George Walford: Any Publicity…

Ayatollah Khomeini has done almost as good a job for Selman Rushdie’s book as the British Government did for Peter Wright’s and the Chicago authorities, in their own smaller way, are trying to help two young artists, David Nelson and Scott Tyler. As his graduation exercise for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Nelson offered a portrait of Harold Washington, first black Mayor of that city; it showed him in women’s underclothes. Although the exhibition was not open to the public, police and aldermen moved in to confiscate the painting, one of the lawmakers replying, to protests that the seizure contravened the First Amendment, that he did not care about the Constitution. An organisation of ethnic minority students at the school retaliated with a public exhibition including a display by Scott Tyler entitled “What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag?” It offered a book for visitors to write their comments, with the American flag draped on the floor in front of it. The artist was threatened with death, veterans’ groups demonstrated, and citizens demanded that Art Institute exhibitions be brought under official control. The local authority discussed whether to cut off funding from the Institute, and a newspaper poll showed 83 per cent of respondents in favour. The Illinois General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the Institute, and the Kansas Senate pased, by 97 – 0, a bill milking it a crime to display the American flag on the floor. (Reported by Stuart Klawans in TLS 31 March 1989).

from Ideological Commentary 39, May 1989.