I should have known better than to relax my criticisms of the Art Melt last week. The fracas that ensued from the grossly misguided temporary removal of Kenneth Wilks’ work (for instance), as well as the lack of damage control on the part of the event’s sponsors, only serves to underscore the provincial attitude toward the arts that holds our city back from being the vibrant arts city that organizations like Forum 35 claim to want so badly. It only served to mar what seems to be an otherwise successful (depending on the aims) and fun annual event. From the information I have read, the removal was not about censorship but about cultural hesitancy; the children might see this.
Mr. Wilks’ work is an attractive and stimulating meditation on the perception of what defines a person, but is not particularly controversial by contemporary art standards, and to say that those standards are too loose for Baton Rouge is a cop-out. One could argue that the Art Melt needs stronger guidelines that protect all possible figures from the nude female form, a scandalous thing that has appeared in a painting or two over the years, but were that the case, I’d argue why have an art show at all? Just empty the Shaw Center of art altogether and have a big tailgate party for “the arts.” Wheel in Mike the Tiger and hire a cover band. It would probably get bigger crowds that way.
If we are to have a vibrant arts city, it needs to start on a foundation of art, especially art that pushes our buttons. The rest of us are not babies, we can handle it. I would like to, just once, see some art in Baton Rouge controversial enough to warrant censoring. Do that, and the real dialogue about art will begin, and we will be all the more vibrant for it.
Go see Dirty Projectors on Thursday at Chelsea’s Cafe. Their new album, Bitte Orca, is one of the best to come out this year.Link to original with weekly local events calendar