Yesterday, in my WordPunk article — Built for Beautiful Failing — I wondered if Art hates or heals.  Yesterday, in the New York Times, I received a reply to my query in a story concerning an Art display in a vacant Midtown store: “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama.”

The NYPD and Secret Service quickly closed down the “Assassination as Art” display.

Brown paper packaged the controversial title.

Do you think that “Assassination” display was Art — or was it something else?  Should its ideas and arguments have been so quickly shut down by the city powers?

In another WordPunk article I wrote — Jesus Christ, Something Offends Somebody — I argued that True Art always offends someone’s sense of decency and honor and that is actually the real intention of Art in the marketplace of societal values and norms. 

Censorship always follows Art that too closely tempts that common sense of community decency.  We saw that happen yesterday in Manhattan and regularly in antiquity.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.  Hillary Clinton recently made us aware of that ominous millstone in the American mind as she linked her staying in the democrat primary hunt with her seemed, secret, wishing that Barack Obama would find the same end as Bobby Kennedy.

Barack Obama has often been connected to the Kennedy family — JFK, in particular — in the media as the best new hope worth supporting and cherishing.  Ted Kennedy came out early to support Obama.  Caroline Kennedy is serving on Obama’s Vice-President search committee. 

Some even believe Barack is the next wave of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream and the reincarnation of Abe Lincoln’s intellectual, but folksy, leadership style.

Now we must wonder if there is more danger to the sanctity of cultural values in wishing for an assassination, or in creating an Art display wondering about one, or is the worst crime of all trying to eerily connect a current political phenomenon back to beloved, historical, icons that shared a similar vision for change — and were shot in the head because of it to remove the threat to the repressive status quo?


  1. Let the man show his art. How does it hurt anything. The city overreacted.

  2. I think there’s value in that, Karvain. Closing down the “show” gave it much more attention than it clearly deserved. Some artists only seek attention and not everlasting magnitude.
    If the show had been allowed to remain open and people began to protest or cause damage — I wonder then if it would’ve been a better decision to close up shop?

  3. Hi David,
    I am not sure if moral/social policing really helps.
    It would have been much better if there would have been a public protest instead of shutting it down.

  4. I like the idea of a calm public protest, Katha. That seems to be the “American Way” of using free speech to fight free speech.

  5. Indeed, many times an artist hopes for the shock value when they know that the art isn’t good enough to attract attention on its own merit – perhaps like the woman who claimed to have made a series of paintings with blood from a year of her impregnating herself repeatedly and inducing abortion via pill. Amazing, the power of a handful of words.

  6. Did you read her editorial claiming that it wasn’t a hoax? Even if it were real, I would certainly say it is indeed not Any Sort of Art.

  7. Yes, I read her editorial that she wasn’t hoaxing — which Yale quickly denounced as being part of her hoax. It all roundabouts back on itself over and over again… which, I suppose… is her point. There’s no truth. There’s no reality. There’s only what you say and what you can get people to believe and propagate.

  8. If the authorities do investigate and shut it down, it’s censorship. If something springs from this so-called art then the authorities didn’t do their job.
    We live in a complex world and people do bizarro things for attention and in the name of art.
    Inflammatory words that need not be on a NYC shop window for all to see! Doesn’t matter whose name is used.
    I’ve seen art. I know art. Art is a friend of mine. Mr. Arboleda, this is not art!

  9. Hi Donna!
    They shut it down. It was censorship. I sort of feel the guy should be exposed in the public square for his lousy views and let the cacophony of the citizenry shut him up by shouting him down. To preempt the necessary voice of the people only makes the people more suspicious of the strong fist of the government instead of the open hand of the misguided artist.

  10. David–
    IMHO this was just trouble waiting to happen.
    In a perfect world the voice of the people would be heard and this would be dealt with in the manner you envision.
    I’m envisioning something else. Broken windows. Violence. Friends and family seeing that sort of commentary on a store window. Inciting unnecessary fear.
    It’s not right, David. I’m glad they shut him down.
    If he wants to have an exhibit, advertise and invite people to his exhibit. Don’t incite, threaten, and frighten people with those kinds of words plastered across a store window.

  11. If he has an art exhibit, then he should be free to display his work in its context and also to have it exist on the internet in context.
    The inflammatory words that he used and posted on a store window without explanation can be interpreted in many different ways and ultimately be taken as a direct threat.
    These are my thoughts anyway. Use some common sense here, be a human being! That’s all I’m saying–

  12. Donna!
    What is the difference between having a store window that a few thousand people might see while a URL like this:
    Can be seen by millions? I don’t understand where you are drawing your bright moral line.
    There’s no doubt both websites are daring/offensive. The giant, black, “Obama Penis” that stretches across four walls is especially odd… or tasteless… or amusing in its confrontation of the expected, whispered, stereotype…

  13. David–
    When I go to the url, I can clearly see it’s a legitimate art exhibit–Naomi Gates Gallery.
    Not just words posted on a storefront where you don’t know the intentions or motivations of who put out those words.
    Was there something on the bottom of those words that advertised it as an upcoming art exhibit? Then I have no problem with it.
    I can’t see anything else underneath the words. Words like that in isolation can hurt and be misunderstood.
    Am I missing any other facts here?

  14. Hi Donna —
    The storefront was supposed to be a mini-display promoting the larger site. The artist rented the space for two days but the police shut him down before he could add any other content other than the words on the windows.

  15. That was his mistake–putting those words out there without the content or identifying it as an upcoming art exhibit. Maybe he should have done that part first!
    Certainly he could have had clarification underneath those words.
    You see stuff like this all over New York City and it gets your attention for sure. Names of plays, musical groups etc. etc that were chosen to shock , but then you always see a date, time, and venue for the event.
    So I don’t think we feel that much different here.
    This guy just wasn’t quick enough to set this whole thing up; I would have set up the inside display first then put the title of the exhibit and information about it on the storefront.

  16. That’s good insight and advice, Donna! I don’t think he wanted anything more than the shock value of the words — and that paid off for him big time.

  17. That’s a good site for comparison, Dananjay. The “Assassination Art” is interesting in that it informs media and cultural stereotypes that, like it or not, played, and will play, major roles in how we decide who we should trust and vote for in the Fall.

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