Volume 12, Number 1, Jan. 1990, pp.14-15
The goal of art conservation is to preserve the material and intent of artistic expression. What better place to start preservation of artistic intent than rallying against censorship, in any and all of its guises. Many WAAC Newsletter readers may not realize it, but before Zora's, The Art Store; and Zora's; there was The Zora Gallery, located on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. With the recent attacks on artistic freedom and federal sponsorship of artistic works, Zora has agreed to address the topic from her and Edward's unique perspective, that of then gallery owners who have fought and survived an artistic censorship battle in the 1960's.--Ed.
Censorship has many faces. Is there a connection between the bombing of Hiroshima, the disaffection of youth in the sixties, a nearly forgotten obscenity suit in Los Angeles, and the current uproar over the question of restrictions imposed by Senator Helms and his ilk on the management of public art by the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal Program)? Or is the real problem the possible effort toward the entire dissolution of the NEA?
What is the nature of the face of censorship we are dealing with today? It is a form of censorship when the NEA's decisions must conform to the litmus test of "morality" provided by a law that supports "standards to prevent tax dollars from going to art which is obscene, indecent, denigrating of religion, or reviling U.S. citizens based on race, creed, sex, age, handicap or national origin"? Funding, from whatever source, private or public, is the life blood of the artistic process. Is the real reason for the attack on the NEA a way to eliminate funding, or to "protect" the public from viewing art that is unacceptable to some members of congress?
After the detonation of the Hiroshima bomb, the subtle impact on teenagers began to appear. The seeds of fear were sown. And the beginning of the "me" generation was born. The feeling of loss of control over their lives bred apathy to anything other than immediate self-gratification. As long as the chances for realizing a rosy future were receding...why not satisfy every whim now?
When the Vietnam war became a reality, many young people felt that their fears for the future were reinforced. They felt betrayed and unable to cope. Even without an armed conflict, day- to-day violence seemed to be an increasing part of everyone's existence.
And after the assassination of John F. Kennedy the young adult population of the U.S. again faced a world in which the emphasis seemed to be increasingly weighted toward brutal turbulence. They felt the prospects for living a long, satisfying life were being gnawed away. There were those whose fears for the future were so intense that the prospects of bringing a child into the world were horrifying. That was the position of Connor Everts, a professional artist and teacher, when we agreed to install an exhibit of his work entitled Studies in Desperation, Prints, Drawings & Ceramic Sketches.
The show was to open June 15th, 1964, at The Zora Gallery. Instead, Lt. Dick Carroll of the Sheriff's vice squad, County of Los Angeles, left his card. The note on the reverse said "Before you hang these or any other pictures in your window contact me" and was signed CPT. Hedrick.
The next recorded step in this chronology is a headline in the Los Angeles Times of June 19th: "OBSCENE ART TO BE REHUNG, GALLERY SAYS" The show was hung in spite of threatened obscenity charges by the district attorney's office, and the warning that we would be liable for prosecution if we did.
The article in the Los Angeles Times dated June 19, 1964 said: "The deputies' view was reinforced Thursday when Dep. Dist. Atty. James Clancy inspected the drawings and called them 'something beyond the topless bathing suit' when it comes to obscenity. In announcing the Pinneys' decision, their attorney, Richard Sherwood, without fee, defended the works as 'clearly not obscene, Everts is a serious and respected professional artist,' Sherwood said. 'His work, examples of which hang in the County Museum, has every right to be shown here'."
The first trial drew this headline in the Times:
OBSCENE ART CASE ENDS IN MISTRIAL
With a jury hopelessly deadlocked after four hours of deliberation Monday night, Municipal Judge Henry H. Draeger declared a mistrial in artist Connor Everts' obscenity trial in Beverly Hills. A new trial date was set for March 23rd.
Everts was charged with exhibiting obscene matter in a [The Zora] Gallery at 609 N La Cienega Blvd. last June . Art lovers rallied to Everts' support and charged that police wrongly acted as art censors. The trial centered around 13 charcoal Sketches in Desperation.
The second trial, heard by the Judge without a jury, resulted in an acquittal. The year and a half spent, was a series of critical, well-learned lessons for us. At any rate, we suddenly became clean of the label "obscene" which most of our friends felt wasn't exactly appropriate anyhow.
It was our position that we were a responsible art gallery, exhibiting serious works of art that were a valid expression of the artist, and a reflection of our belief in our right to display them. We were not interested in notoriety, nor a media circus. We wanted no intimation that we had mounted this show for publicity. We felt we were involved in too vital an issue to deal with in other than a rational way. So we maintained our dignity and accepted the barbs from our "friends" who used the air time to mount a campaign chastising us as well as the censorship concept.
I can't say that the short hiatus in censorship acts that has followed was the result of our experience, however, because very close on our heels was a suit in San Francisco with the Vorpal Gallery as the target, and soon thereafter the Keinholtz affair at LACMA. However the concept has been dormant for at least twenty years and one wonders how cyclical it may be.
Which of the reasons of our original challenging questions is the most critical. It is my considered opinion that the real target is not "censorship" on a broad level, but the complete obliteration of the NEA and its ability to make educated and responsible decisions in the arts, based on its original legal mandate.
What can we do, as individuals, to subvert this possibility. Take a measure of responsibility for control over your elected officials. That's what democracy is all about. It isn't necessary to be a confrontational activist. It is necessary to let your position be known to the individuals who can make the difference...your congressmen. It is important to know who they are and communicate your position in no uncertain terms. They are responsive to your interests in direct reflection to your votes. Your own letter, expressing your opinions in your own way, is much more apt to receive attention than any pre-written letter that WAAC could supply. So if you feel that the NEA, with its professional discretion intact, is important to you, it is now urgent to make yourself known. WRITE TO and support Congress' art advocates.
Those of you who read the Los Angeles Times on December 17th of this year, might recall those congressmen whom they identified as "The Arts' Three Most Influential Advocates in Congress" For your information they were Rep. Sidney Yates, Democrat of Illinois, Rep. Pat Williams, Democrat of Montana and Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island. Thirteen other Senators and Representatives were also identified as "Key Art Supporters". Sorry to say, none were from California.
For those of you who want to make a contribution to the ideas you espouse, you need to know the designated District number in which you live and how to address your Senators and Representatives in Washington: telephone the Registrar of Voters in your area and they will supply all the information you need.Zora Sweet Pinney
The views expressed in this column are those of Ms. Pinney and do not necessarily represent the views of WAAC, the WAAC Board, or the Newsletter.