When Art and Politics Collide: From International Expositions to Museum Shows, Gallery Exhibits and Even Small Window Displays, Current Global Politics Have Had a Definite Impact on the Art World

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When Samantha Scully, a West Los Angeles bookstore owner asked a local artist to create an anti-war art installation for her window last spring, little did she know she would become a poster child for a debate about politics and art.

Scully regularly holds poetry events and teach-ins about war in her store. She also showcases artistic displays in the storefront window. In March, she met emerging artist Steve Craig, who shared her anti-war sentiments and asked him to build an antiwar piece for the store window. He created an installation with 50 dolls, including Barbies and GI Joes, carrying protest signs and standing in front of television monitors showing video loops of anti-war protests and similar material.

Scully's landlord dropped by two weeks after the art installation went on view in May. "She was vibrating with rage," said Scully. Expressing concerns about vandalism, the landlord ordered the artwork removed. Worried she would lose her lease, Scully complied. "I was just devastated, but I backed down," said Scully. "We put out a sign about the Bill of Rights and freedom of expression, and I'm soldiering on."

Many artists are "soldiering on" these days, creating works and exhibits that for one reason or another end up as political footballs tossed across arenas of opinion. Lately, especially with When Art and Politics Collide

the tensions in the Arab world, passions have spilled over from politics to the arts in numerous venues and with differing outcomes in this country and, indeed, throughout the world. From an exhibit of nature photography to a show of current Cuban art, from an art installation about Africans in Italy to a digital art piece about South American slums, the art of art and the art of politics seem to have been on collision courses throughout the year.

Politics, Boycotts and Long Lines

In this country, American consumers have been saying "non" to luxury goods from France, particularly French wines, whose sales have continued to sag all summer long under the weight of a consumer boycott. Induced in part by Americans' umbrage over France's opposition to the war in Iraq, wine sales in the 12 months ending May 18 were down nearly 27 percent compared to the year before. In the first four months of 2003, all French non-military imports to the U.S. dropped 21 percent from the prior year.

Moreover, at the High Point Home Furnishings Market in April--this country's preeminent home furnishings and decor trade show--French imagery was relegated to the back of many showrooms after some buyers for U.S. furnishings chains said their stores would not be selling French art works this year.

"America normally loves French imagery, particularly the romantic works," said one art publisher, who asked not to be named. "And there had been a lot of French material framed up for the show, since those decisions were made in January and February, before the conflict over Iraq. By the time we got to the show, the situation had changed. A lot of exhibitors moved their bestsellers from last year to the front of their showrooms, and their French material to the rear."

In an attempt to quell a boycott of French goods in America, the French government hired actor-director Woody Allen to make a public service announcement on behalf of French products. Allen urges Americans to "forget our differences," noting that he "will continue to eat French fries and French kiss his wife."

Hilarity aside, the trade relationships between France and the U.S. are serious business. By mid-June, top French and U.S. economics officials were meeting to mend the rift over the Iraq war and restore trade between the two countries. "There is a loss of love ha the American market because of the crisis in Iraq," noted Catherine Boudry, a French wine federation official. Added Gary Litman, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president, "France remains our ally, but there are some individuals who interpret news headlines in a very passionate way. …