaps logical and considerate.  There are things high school students cannot create at school -- because it is not deemed appropriate.  Find a different gallery.

bangzoom
bangzoom

Are you artfags still rehashing this non-issue? You all know that nobody gives a fuck about any of this except for the local drama queens, don't you?

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

Hey, Herberger: Come up with an explanation, then stick with. You don't want folks to think you're dissembling.

mdickson131
mdickson131

I think this story should be called Robert Pela turns minor controversy into major capital gain. 

I'm really turned off that New Times thinks this is cover material and that the writer paralleled this story to Ai Weiwei being kidnapped and his studio destroyed by his own government. Its obvious that Pela used his influenced at the New Times to push this story to a major headline that it does not deserve in the meantime degrading the Herberger name( I would not be surprised if he edited the article himself). The Herberger's have contributed millions of dollars to education and arts that have benefited Arizona immensely. What has Pela done for the art community other than stir up unneeded controversy over a practically invisible gallery that is a tiny portion of the theater, besides the primary function of the theater is to serve the performing arts community not the visual arts. I think the staff in charge of the Herberger is definitely negligent in establishing guidelines insofar as what they deem acceptable in the gallery but I can also see their point considering the timing in relationship to other events, however I think the content of the artist work is rather tame compared to current television standards of content and that those in charge over-reacted.This was not a make or break show for any of these artists, but as an artist myself I would be  insulted by the inconvenience and can understand their frustration.

Still my point being is that Mr. Pela benefits more from this controversy than if it never happened and it shows that being an opportunist is more important to him  than being moral in his decision making, especially since he was quick to accuse of censorship and moved the show to his gallery and titled it " Banned at the Herberger". I think Robert Pela threw out the  "C" word a little  too casually. In the art world the word "censorship" is comparable to the world "racist" in that when you accuse someone of either they become very stalwartly defensive and the general public gets easily worked up. Which I surmise is the case in the position of the Herberger rep and why she became turned off to accommodating Robert in any degree. If any thing should be boycotted I think it should be Pela curating.

@artraud49 I think you nailed a balanced of review of the whole scenario.Kudos.

nunyadamnbidezz
nunyadamnbidezz

And maybe your "art" sucked so bad it was not worthy of public display. Let me ask you a question. If I smear shit on a 10ft x 10ft portrait of Obama at named it "Shitbama", would you declare it art? Would you respect my "right" to have it displayed along side Piss Christ?

MichMM
MichMM

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jctgauche1943
jctgauche1943

As a former guest curator, having worked with Ms. Austen and the Herberger Board, I am voicing my support for their joint decision, which reflects their good judgment and common sense.

 The entire scope of the Herberger program here takes precedence over the visual art calendar of events. So be it.

joshdadevil
joshdadevil

Just because you create a piece of art does not mean that a gallery or as museum must show it. The institution has a right to decide what to show and what not to show for what ever reason it chooses.  

joshdadevil
joshdadevil

To be fair they show a lot of children's performances on the stage there.

While some people might feel that that type of art is cool or trendy I do think it is fair to let the Herberger decide if those images are the ones they want to promote to their family audience.

The sodomite image, the cross-dressing image, and the picture of the deer hunting/holding dead babies might be disturbing to children. ( I probably wouldn't take my kids to an art exhibit like that )

I think that people screaming censorship are doing it for their own self interest. (including the writer of this article)

hurricaneric
hurricaneric moderator

Via our online mailbag:

SUBJECT:
Herberger - from the National Coalition Against Censorship

LETTER:
Dear Becky,

thank you for your very detailed article on the Herberger censorship incident. The National Coalition Against Censorship's Arts Advocacy Project is looking into the issue and especially the First Amendment implications of the fact that the theater's space is owned by the City.

If you can put us in touch with Robert Pela that would be great. We would like to put some national pressure on the Herberger - this kind of flagrant and arbitrary censorship should not be happening in a cultural institution.

Thanks again,

Svetlana Mintcheva

Svetlana Mintcheva, Ph.D.
Director of Programs
National Coalition Against Censorship

ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

So now we have these prudes banning books and censoring art - what's next they gonna take are guns?

fingerpaint
fingerpaint

I would like to thank the Furburger for sparing us all from another exhibition of embarrassingly bad art.

sdsaulka
sdsaulka

I am quite happy with the gallery's cancellation. Every time some talentless little fruit with mommy issues memorializes his perversion, that's art? If that makes me a Philistine, so be it. 

Artaud49
Artaud49

1. Robert Pela is the Honey Boo Boo of the downtown Phoenix Art scene. He never misses an opportunity to self promote.

2.Because of this controversy, more people will see the artwork at the Pela Gallery than if it had been hung as  intended on the second floor of the Herberger.

