Debate Grows Over Cop-Pig Art Decision

Thomas Breen PhotoPaul Bass PhotoAfter bothering at least one correctional worker and one police officer, Gordon Skinner’s depiction of a pig cop provoked a different kind of complaint at a Ninth Square gathering Thursday night:  Why was the work moved from its original perch?

That led to a broader set of questions: Whose voices matter, how much, and why?

Those questions were raised at Artspace’s Orange Street gallery Thursday night as close to 50 artists, students, activists and community members gathered to discuss the social value of controversial public art, and how both an institution and a city should respond to calls for that art to be altered or taken down.

Arptsace organized the event after it decided to relocate a work it commissioned from Skinner that depicted a pig wearing a police hat. The group commissioned the work for its annual City Wide Open Studios (CWOS) extravaganza. Skinner named the piece, one of four in a series, “Cops.” He called it a statement on nationwide violence against civilians by police officers.

At first, Artspace positioned the artwork on a side wall of the Goffe Street Armory on Hudson Street, a block from the state jail on Whalley Avenue. After the two complaints, Artspace moved the work indoors to the Orange Street gallery in the Ninth Square, with the intention of broadening the debate over how and where to display controversial public art.

Artspace succeeded in that task with Thursday night’s discussion, finding itself on the hot seat. The public forum focused as much on the responsibilities of the not-for-profit itself to protect artworks from potential censorship as it did on the different ways that artists can engage with the often fraught relationship between police and the communities they serve. Skinner and Artspace Curator Sarah Fritchey put together the forum.

Mission: Conversation

Thomas Breen PhotoThe work itself, a collage of cassette tape, cut-up images, the cop-pig painting, and a milk crate meant to replicate the feel of a makeshift basketball hoop, elicited citizen complaints from a police officer and a correctional officer who took umbrage with the negative police depiction.

In response to those complaints, the city’s parks chief asked if Artspace could move the work from its original location to a place where it would have more “context” as part of an art exhibition. After briefly considering moving it to a new spot near the Armory’s entrance, Artspace and Skinner decided to mount it in the Orange Street gallery instead, and to use it as fodder for Thursday night’s discussion about controversial public art.

“Our primary mission for tonight is to get people in one room together to discuss this artwork and its removal from the Armory,” Fritchey said at the top of the conversation.

The crowd of artists and activists who were gathered in a semi-circle in front of her jumped at the opportunity to express frustration with Artspace’s response, anger over the specter of censorship, and optimism at the thought-provoking power of polemical art.

“Why would you guys fold like a cheap camera when it comes to censorship?” local artist Bill Saunders asked Fritchey. “You guys really need to raise the bar and be on the artist’s side, and not kowtow to the powers that be.”

“I would put it right back up in its original location,” offered Anne Marie Brown, a student from Gateway Community College who had made the trip to Artspace with the rest of her video art class, led by her teacher, Greyson Hong.

Thomas Breen photoFrustrated with the absence at the forum of any representatives from the New Haven police department or from the mayor’s office, Brown continued, “If they can’t show us the courtesy of showing up tonight to talk, then I say, put it back up and leave it there until they do join the conversation.” (Police officers weighed in in this article.)

Amidst these expressions of discontent, Toto Kisaku, a playwright visiting New Haven from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, offered a slightly different perspective on the very purpose of art like Skinner’s.

 

“This conflict has generated a lot of emotion,” he said, his fluent French translated into English for the crowd by his friend, Westville artist Semi Semi-Dikoko. “And that is exactly what good art is supposed to do. It is not just for decoration. We should be happy that this situation has led us all here to this conversation tonight.”

For Helen Kauder, director of Artspace and organizer of the expansion of City Wide Open Studios over the past two decades, the logical response to this controversy was quite simple: a more proactive engagement with residents in the community.

“These are challenging conversations to have,” she said. “But what Artspace could have done a lot better is we could have been more involved in conversations with artists, neighbors, and workers in the neighborhood about how they felt about the art. If we had done a bit more collaborative planning before we even mounted the work, we wouldn’t be in this situation at all.”

