Blackout Dates in Effect

Last night, Foxhole Rupert Murdoch threw a grand fete at London’s Serpentine Gallery. In attendance were future Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Home Secretary John Reid, and several other members of the Labour party. Representing the Tories were William Hague and George Osbourne. Much (much) more interesting than the guest list, however, was the Serpentine’s handling of the vast political chiasm that lies between between Murdoch and artist Paul Chan whose series, The 7 Lights, remains on exhibition there until 1 July.

Via Cheltenham’s The First Post:

To save any embarrassment for either party, not to mention the host whose Fox News channel has been famously gung-ho for the Iraq war, the gallery’s current light installation by artist Paul Chan—an “ambient video essay” on life in Baghdad before the invasion—was turned off before guests arrived.

The commercial art world has responded to the now four-plus years of U.S. (and British) occupation in Iraq with a whole lot of hand wringing: What should we do? Many people have done many things, and many—Chan foremost amongst them, I believe—have used their cultural capital to as a means of funding the good fight.

Fret on, fret on: What should we do? moan the panelists, curators, critics. What should we do? the institutions cry, dumbfounded by their own impotence in the face of something so big and so real.

What should we do? Or in this case, what should have been done? Nothing. Doing absolutely nothing (save refusing to host the party, natch) would have proven the most noble course of action on the Serpentine’s part.

The gallery looked just fine to begin with, didn’t it?


Paul Chan
1st Light, 2005 (detail)
Digital video projection
Dimensions variable, 14 minutes
Installation view at Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall
© 2007 Paul Chan
Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali Gallery, New York
Photograph © Martin Runeborg

UPDATE (16 June): I was just reminded of an incident in February, 2003 at the United Nations building in Manhattan: Picasso’s Guernica was shrouded by a large blue drape in observence of Colin Powel’s visit, during which the then-Secretary of State stated his case for the war in Iraq. From an article by William Walker of the Toronto Star, re-printed in Common Dreams: “The official reason Picasso’s masterpiece was covered up? It hangs over the exact spot where Security Council members stop and speak before TV cameras. It was decided the violent anti-war images would not be the fitting backdrop for talk of a new war.”

Guernica at MoMA. Image courtesy PBS.


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Filed under Contemporary Art, Institutional Critique, Politicks

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