Arundel artwork's satire draws praise, but its risque portrayal draws curtains

February 09, 1991|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Sun Staff Correspondent

ARNOLD -- It wasn't bad enough that the five famous world figures -- Margaret Thatcher, Malcolm Forbes, Helmut Kohl, Cardinal Jozef Glemp and Lech Walesa -- were stark naked.

But on top of that, each wore a fake, male sex organ as they stood in a cart with no rear wheels, flexing their muscles as if in a bodybuilding contest.

It was a little too much for administrators at Anne Arundel Community College, who had been hearing complaints about the 8-by-8-foot oil painting, "Capitalism is Dead," which was to be the centerpiece of a faculty art exhibit.

On the Friday before the show opened late last month, they asked gallery coordinator Chris Mona to cover the painting over the weekend to avoid offending a church group that rents a nearby auditorium for Sunday services. By the time the exhibit opened the following Tuesday, the painting had been replaced with a placid landscape by the same artist.

Josef Schuetzenhoefer, a part-time art instructor at the school, agreed to remove the painting to avoid creating tension at the school, he said yesterday as news of the flap hit local papers.

"I like teaching here, I like the students, and I like my work to be seen, but I don't want to create a lot of tension," Mr. Schuetzenhoefer said. "So I gave them a calm version of a landscape. I was disappointed."

"Capitalism is Dead" was a political satire aimed at poking fun at people the artist referred to as "proponents of radical capitalism" at a time when they were cheering the economic changes in Eastern Europe.

The former British prime minister, the late millionaire, the German chancellor, the Polish president and Poland's Catholic primate are "reactionaries" whose pride over the collapse of Communist regimes was unseemly, he explained. "I was trying to make the point that we are not all that healthy ourselves. We have our own problems."

Even the administrators saw the humor in the painting.

"It struck me as a satirically witty piece," said Dr. James Atwell, vice president for academic affairs. "It has all the elements of a strong editorial cartoon, only it's more artistic."

But the size of the painting -- it dominated an entire wall -- the

bright reds and oranges that made it appear to leap off the wall at the viewer, and its placement in full view of a hallway where families with children passed created a ticklish situation, he said.

"It's an open gallery. And given the fact that they are working in a common area with a number of uses, it just didn't work out," Dr. Atwell said. "We had gotten some complaints, and what we foresaw were more and more complaints."

He said that if the painting could have been moved to a wall not visible from the hall where other nudes hang, it might have stayed in the exhibit.

But gallery coordinator Mr. Mona said no one ever raised the issue of the painting's placement. And even if they had, the work was too large for the smaller, interior walls. "The painting needed a lot of space," he explained.

Moreover, it held the rest of the show together, Mr. Mona argued, waving at other pictures on the walls.

"It had a lot of reds and oranges, and you can see the orange here and here. And because of its size -- it was the largest work in the show -- it was what brought the whole show together."

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