Skinner, mild-mannered and grateful for the space to discuss his art and the impact it has had on New Haven’s arts community, agreed. He also stressed the importance of having a venue like this to talk about controversial public art.

“It feels really great to be supported by people you don’t even know,” he said. “This conversation is bigger than me, and it’s bringing people together, both artists and activists, who wouldn’t normally be together. That’s what I want to do with my art.”

Keeping It Going

On Friday afternoon, this incident of the removal of Skinner’s artwork from the Armory is scheduled to be one of the topics of conversation at a workshop called “Handling Controversy and Working with Difficult Subject Matter,” hosted by the National Coalition Against Censorship during their annual conference in Miami, Florida. Laura Marsh and Phil Lique, former New Haven artists who recently relocated to the Sunshine State, will serve as Artspace’s representatives at the conference.

Meanwhile, Kauder and Fritchey sent an email message to city officials Friday morning expressing disappointment that none of them attended the forum. They asked the officials to suggest a good time for a follow-up event.

Following is the text of that email message, which was addresssed to Chief Administrative Officer Mike Carter, parks chief Rebecca Bombero, Police Chief Anthony Campbell, Beaver Hills Alder Jill Marks, and cultural director Andy Wolf:

We are writing to send an update on tonight’s Public Forum at Artspace, organized with the hope that a recent citizen’s complaint logged against an artwork at installed for Artspace’s City-Wide Open Studios festival by New Haven artist Gordon Skinner could transform into an opportunity for individuals from the city and the new haven police department to come together to discuss our diverse perspectives on the role of art that enters the public arena and who public space should serve.

An engaged group of about 40 individuals attended the Public Forum tonight, including, Gordon Skinner, the artist of the artwork under consideration, members of the interested media from the New Haven Register and the New Haven Independent,  a member of Mothers for Justice, a Board Member of the Community Foundation/New Haven Board of Ed/Neighborhood Music School,  a representative from the New Haven Educator’s Collective who resides in Beaver Hills, students from Gateway Community College, graduate student and fellows associated with the Yale Art Gallery, current and past members of the Artspace Board, and local artists. 

Both the Register and NHI will have coverage of the conversation in the next day or so.

We were disappointed that no one from the City or the New Haven or the New Haven Police Department was able to attend.  Throughout the conversation, the group desired to hear from the perspective of a city official,  member of the NHPD or Correctional Officer.  It was especially noted that the names and identities of the individual complainants from the NHPD and NHCC have not yet been shared and thus the opportunity to create constructive dialogue has been greatly diminished.

As organizers of the event with a sincere interest in working collaboratively with the City, we recognize that it is a challenge to get people into the same room to meet, so we want to make a third attempt to hold this community conversation.  The first attempt was quickly cancelled when we received word that October 20th would be a better date for Becky and Michael.

Since the Department of Parks received and relayed the “citizen’s complaint” against Mr. Skinner’s artwork, we hope that it will take the lead to propose a suitable date for a follow up meeting in the very near future.  We ask that this date and time be mindful of working individuals who might wish to attend.

Thank you and best,
Sarah and Helen

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 21, 2016  12:20pm

This reminds me of what happen when Chris Ofilil’s Virgin Mary portrait was made of elephant dung. At the time Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani wasThreatening to terminate its lease with thebBrooklyn Museum and possibly even seize control of the museum unless it cancels a British exhibition that features a portrait of the Virgin Mary stained with elephant dung. The museum and its director Arnold Lehman fought back with a First Amendment federal lawsuit, which it eventually won. And now look at what is sold for.


