VOICE March 22, 1994



                           SCENE AND HEARD
                                                                                 Robert Atkins


SHOULDN'T A POLITICIAN have at least a teeny sense of humor'' According to attorney Svetlana Schreiber and sculptor Billie Lawless-not only his real name, but the son of a judge-Cleveland mayor Michael White doesn't want to see Lawless's sculpture The Politician: A Toy installed on privately owned land in downtown Cleveland. The 28-foot-high kinetic work, sporting yellow neon hair and tricycle-esque wheels, is the sort of charmingly cartoonish sculpture a savvy politician would self-deprecating- make his own. After a year and a half of fighting city hall's planning commission, Lawless was granted a "certificate of appropriateness" on February 18, and at that point Mayor White observed about the sculpture, "I don't like it and I'm not trying to block it." All that remained was for Cleveland building inspectors to issue a building permit on February 24-which they refused to do.

Neither city inspectors nor planning commissioners returned my calls, but the chipper artist adamantly maintains that their last-minute change of heart came because Buffalo officials warned their Cleveland counterparts about his suit against them. The artist successfully sued Buffalo for physically assaulting his enormous, four-panel neon sculpture Green Lightning in 1984, and the New York State Supreme Court is slated to rule soon about Lawless's right to damages. (Buffalo pols later tried to get GL deemed obscene, claiming that images of the space shuttle and a TV tube are penises.) Green Lightning was uneventfully shown in Chicago and was recently bounced-postselection and preinstallation-from an exhibition at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. There are several more chapters of these Kafka-esque tales to be written, but you get the point: Billie Lawless is our pop Christo of the courtroom.

When it comes to attracting controversy, Porno Afro Homos are no slouches either. One of the San Francisco performance-art group's presenters-Highways in Santa Monica-is now charging the Lila Wallace- Reader's Digest Fund with dirty dealing in rejecting an advisory panel's recommendation to fund a PAH residency at Highways. Naturally, the panelists weren't entirely pleased to have their views ignored. Their objections prompted a February 25 response from fund staffer Holly Sidford citing the alleged reasons the grant was nixed: Highways's budget is too small and the space too focused on short-term engagements by solo performers to manage a residency.

But another grantee, La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley, has a similar budget, and Highways's spring lineup of two- to six-week runs (including Marga Gomez and 5 Lesbian Brothers) belies an emphasis on short-term gigs, a/k/a one-night stands. Arts consultant Jeff Jones, who wrote the grant, called the fund's action "a smoke screen for blatant homophobia and racism." Sidford chose not to comment.

I guess I'm the only one who thought it was news when the, feds recently commissioned artist Clyde Lynds to produce a safely inspirational, 33-foot-high concrete and fiber optics bas-relief-a wing crowning a text-for a new federal office building. The structure will be erected on the site of Manhattan's African Burial Ground near Foley Square, and Lynds is white. To avoid Tilted Arc-ish controversy, Lynds's American Song was approved not only by the ABG steering committee, but by a panel of heavy hitters consisting of NYSCA head Kitty Carlisle Hart, representatives of Daniel Moynihan, Rudolph Giuliani and their ilk .... Footnote to history: Bill and Hillary Clinton return to the scene of the 1989 Mapplethorpe censorship brouhaha on April 22 as honorary patrons of the annual Corcoran ball.


THE TIME'S'S MENTION of the Guggenheim's closing of its library last month focused attention on the museum, rather than on the problem of information access. The Guggenheim is not the only art institution to have recently shuttered its library. The New Museum of Contemporary Art closed its heavily used library in mid-1992, a fact lamented by several artists at Artists Space's town meeting on February 1. The Frick is now charging "commercial users" $500 for a 10-visit pass to its excellent library, which has prompted some dealers to consider boycotting the International Art Dealers Fair benefit for the library. The privatization of arts info means that the superhighway is already a toll road.

Good news: Dia recently opened a Bohen Foundation supported video library offering scheduled programming and open selection at its 548 West 22nd Street building . . . . The New York Public Library's Performing Arts Branch currently hosts two engaging shows: "Government and the Arts in America" (up through May 2) and "The House 1 Live In: American Performance in the Era of Blacklisting" (through May 14). The former explodes the myth of governmental noninvolvement in the arts, and the latter-a must-see-brings McCarthyism creepily alive for those of us too young to have experienced it .... Tips for acquisitions librarians: Thumbs down on the new New  York Review of Art (unless you want to read more pedestrian fare about Miro, Ryman, and Art and on Museum Quarto, an electronic art-journal that offers outmoded hypercard technology and text-heavy, random surrealism. Thumbs in the sky for Up in the Blood, the first "hypermedia/time arts fanzine" that puts performance art and poetry-not tech-head drivel-on CD-ROM. (For info, contact Glenn Kaino at 714-851-6372.) . . . Finally, a ticket back to the beach for Nation editor Victor Navasky, who apparently returned from leave to devote much of the March 14 issue of his progressive mag par excellence to Komar & Melamid's trivializing poll (and show) about what "Americans" really want in art.