Woman attacks artwork: It was one of those stories guaranteed to get Colorado into the national spotlight. On October 6, Kathleen Folden, a fundamentalist Christian from Montana, acting on her religious zeal, attacked a print of "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals (pictured below)," by Enrique Chagoya, which was on view at the Loveland Museum. Folden felt the depictions of Christ in it were sacrilegious, as did many others caught up in the overheated political climate that had focused negative attention on the piece.
But the show that included the Chagoya didn't inspire any controversy when it first premiered at MCA Denver in the summer of 2009 ("Print It," June 18, 2009). Put together by former MCA director Cydney Payton, Shark's Ink: The Legend of Bud Shark and His Indelible Ink, includes ten artists and was meant to celebrate one of Colorado's great cultural treasures, Shark's Ink. In fact, Westword named the exhibit "Best Print Show — Contemporary" in 2009. Regarded as one of the best printmakers in the world, Shark's Ink owner Bud Shark trained in California, New Mexico and London before moving to Colorado, where he founded his printmaking atelier in Boulder in 1976. It is now located in Lyons.
That someone like Folden would impose her own standards on this show, which was meant to acknowledge Shark's considerable accomplishments, is outrageous. And to force Shark into the eye of a political firestorm is even worse than the damage she wrought on the Chagoya (a photo of the damage is seen at right).
The differing reactions to the show highlight the dichotomy between the progressive atmosphere in Denver and the conservative sensibilities that rule Colorado's hinterlands.
One thing that's puzzled me, though, is how amateur "art critics" like Folden were able to find the images they eventually deemed to be blasphemous. In looking at the Chagoya, it's difficult to figure out what's going on, and not just because his juxtaposition of images is typically enigmatic, but because there are so many of them. The image Folden took exception to is near the end and shows a depiction of a man laying his head in a woman's lap with the word "orgasm" written behind them. The head of a man who could be Jesus has been superimposed over the head of the woman.
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In my review of the show when it was at the MCA, I described the Chagoya prints as being "covered with striking and idiosyncratic" images that referred to the artist's "Mexican-American roots." I also said that they "look like a cross between ancient Meso-American codex scrolls and underground commix." The Christ figures are coming from the comic book end, with the style and format relating to the ancient Mayan books.
Oh, and guess what happened to most of those books? Spanish colonizers, filled with religious zeal, destroyed them 500 years ago. Sound familiar?
And now this event has wrought even more collateral damage on our culture: The Loveland Museum is in the crosshairs of the Religious Right. Shark's wife, Barbara, has sent out a note asking that people write letters of support to the museum, and to make donations to the beleaguered institution. I say "Amen" to that.