Virgin Mary portrait using elephant dung sells for $4.5 million

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-elephant-dung-virgin-mary-20150701-story.html

They better be careful with this.Notice what happen.The museum and its director Arnold Lehman fought back with a First Amendment federal lawsuit, which it eventually won. And now look at what is sold for.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 21, 2016  12:42pm

This art doesn’t lead to a productive conversation among peers, the public who views it or anything remotely interesting with a cop. What it does is send a dog whistle that reinforces stereotypes and contributes to disrespect. To think there is something higher going on is a real stretch. All that said, I’m not much of a believer in censorship at any level. A basic right in this country is freedom of expression even if that expression is counter-productive, negatively provocative and demeaning.

posted by: mikewestpark on October 21, 2016  12:49pm

The artwork portrayed by this artist is an expression of how he, and how he perceives his like-minded community feels towards police.  It is his truth and whether you agree with it or not, censoring it does not make the 800 pound gorilla in the room disappear.  The fact that it has been the subject of 3 articles in recent days is a testament to that.  Removing the art from view won’t change how people feel, it will just put this piece into martyrdom, which has basically already happened.  Is the piece in bad taste?  Does it create more problems in the furthering of stereotypes than it help this complex situation?  Does it actually reveal the artist’s personal mindset to be equal to that of those he is protesting in his art? In my opinion the answer to all these questions is yes, but that’s just my opinion and it’s worth about the same as anyone else’s…which is probably not much.  In order to play devil’s advocate, though, allow me to propose an equally offensive, stereotyping piece of art that conveys the alternate position to this piece.  Imagine if a Chicago police officer painted African-American male teenagers as bloodthirsty, uneducated savages killing each other with reckless abandon in his art.  That officer would be expressing a hateful racist and unproductive sentiment, which, the majority of his peers would probably not agree with, but it would be his truth.  Now imagine someone put it up in an open public space and the community was forced to defend it even though it was severely offensive.  If the thought of that fiction made you angry then you can imagine how some officers, who work tirelessly to change that “pig cop” image and gain the trust of the community feels.  Don’t censor it, but maybe not through it in people’s faces either.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 21, 2016  1:30pm

‘I WAS THERE’ Notes:

In my honest opinion, this is a manufactured ‘crisis’, created by some elitest white women looking for some ‘social relevance’ to exploit for grant money….;..

It was interesting what I found out last nite.

1).  Gordon Skinner was hand-selected by curator Fritchey for this ‘commissioned piece.  All other commissioned artists went through ‘a process’, whatever that means….

2).  When I asked the artist how much he was paid for this commission, he refused to answer.  When somebody else asked what his intent with the piece was, he said ‘Fun’.  Also interesting to find out that this work was ‘made’ prior to commissioning.

3)  Why is the Parks Department involved???  That agency has no authority in this regard.  Construing the complains as ‘CItizens Complaints is misleading.  These were complaints from Govt Employees—Insiders.  Are there hard copies of these complaints—NO.  That should be a red flag that this isn’t what it seems.

4).  The fact that this story is making it to Miami, where other ‘commissioned artists’ with Artspace connections are going to further exploit the story is some weird icing that frosts a poorly made cake.

Let’s play a game of THINK— Let’s say Gordon was treated like everybody else, and he exhibited his installation during Armory Weekend— by the time somebody could call THE CITY with a complaint and get a response, it would be Monday, and the exhibit would have been over.

Created Crisis, Folks brought to you by ’ community arts planners’ with a hidden agenda.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 21, 2016  1:51pm

ps.  There was a point in the ‘presentation’ where Fritchey tried to connect this artpiece with the Black Panther Party, and there use of the ‘word/image ‘pig’/, trying to convince us that it was significant because this is The Panther’s 50th Anniversary.

That was exploitational overreach at best…..  and being a friend of Legendary New Haven Panther George Edwards, I was personally insulted.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 21, 2016  7:05pm

Let’s read further…....

http://www.thenewjournalatyale.com/2012/10/where-the-art-is/

I see an emerging narrative…....

posted by: 1644 on October 22, 2016  5:03am

Okay, so how does this compare to the smashed window at Calhoun College?  Do certain groups, whether they be cops or janitors, have a right not to be offended?  To demand the removal of depictions they subjectively find offensive?  Judging from the thoughts of others posters here, it seems many are strong opponents of freedom of expression and the marketplace of ideas, and believer in censorship and thought control.

posted by: robn on October 22, 2016  8:33am

BS,

Putting content aside; re: “manufacturing crisis” or to put it another way, attention getting; art has to do that because it’s ineffective in a vacuum.

