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Chutzpah is a Hebrew word, also used in Yiddish, implying unmitigated gall, colossal nerve, unbridled arrogance, but more specifically, well, chutzpah. In a sense it's untranslatable. In today's cultural climate, we are all too familiar with chutzpah in political discourse. But what about the art world? With the exception of art which is openly political, is there an appropriate role for chutzpah? Seems to me that anyone who would like to exclude chutzpah from the art world has a hell of a lot of chutzpah. But it's not that simple.
Recently, as we all know (it's old news already), Danish cartoonists had the chutzpah to portray the Muslim prophet Mohammad in a grossly insensitive manner, and certain Moslems, no strangers to chutzpah themselves, responded emphatically. The resulting media brouhaha caused a forgotten name to be brought back into the limelight, the name of Andres Serrano. Described as a native New Yorker (has anyone burned the New York State flag lately?), whose Latino name derives from his Honduran and Cuban exile parents, Serrano studied art at the Brooklyn Museum, then did drugs for a while, and later created a body of photographic work featuring KuKluxKlansmen, the homeless, and other "gross" subjects, including, and especially, disreputable bodily fluids. His most notorious work, however, was Piss Christ, a photograph of a crucifix immersed in a container of the artist's urine. As a result, he was figuratively crucified and pissed on by outraged amateur art critics in the political sphere, and is so depicted in the photomontage featured above. (No, that's not my urine, it's a Photoshop layer.) But what was Serrano really trying to say in his art? Most artists follow the WYSIWYG principle: what you see is what you got. Both Serrano and Matthias Grünewald depicted crucifixes: what was Grünewald trying to say? We can only guess. The same goes for Serrano. In fact, the same goes for the Danish cartoonists.
In the photomontage, I have added another image to that of the hapless Serrano, another of his works, entitled "The Unknown Christ." A seductively dressed woman confronts a hanging beef carcass with displeasure. Which is the Christ? Which is the raw meat? Is this image disrespectful to Roman Catholics? To vegetarian Hindus? To Methodists? To blondes? The only thing I can say with confidence about the image is that Serrano has a lot of chutzpah. So what? Is chutzpah now so banal in the art world that it only evokes boredom? Or is it in grave danger of being snuffed out by a suffocating blanket of wishy-washy, namby-pamby, smarmy, milquetoast "sensitivity"? Or both? And BTW, is cartooning art? I, for one, have the chutzpah to say, "hell, yes."| Technorati Tags: Crucifixion Cartoon Meat Mohammad
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