Anti-NEA lobbyist shown the door at U.S. Capitol

July 30, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

A conservative group attempting to show photographs of what it calls offensive artworks produced by recipients of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts was prevented from using a room in the U.S. Capitol for the exhibit yesterday afternoon.

Shortly after the Christian Action Network (CAN) had set up its exhibit in a House Annex building a block away, it was ordered out of that room as well.

Martin Mawyer, president of CAN, called the ejections censorship, and said, "It seems like everybody has free speech but us."

Congressmen who had arranged the ejections said that Congressional rules prohibit such uses of meeting rooms. "I objected . . . because it's purely a lobbying effort and the rules say you cannot lobby in a public room of the Capitol," said Rep. Sidney Yates, D-Ill.

Spokesmen for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill. and House Speaker Tom Foley, who were also involved in the ejections, confirmed the group was ejected because of the anti-lobbying rule.

Mr. Mawyer acknowledged that his is a lobbying group. He said he wanted to show to members of Congress photographs of the artworks, which depict sexual and other acts, so they could see what kind of art the NEA funds.

"It was an educational effort to help the federal government understand what they're funding," he said. "We want to cut [NEA] funding, dismantle the NEA or at least place restrictions on what the NEA funds." He said members of Congress do not get around to see such works, so he was bringing the works to them.

In a statement issued yesterday, the NEA said the exhibit "misrepresents funding decisions" and "distorts the real record of the Endowment." Ginny Terzano, a spokeswoman for the NEA, said Mr. Mawyer's group "has used the endowment to raise their visibility and to get more money for their organization."

Mr. Mawyer, who says he is a former editor of Liberty Report, formed the Christian Action Network in 1990. He says the network has a variety of causes, including "school prayer, stronger laws to oust child molesting . . . [and] opposition to the homosexual left agenda."

Yesterday he sought to show photographs of artwork in a Whitney Museum of American Art show in New York; pages from a periodical called High Performance, published by the 18th Street Arts Complex of Santa Monica, Calif.; and photographs of works by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. All of these have received NEA support, Mr. Mawyer said.

However, Ms. Terzano said the Whitney show was privately funded. The NEA has funded projects at the Whitney, but Ms. Terzano said, "because we support the museum we are not responsible for everything they do."

The American Arts Alliance, an arts advocacy group, and Oracle, an association of curators of photography, also issued statements in support of the NEA.

The NEA's appropriation for fiscal year 1994 is currently under Congressional scrutiny. On July 15, the House of Representatives voted to cut its funding by almost $9 million from $174.9 million to $166.2 million. Two days ago, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to restore part of that money and give the NEA $170.2 million.

Earlier, the House defeated by a vote of 322-105 a motion by Rep. Philip Crane, R-Ill., to eliminate the NEA. It was Rep. Crane who arranged for Mr. Mawyer to have rooms for his exhibit yesterday, the Congressman's office confirmed.

Reporters had only about 15 minutes to see the photographs in (( the House Annex room. Among photographs of works in the Whitney show, called "Abject Art: Repulsion and Desire in American Art," were untitled sculptures of a nude man and woman by Kiki Smith, and what was labeled as a three-foot-high mound of excrement with a house on top of it. Among the Witkin photographs were "Christ in Glory," labeled as a hermaphrodite as Jesus Christ, and "Portrait of the Holocaust," labeled as a nude with apparently dead fetuses.

Apparently, no congressmen went to see the exhibit. After it was closed down, Mr. Mawyer said he had not been aware of any.

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