Scientists seek truth to expose lies.
Artist use lies to expose the truth.

posted by: Realmom21 on October 22, 2016  4:40pm

The irony of first amendment protection is that if he had done a piece of ART with a swastika it wouldn’t have been exhibited. If he had done art work with a noose it wouldn’t have been displayed. If he did art work with Christ in a sexual content it wouldnt have been displayed. Many only want to first for the first AMENDMENT when it suits their interest!

posted by: 1644 on October 22, 2016  7:50pm

Real Mom: Yes, a lot of hypocrisy here.  I went back and read Bill Saunders’ comments on the destruction of the Calhoun College window, wanting the union to help censor displays at Yale.  Here, he is for free expression.  Very unprincipled, supporting some works some find offensive while at the same time supporting the violent, criminal destruction of other works that some find offensive.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 22, 2016  7:51pm

If you want to manufacture consent, the easiest way to do that is to eliminate dissent.

Case and point, The NH Register Article on the Same Forum!!!!!

http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20121021/artspace-new-haven-holds-forum-on-concerns-raised-about-artists-work#disqus_thread


Funny Story— I had a jovial talk with Fritchey yesterday, and she was quite dismissive of NHI’s article—“that is just The Independent, she said…...they picked up on one narrative that happened to by yours….’

It Artspace is going to be dismissive of NHI’s coverage of their event, NHI should boycott future stories…..

The arrogance and lack of community understanding really knows no bounds…....

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 22, 2016  8:10pm

Robn,

If Mr. Skinners installation was organic, rather than paid for and marketed by a third party non-profit community agency, I might tend to agree with you…...

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 23, 2016  1:24am

1644,

It is funny—at the end of the forum, Helen Kauder actually tried to make a comparison about this and the Yale Window Case, weakly imploring that they were kind of the same…..

In one case an employee of a private institution acted out violently against a piece of art at his private employer…
In this case two employees of the government used their power to stifle dissent in a public event….

These people will just say anything to try and attach this to something that is actually socially relevant….

They really need to go…....or at least divest themselves from the influence of Yale (yeah, right)

Artists of New Haven, the hidden agenda of New Haven Elitist’s is on your back, and somehow they got you to pay for it….

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 23, 2016  1:40am

btw Robn,

I don’t know where you got your aphorisms from, but here is my spin on them…..

Both Scientists and Artists Seek Truth—One is primarily technically based, the other primarily socially based….

There are also scam artists in both professions…..

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 23, 2016  2:04pm

1644,

You are misconstruing my comments regarding the Calhoun Incident….

My position was (and is), that Mr Mcaffee had protection from his collective bargaining unit, and if the ‘offensive window’ was creating a hostile work environment, he should have used the power of his union to address that issue, rather than taking the situation into his own hands and destroying art…..

posted by: alphabravocharlie on October 24, 2016  8:29am

Speech everyone agrees with doesn’t need to be protected. People are too easily offended these days. If you don’t like it ignore it or send the “artist” a note and tell him how you feel. Everyone needs to grow up. The world is not here to please you or protect your delicate sensibilities.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 24, 2016  11:58am

From the CT Constitution:

Sec.4.  Every CITIZEN may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty…...

I think there is a nuance between Citizen and Quasi-Public Government Agency…...

When you buy a pig in a poke, you own the message as well…..

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 25, 2016  8:48pm

Let me finish my commentary on this ‘Art Hustle’ with this story—

At the end of the forum, Helen Kauder approached me, shook my hand, and said something like this (not exact, but not exagerrating):

Firstly:
‘Thank you for keeping my feet to the fire regarding CWOS”.

Secondly:
‘You know, I read your comments in NHI, and I always feel that you speak Truth to the Power. 
But I don’t feel that way when it’s about me.”

Isn’t that the unawareness of ‘Power’ to begin with?

