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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gallery Pulls Naked Artwork

Posted By on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 10:16 PM

A show of political poster art opened to the public minus a work apparently deemed too provocative.

Paper Politics, a nationally touring show, opened at Downtown's SPACE gallery on Aug. 13. Mary Tremonte, who curated the exhibit's local component, says that two days earlier, Wood Street Galleries curator Murray Horne had told her to remove "Tea Baggers," by local artist Stewart Williams.

The poster spoofs the right-wing "Tea Party" movement by parodying a recruiting poster. "Are you pissed-off, ill-informed, and easily influenced?" reads the text. "Scared Shitless? Well Good!"

Visually, the 11" by 17" poster is dominated by the floating heads of two white-haired people. But in the lower right-hand corner is an indistinct black-and-white photograph depicting the sex act known as "tea-bagging," with one man's face under another man's genitals.

"Accept no substitutes!" reads a big blue arrow pointing at the photo. "While often mistaken, Tea Baggers are not affiliated with similar associations of the same name." 

"It was really funny," says Tremonte, herself an artist with work in the show. Mocking the Tea Party, she says, is "a really easy shot, but [Williams] did it really well."

Tremonte liked the work so much she cited it in the large-scale wall-text introducing the show, which describes posters that are "brazenly humorous, as in Stewart Williams' Teabaggers silkscreen print."

But the poster isn't among the 200 works on SPACE's walls, which also excoriate such evils as greed, repression, militarism, racism and environmental destruction.

Horne did not return several voice messages and e-mails. Wood Street Galleries is the "sister gallery"of SPACE. Both galleries are operated by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.  

The bulk of Paper Politics is a traveling show curated by Josh MacPhee, a printmaker who launched the nationally known Just Seeds artist collective (whose headquarters moved to Pittsburgh this year). The show has visited 12 cities and inspired a book version.

Tremonte, a printmaker who works with local youths through groups including The Andy Warhol Museum, chose about 50 locally made posters for the show. Most were by youths, and 18 were by adults including Williams.

Tremonte says Horne told her Williams' poster had to come down because the show had to be suitable for public viewing. (SPACE is located on a busy stretch of Liberty Avenue, and admission is free.) Tremonte says that previously to that, Horne hadn't told her that any type of imagery was off-limits.

In fact, the show contains two other posters depicting drawings of bare-breasted women. In other posters, there are such overtly disturbing images as dismembered limbs and a severed head lying on a table.

Williams, 44, is a freelance book-designer in Lawrenceville who moved to Pittsburgh two years ago, after stints in Seattle and New York.

He says "Tea Baggers" was previously hung publicly in Pittsburgh, in June at a show at Garfield's Space gallery. He says the "teabagging" image, rendered blurrily in large, newspaper-style half-tone dots, is small enough that "most people didn't even see it at the other show."

Its removal from Paper Politics "seemed pretty knee-jerk to me," he says. "It's a very hot topic and people should be able to say what they want."

Interviewed four days after the show's opening, Williams said he was upset that no one from the gallery had called him to explain the removal. 

"I don't think political posters should pull any punches," he said. "I think that kinda goes against the concept of free speech"

Williams also said that in terms of provocativeness, Paper Politics is pretty mild. "The show was intended to be more family-friendly," he says. "I think family-friendly and politics don't go together very well."

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