UnBrave New World 

Berkeley, of all places, worries about activist art.

The rejection of an election-week political art show by the Addison Street Windows Gallery following Berkeley's unveiling of a statue touting its history of dissent — well, it was a perfect storm of irony, like the GOP socializing Wall Street after decades of free-market fundamentalism. As anyone who followed the Helms/Thurmond/Buchanan post-USSR kulturkampf knows, the inherent conflict between art and authority is easily exploited by demagogues — and by those artists for whom shock is an easy career move — but who expected de facto censorship in The People's Republic? Articles on this flap appeared in the SF Chronicle and Berkeley Daily Planet (controversial images online); I'll summarize briefly.

The Art of Democracy is a consortium of fifty art exhibitions organized nationwide to combat Bush administration abuses and to foster political activism in a culture that until recently seemed to neither know nor care about its ignorance and apathy. (What a difference a week makes!) Exhibitions in the other venues garnered critical praise, so what an unpleasant surprise, then, when Addison Curator Carol Brighton and the Berkeley Civic Arts Coordinator Mary Ann Merker called for the removal of four works depicting guns. They consider guns, or, more broadly, overt violence, along with overt sex, to be taboo subjects unsuitable for public display accessible to children frequenting nearby arts schools. AOD's forty artists agreed (democratically) to withdraw their proposal, later protesting the decision with the city. The gallery now asserts that AOD organizer Art Hazelwood disingenuously included the objectionable works at the last minute; Hazelwood says that the work was being made until installation and that he had assumed that pieces would be judged based on their merits, not categorical proscriptions. Fortunately, Plinio Hernandez of Pueblo Nuevo Gallery stepped in to offer his space, so viewers can now see the whole show, including the disputed pieces by Tony Bergquist, Anita Dillman, Doug Minkler and Jos Sances.

The distinction between "violent art" and images depicting violence is essential, of course. While one or two pieces adopt the armed-struggle stance familiar to anyone who lived through the 1960s, most of the works mock and defy the gun mentality that pervades American culture, so it is unlikely that local residents would have protested the show's effect on their precious cargo. With its illustrious and unruly history, "Berkserkeley" cannot now become a tame island of politically correct unfree speech — or can it? Will Berkeley PCUSA commissars seize your gun posters and prints? Step away from the Remington, commies! Through November 30 at Pueblo Nuevo Gallery (1828 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley). PuebloNuevoGallery.com.


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