In response to that, I told her my biggest gripe with CWOS:
(with I also shared with Fritchey at the beginning of the Conference)

“You need to stop micro-managing the community “

The people that lead and manage our community arts have to have the right philosophy and the proper heart.
I think if Helen researched her Genie-ology, she would find out that she was related to Macchievelli.

Great Front for an Arts Organization—The word on the street with local artists about her and Artspace is no good, thus the need to commission artists to create an ‘impression’.

If she believes in this ‘mission, she needs to go back to being a grant writer, rather than an Executive Director, so she can find funding for the real shit that is happening here, rather than making up well-worded bullshit to suit her own agenda.

Reformation!!!!

posted by: blablah on October 27, 2016  3:48pm

Please Bill - tone down the endless rage.  I certainly share your prerogative on some things, but I am also not an angst filled teen anymore.  I feel this kind of negativity is misdirected.  So many people I know leave this city, not because of the ever lessening town/gown divide (imho), but because of crotchety cynicism. The idea that if you try and do anything, you are instantly attacked as some kind of sell out.

Look, Idiot Village was great - kudos.  I’m sorry it ended the way it ended, but there is not a grand conspiracy against you.  Not long ago I spoke with a newer person to the city, who is enjoying their life here (obligatory they are not rich, attending yale, or whatever else you might get mad about note); they pointed out: “It seems every time I go to something, enjoy it, and there is this great diverse mix of other people enjoying it, I can always count on a barrage of nasty comments the next day on NHI….. by someone named Bill Saunders.”

Is that really what you are going for here?  If anyone is portraying themselves as a Machiavelli, it is you dude.  New haven isn’t just your pocket of it, nor just your perspective.  I love the alternative/underground aspect to the city, and I certainly understand it has lessened over time. I get all the complexity with that - have issues with that too.  But the city also is not, nor has never been, just a place for (often) suburban kids to come rebel for a few years. My neighborhood is glad of hard won improvements (obligatory - yes there is work to do note.)

I’m glad to have grown up, seen things through a variety of lenses, and better understand how much work goes into things like CWOS and through other non profits.  People put their heart and soul into things, for very little.  If folks wanted to make big money there are far easier paths than the local art scene.  There are always problems, but its not all problems, and backroom treachery.  Stop the personal attack B.S

posted by: Nhv.Org on October 28, 2016  2:23pm

I say this as a formerly commissioned CWOS artist from the 2012 event, where I built an interactive lab inside a New Haven Register Truck for families to play music together on old vintage keyboards and turntables (you can Google “Space Pirate CWOS” for the documentaiton). I also produced the video for ArtSpace’s successful fundraiser campaign this year.

Thinking of all the good that CWOS brings to New Haven, it’s unfortunate that this has distracted from the overall positivity of the event as a whole. If work is to be commissioned, let’s hope it’s unique, meaningful and inspirational; rather than contributing to divisiveness and negativity. The goal of CWOS is to bring people together and i anticipate that we will see an increase of selectiveness at ArtSpace with regard to their choice of commissioned CWOS artists.

Meanwhile, a previous art piece displayed at last year’s CWOS is making national news, with over a quarter of a million views: http://www.boredpanda.com/pencil-sculpture-color-blind-molly-gambardella/

Let’s talk about how CWOS helps bring New Haven’s growing arts community to a national level - not for the attention seekers but for those who are truly utilizing the arts as a meaningful form of self expression.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 28, 2016  3:37pm

blahblahblah,

What makes you think this about rage?

I am not going to apologize for having a strong philosophy rooted in first-hand experience of how art and community work in this town…

Don’t try and misconstrue me—What about Free Speech don’t you understand?
If being and activist means standing up for your belief system in the face of hypocrisy, I am very, very Guilty.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 28, 2016  11:38pm

ps blah blah,

all I have done is provided a narrative based on my inclusion in the dialogue.

I have brought the New Haven Community through the experience of a ‘Dog and Pony Show’, and have reported my impressions, and interchanges.

I have heard no reasonable counter arguments, only your belated attack.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with my providing and alternative perspective…...

You can posture as you want, but I know there are real people listening…...