The Politics of Art

So if you haven't guessed from all the various sly hints and little jabs from A. Birch Steen in these pages, this is my last Art News column, hanging out on the page next to my last art review for The Stranger. Oh, you may hear from me a few weeks down the line, but as far as my regular stint goes, this is it.

Therefore, and it doesn't follow at all, really, I thought I'd spend my final column musing on one of my least favorite topics: art and politics. I'm still not entirely convinced that art and politics are ideal companions, tending to produce art that's so single-minded as to lose all of the interesting angles that make art good, or make art art. Still, the collision occasionally makes for eye-opening events.

Such as the current FBI investigation of Buffalo-area artist Steve Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble (you may remember their biological roulette game in the Henry's Gene(sis) a few years ago), which uses biological materials, including E. coli and DNA, in its work. Which was unsettling enough to the authorities that they took him into custody and now consider him a potential terrorist. I've gotten scads of e-mails begging me to cover this event, and I haven't because I have nothing more to say than: how utterly idiotic.

I mean, you can see how having DNA samples lying around in your studio might look suspicious, but it's not like no one's ever heard of the CAE--the group has been critically legitimized and shown in major art institutions all over the country. Being critically and artistically interested in DNA might make you a little weird, but it doesn't make you a terrorist. And you know how the police discovered Kurtz's work? They had come to his house last May because his wife had dropped dead from a heart attack.

The parade of witnesses and inquiries has included the Henry's Robin Held, who curated Gene(sis); Held's account of the investigation in last Friday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer reveals her to be one levelheaded lady. At any rate, there may not be anything terribly earth-shattering for me to say about this, but it's always useful to be reminded of how provisional our relationship is to our own rights. Keep your eyes open for news about a benefit for Kurtz, organized by artist John Feodorov, in August.

Also in August is an exhibition at CoCA, from Vital 5's Greg Lundgren, called 101 Ways to Remove a President from Power. How like Lundgren to find the art angle of a political issue (although, it must be said, he hasn't specified which president should be removed from which position of power), not what we think of the world, but what art can do that nothing else does.

Finally, congratulations to the 10 artists who organized "100 Artists to Defeat Bush," which aimed to raise $10,000 for the MoveOn voter fund last Friday night and netted close to $15,000. Art may not find its strongest footing in politics, but evidently when artists organize, it really, really rocks.