3.If only on could read SODOMITE on the subject's forehead on the cover. What is SOOOMIT?I don't know. The photographer should thank the Herberger for giving his career a boost and for all that free publicity that only controversy can bring.

4. I feel bad for the artists who worked hard to put a show together and got cut through no fault of their own.

5. So much drama back and forth and difficulty being honest, but it appears that the Herberger really screwed up. They would not host a performance of any kind without knowing the content. Unless Pela pulled the show, as some have reported, the error is clearly with the theater.

6. This is not censorship, no matter how much a Tea Party infused response wants to make it about taking away one's rights. What's next? Your guns? Your God? Your Vagina? A vendor shut down a show. Get over yourself. That or watch more episodes of Girls so you can feel empowered.

7. Entitlement is the step child of spoiled television reality children and D-list artists. 

8. For all the artists and guest curators who now boycott the Herberger, there will be hundreds of artists who will take your place.

9.This is a sandbox cat fight that should have been worked out between two adult parties. This kind of infighting hurts artists, patrons, and art spaces. It gives credence to the far right  who want no part of public funded art. It does nothing to promote art in the valley. A ridiculous hill to die on.

10. To bring the name of Ai Weiwei into this mundane squabble between two parties, that need some sense knocked into their pathetic egos, is an outrage and an affront to intelligence and human dignity. 

naoma
naoma

The person who authorized this "censorship" should be retrained or reassigned.  And, what about those NAKED statues in front of the theater?  Maybe someone will demand they be CLOTHED?

CmmnSns
CmmnSns

It's ironic that the same people that cry about their rights and freedoms being taken away mindlessly support the system that is constantly growing to swallow those freedoms.

warren60
warren60

You obviously have no idea what censorship is. And you are clearly clueless on free speech.   

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

@nunyadamnbidezz Shit smeared on Obama would be just plain disrespectful and certainly unworthy of being displayed in any public space. Now, nunya, are you a bagger?

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

@MichMM SSSSSSSSSPPPPPPPPPPAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMM!!!!!! It's not OK on Huffingtonpost or Slate and it's not OK here.

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

@jctgauche1943 Good judgment maybe, but bullshit definitely. They should have been up-front and admitted that they disapprove of homoerotic art. That would have been semi-OK.

ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

@joshdadevil To be fair, there is nothing in the Pela art show which held a candle to the nude statues in front of the Herberger!  It wasn't the images the Herberger was censoring, it was the ideas conveyed by the art they didn't like.  Sodomy is sodomy, whether gays or straights do it - you go down on your wife or girlfriend THAT IS SODOMY!  See bigots like to be able to frame that word so they can prove to themselves that the bible condemns homosexuality.  If the true meaning is shown for what it is, their dehumanizing comments don't have as much power.  Yeah, the bible condemns sodomy, ALL SODOMY!!!


valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@ExpertShot  

A group in Tucson remove a book from the school's curriculum, and a completely separate group shuts down an exhibit as not being "family-friendly", and you choose to attribute both actions to "these prudes" and then further characterize them as if it they represent a new trend, as opposed to the long-standing practices they represent.

I don't think we need your help along the path to enlightenment, but thanks for trying.

 

 

wayne146
wayne146

@sdsaulka You're not a Philistine, but considering your obvious homophobia, you're probably also not too smart either.

Ten to one you've never attended a show at the Herberger, or any local art show either, so we'll give your assessment all the credit it deserves.

Enjoy your NASCAR rally.

pipper
pipper

@Artaud49 Robrt Pela is a wonderful person and an amazing curator. He's been an active member of the PAS for decades. I assure you, the community would be missing a very important key without him here. 

And self-promotion or not, the actions of the HTC were unprofessional and sloppily handled at best. As a professional in the industry, he has an absolute right to be upset about a poorly situation, completely disregarding the censorship claim.

julie.peterson1
julie.peterson1

@Artaud49 re: your number 3. That's Ford's photo. It always looks like that. To me, that makes it even sillier to complain about it.

nunyadamnbidezz
nunyadamnbidezz

So it's disrespectful to desecrate Obama but not a symbol of Catholicism? By the way, I'm not Catholic, nor a political activist but I know right from wrong.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@eric.nelson745

Eric, you might want to check out the National Coalition Against Censorship's website.  One of the works they believe should not have been censored (different venue) was a "Madonna" smeared with shit.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@eric.nelson745  

Since they consider the gallery to be family-friendly, I would expect them to be against any form of erotic art, as well as any other images that might be upsetting to children.  Did somebody say that the issue involved orientation?  I haven't seen that.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@ExpertShot @joshdadevil  

You seem to be among a small minority who find nude statues to be offensive.

