Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Torture in the Guggenheim

Before he teamed-up with George Soros to fund a group of new secretive left-wing extremist organizations, Peter B. Lewis was the Guggenheim’s biggest sugar daddy. Perhaps last night’s annual Hilla Rebay Lecture was an attempt to patch things up with Lewis, as art took a back seat to ideology in Stephen Eisenman’s lecture The Abu Ghraib Effect: Images of Pathos from Pergamon to Picasso.

Eisenberg gave a highly politicized talk, comparing the images from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal with images from art history. The notorious photo of the hooded inmate certainly has historical precursors. However, more often than not, the side-by-side comparison of Abu Ghraib photos with images from Bacon and Goya did not demonstrate strong visual parallels.

Eisenman argued the Pergamon frieze illustrated the classical notion that the death and torture of mortals by the gods was a necessary condition for the triumph of the natural order. He argued works like the Laocoön idealized torture, blurring the line between agony and ecstasy. Evil capitalism of course, was blamed for completing the process of eroticizing torture, as Eisenman catalogued the various threats to James Bond’s manhood in the 007 books and movies to somehow prove this point.

When actually discussing art, one got the feeling Eisenman’s heart was not really in it. His descriptions of actually works of art were pedestrian and perfunctory. There was no mistaking him for the late art Kirk Vardenoe (who truly conveyed a passion for art during his appearances on Charlie Rose). However, Eisenman certainly perked up when trying to score ideological points.

Eisenman was not subtle in his rhetoric. He used the term “right wing” to describe Lynndie England and the other Abu Ghraib abusers, making much of their white trash background. The words “red state” was mercifully not used, but certainly implied. He wrapped up his presentation with a slide juxtaposing photos of President Bush with England holding the infamous leash, with the clear implication that the one fully approved of the actions of the other.

Nobody defends the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, despite Eisenman’s crude propaganda technique to suggest otherwise. The obvious issue Eisenman and his Amen corner audience refused to acknowledge, is how fitting his analysis of the Abu Ghraib photos actually would be for the beheading videos and other such films produced by Islamic fascist terrorists. His arguments regarding the need to portray victims as willing participants seem much more apt when applied to the forced conversion video of Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig.

Unfortunately, there was no place for a balanced world view in the Peter B. Lewis Theater last night. Eisenman accused America of “demonizing populations” but had no qualms about branding those he disagreed with politically as “racist” and “imperialist.” While generally listless throughout his lecture, the audience dutifully applauded the ideology at the end. After a sad q&a session, which included a mini-debate on the whether or not snuff films were urban legends (I kid you not), a tortuous night in a great cultural institution finally ended.