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Legislators air concern over GCCA exhibition

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    Rebecca Zilenziger’s ‘Stone in Hand’ as part of the artist’s Women Holding Series. This is one of the featured pieces in “Centennial: She.”
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    Courtesy of Greene County Council on the Arts A mixed piece entitled “The Lady Asks for Liberty” by Lucy Blaire, which the Greene County Council on the Arts used to advertise its exhibition “Centennial: She.”
November 30, 2017 11:30 pm

CATSKILL — Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, according to Greene County Council on the Arts Executive Director Kay Stamer.

An exhibit titled “Centennial: She,” which ran from Oct. 8 to Nov. 11, raised eyebrows among some Greene County legislators when photos of exhibits were posted on the council’s Instagram page, exhibits some considered obscene.

Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, saw the photos, which contain nude figures, and said they were inappropriate and bordered on pornography, according to minutes from a Nov. 6 County Resources Committee meeting.

“I responded to them, just as a citizen, and I said that, I asked if this art work was located at their studio in Catskill,” Luvera said. “I said I hope that our children are not being exposed to this if it’s there, because I know our kids in school submit artwork down there all the time.”

“Centennial: She” celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York state. Stamer, invited to appear before the committee, described the exhibit as powerful.

“It was to show how far women have come in 100 years,” Stamer said.

Luvera spoke to Stamer about his concerns and when she saw the photos that were shared on Instagram, used to advertise the exhibit’s closing event. Stamer asked arts council Visual Arts Director Niva Dorell to swap them with other photos and the original post was taken down.

“He was upset as a teacher and a devout Catholic,” Stamer said of Luvera. “Niva had posted some pictures that I said would be controversial.”

In instances where art may be considered what Stamer called “in your face,” it can be displayed on the council office’s second floor. Stamer said obscene materials are not included in any of the council’s exhibits.

“We do have a second floor and you can put a disclaimer on the door that there’s mature material, that way people have a choice,” Stamer said. “They do it in museums all the time.”

Concerns have arisen about certain exhibitions over the years and Stamer said art is always a matter of interpretation and opinion. What is obscene to some may not be to others.

“We still defend the right to free expression,” Stamer said. “The main thing is to really respect other people’s feelings — we are always considerate and concerned.”

Lawmakers said Stamer has been invited to attend the next County Resources meeting Dec. 6 to discuss the matter further. Stamer said she has not been officially informed of the meeting, but said she is always grateful for the county’s funding and support.

“It’s been a wonderful partnership and we’ve worked together in so many ways,” Stamer said.

Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, chairman of the County Resources Committee, was informed of the matter by Luvera. Bulich said he considered the photos to be profane. Bulich said it is inappropriate for tax dollars to be spent on exhibits that contain profane and vulgar art.

“I’m not here to preach that I’m a holy roller,” Bulich said Thursday. “We do have to have a sense of decency.”

Bulich said the arts council had approved new guidelines to assure art displays carry a proper warning if they contain material that might be considered mature. Bulich said what one considers art needs to be questioned.

“Where do we stop in what we call art?” Bulich said. “We can’t keep saying everything goes.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM

Note to Mr. Bulich: Art is protected by the First Amendment, and so are we. Further, the Establishments Clause, protects us from individuals imposing their personal prejudices on the rest of us. The GCCA sounds as if they should have consulted the ACLU before being pushed around by a self righteous individual imposing his religious standards on the creative people of Catskill Village.

Next Mr. Bullich can go to the Met and demand that all art that reveals portions of the human anatomy that he objects to be taken down, even if they happen to be on loan from the Vatican. Bullich just made an excellent case for his being voted out of office next election.
oh course these two slobs (bulich and luvera) are afraid of the female body being exhibited but probably have no problem taking their shirts off and showing their gross bodies to the public at the beach. its 2017, this attitude has no place in our society. can't wait to vote for any candidate that runs against these fools when they are up for re-election.
I was at that legislature meeting.

A. Not one of the legislatures knew the name of the show
B. Not one of the legislatures saw the show
C. Not one of the legislatures studied the show or knew what the show was about.

The Show, SHE, Centennial, was a centennial celebration of women’s right to vote. The suppression of women’s rights pretty much reflects the naive reactive politically opportunistic juvenile comments, including from Matt Luvera.

Fully notice that the county administrators and legislatures fail to attract and retain tech or actual industry. Groden’s 2018 budget is flat, shows absolutely no insight or plan, and was ALMOST exploded with a 30 year $90 million jail bond, a jail the county DOES NOT NEED! This is their ONLY substantive project.

So, complaining and abstractly ignorantly attacking the creative economy, while consistent with the above, is simply ignorant.

Greene County Legislatures: “start creating actual industry here. Stop wasting time and money on misdirection. Please!”

How about understanding how to create actual commerce here, which they haven't. No tech, no industry, the creative economy is the only thing going and that's an individual effort that occurs in spite of abuse by county legislatures and administrators. Really, $90 million for a jail is all you can come up with. I don't think so.
To our legislators, the definition of art is a hard one however if you look at major museums around the world all the way down to small galleries in smaller communities controversial art is exhibited. The majority of these places receive public, government funding. All deservedly so and hard won. Even though I understand you did not like the work it was not pornographic, offensive to some, yes but not nearly as graphic as it could be.

In the culture and country we live in today why is it acceptable to not only condone the actually awful and offensive acts of people but show it repeatedly ad nauseum in every medium possible. Why is violence so much more agreeable than showing a person's body. In this situation it was a body part not in some lewd act but simply visible. At some point your child will see it somewhere, it will be ok unless You yourself make it an issue or something to be ashamed of.

Despite your personal feelings about the artwork please don't silence anyone. The gallery worked with you and changed the questionable work when you gave them your opinions.
Sincerely, a concerned voter in your area.
The provincialism of some members of the Greene County community is evident in comments by both Mr Bulich and Mr. Luvera. The human body is not obscene. Revered artworks throughout history exemplify the beauty of the human form. Children are born through vaginas, fed by breasts, loved and held and comforted by mothers and fathers, who, hopefully, teach them their body parts and give them a sense of confidence in their bodies, not a sense of shame. Art should incite discussion, not judgement and censorship. I certainly hope our citizens and the GCCA support the exhibition of all types of artwork, and are not suppressed by the fear that the lowest common denominator of our community will withhold the county's support of arts. Citizens with available funds need to donate and keep the GCCA supported so that they don't have to depend on narrow minded legislators.
"Bulich said what one considers art needs to be questioned."

Please, Messrs. Bulich and Luvera, share your criteria and past experience in assessing art displays for moral rectitude. I would think that, based on the Legislature's endorsement of repealing the SAFE Act based on the Second Amendment, you're both avid supporters of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The same document that assures your right to gun ownership also protects the the people's freedom of speech. Why - WHY?! - are the two of you involved in the morality of an art display? Did we miss the part where all of the county's other challenges have been responsibly addressed?

Focus, gentlemen. Focus on getting a jail built. Focus on attracting real jobs to Greene County (you know, the ones that pay more than $15 an hour and don't force people to choose between their rent and healthy food). Focus on repairing our infrastructure, straightening out the morale of the county employees, and finding efficiencies in government through consolidation and shared services. While your efforts at providing the community with a moral compass are commendable, perhaps your energy would be better directed toward the job of actually running the county. (See preceding comments if in doubt as to what that entails.)

If the best part of our county government is the sideshow, maybe we need some new carnival barkers for the main attraction.