In trying to be taken seriously by the artistic community, Frederick's Delaplaine Visual Arts Center reached beyond idyllic depictions of landscapes and ducks -- and now finds itself in danger of losing $500,000 in state funding. The contretemps illustrates again the power of visual art to offend, as well as to educate. It also demonstrates the power of politics and controversy to attract more interest -- and visitors -- to an art exhibition than cultural inquisitiveness ever could.
Publicity about an anti-war painting by Austrian Josef Schutzenhofer has drawn hundreds of people to a show of artistic work dealing with problems facing society today. Many viewers have taken offense at the angry painting -- but plenty of the outrage is coming from people who have not yet seen the painting themselves. Perhaps the outcry is not surprising, given the painting's content, which includes nude figures of Dolly Parton and a pigeon-toed President Bush, along with a partially clothed Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf with his foot on Saddam Hussein's back, brandishing a shield with Hitler's picture on it. Standing nearby is Sen. Jesse Helms in a breastplate and red briefs.
Mr. Schutzenhofer intended for the painting to jar viewers' sensibilities as a way of making them confront the realities of war. No doubt he has succeeded with many viewers. But others, including several members of the Frederick County legislative delegation, have found a convenient distraction in questions of politics and propriety.