The samples of art that have been shown here would be considered inappropriate by most parents bringing young children.

The ideas they depict deserve to be communicated and discussed, but not in every possible forum.

joshdadevil
joshdadevil

@ExpertShot @joshdadevil

Why are you even talking about the bible?

And sodomy is not this issue. I am pro-sodomy. who cares about the statues in front of the theater. I just appreciate Herberger's appropriate decision  to not promote those images their family audience.

you can call me a bigot if you want... I just don't want to explain the dead babies photo and cross dressing to my 2 year old next time we go.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@wayne146 @sdsaulka  

So, Wayne, you justify discounting an opinion because you assume they've never been an art show, but we should give weight to your characterization of this person you've never met, based on three sentences?

How do you stand on hypocrisy?

 

Artaud49
Artaud49

@pipper @Artaud49 If the actions of the HTC were unprofessional, then Pela should have been professional and called them out on THAT issue, not the overly dramatic and erroneous censorship claim. Instead, he made the issue about him...Wah, you censored my selections.It's an immature response and discounts your first paragraph. His actions could justifiably encourage the Herberger to show no art in their gallery. He should have an adult. He wasn't. 

warren60
warren60

@travisfields @warren60  

If the artist provided there own space and was prohibited from doing the show I would agree that is censorship. BUT it is not censorship for an individual or an organization to decide it does not want to show that artist's work. Just because you create a piece of art does not mean that a gallery or as museum must show it. The institution has a right to decide what to show and what not to show for what ever reason it chooses.  

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

@nunyadamnbidezz I did say that I disapprove of Piss Christ. No need to diss J.C. And it is unacceptable to put a Hitler stache on Obama.

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

@valleynative @eric.nelson745 Nobody can claim that a Madonna (not Madonna... "Like a Virgin...") smeared with shit isn't offensive. And although I'm a heathen, I am somewhat offended by the concept of a Piss Christ. I have at least some couth and class.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@svetlanamintcheva @valleynative

You seem to assume that I'm arguing that it should have been censored.  I'm simply pointing out potential hypocrisy in eric's view of what should be displayed.

I do have to say that whether it's smeared or carefully clumped is less important than the fact that a work incorporates shit.

I'm glad you posted, because I wanted to ask if you realize that the Herberger has stated that they want their exhibits to be "family-friendly", and to clarify whether you think that children should be exposed to anything any artist chooses to depict.

svetlanamintcheva
svetlanamintcheva

@valleynative @eric.nelson745 Indeed, a US court of law found the Madonna you mention - a work featuring three carefully formed clumps of elephant dung (not smeared with shit as you say) - defended the work as well and prevented NYC's Major Giuliani from closing the Brooklyn Museum because of his dislike of the work. It's called free speech.


ExpertShot
ExpertShot topcommenter

@joshdadevil @ExpertShot There were no dead babies depicted - they were dolls.  Perhaps you can explain to your children why killing the babies of other animals is different than humans killing baby cows or eating eggs.  The truth sucks boy.

pipper
pipper

@joshdadevil @ExpertShot That's a good point, the Herberger is the only place your child will ever encounter questions that are uncomfortable for you to answer.

We should all just lock our children in solitary confinement for their own safety, lest we have to explain icky things like sodomy and death.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@wayne146  

So if people disagree with you, they're not worth talking to?  In a discussion of censorship?

You can't assume that just because somebody is homophobic, that they lack all culture.  It might be true of many or even most, but when you make the assumption about an individual, you're being discriminatory.

wayne146
wayne146

Well first thing, anonymous poster- I approach the subject with actual facts in hand. If uou think discounting a show due to homophobia is acceptable, then I don't need to have a conversation with you, either.

You notice the poster hasn't contradicted what I said, haven't you? Anyone who uses a slur to describe someone he hasn't met is traditionally not going to be cultured.

He's not a patron of the arts, so take your butt hurt feelings elsewhere where they may serve some purpose.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@wayne146  

They had asked for images of the works.  There was miscommunication in that the artists assumed that the show organizer was providing the images.  As a result, they didn't get to see the works until shortly before it was scheduled.

wayne146
wayne146

Warren: read the emails- they didnt care about the content until a week before the show.... seems that should have been something they checked before they booked the show, dont you think?

caringnurturer
caringnurturer

@travisfields @warren60 they didn't say "you may not show this art," they said, "we will not show this art." they don't have the authority to say "you may not show this art" and that is why this is not censorship. are you always such an insufferable drama queen?

warren60
warren60

@travisfields @warren60  

So you are saying that because Herberger is city funded it MUST show every work that it is presented with 

 
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