It all started in November, when Art Students League artist Cong Lu won a prize for his painting "Self-Portrait of a Martyr." Conservative in style, it shows a very buff Lu raising his T-shirt, revealing that his abs are strapped with explosives. Some students and viewers objected, and this thin tissue of a story became major art news in the hands of Rocky Mountain News reporter John C. Ensslin. The trouble is, it's hardly notable, let alone newsworthy, that people are offended by art.
Not to be outdone in the art "non-story" category, reporter Cindy Brovsky at the Denver Post came up with her own controversy -- and it ran on the front page. The earth-shattering story? That some people object to Daniel Salazar's "Grand Poobah and Office Fairy Cut Through Red Tape" (above) hanging in the eleventh-floor elevator lobby of the new Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building.
The piece is an enlargement of a 1940s photo of federal workers that Salazar digitally altered to include montage images of a crown and wings. The imagery seems to refer to both the golden age of civilian service and of Hollywood. It's very hard to understand why anyone would be offended by the smart, attractive "Poobah." In fact, when I wrote about the Webb Building in November shortly after it opened, I singled out Salazar's piece for praise.I wouldn't have mentioned any of this, except that on December 17 an editorial in the Post demanded the immediate removal of "Poobah" and unjustly questioned Salazar's artistic integrity. That's just pandering to the art-haters.
Shame on the Post for posing as a schoolyard bully in the matter, and let's hope the paper's attempt to whip up support for getting rid of the Salazar goes nowhere other than were it belongs -- in the proverbial trash heap of discarded ideas. -- Michael Paglia
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