Proper To Call Art Inappropriate?

Here’s a word not typically associated with art: appropriate.

It’s at the core of a flap over aborted plans to display work by a respected Tampa artist in the Orlando City Hall. Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who likes the work of the artist in question, Jeff Whipple, calls it censorship.

While it’s fair to question Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Kinkadeian taste in art, that’s not the point. The issue is who, other than the artist, is entitled to make the call as to what is appropriate for a given venue?

Former Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood had no problem with Whipple’s work, and she made the decision to exhibit his 25-year retrospective. Presumably, some Mapplethorpe pieces, for example, might not have passed muster. City Hall is a public place, but it’s not to be confused with a museum. Remember the St. Petersburg experience with Jim Crow-era art in its City Hall? It was acceptable for the longest time.

Mayor Dyer may be a philistine, but his input should have standing.

He objected, for example, to Whipple’s self-portrait of the artist with a phone cord wrapped around his neck. And he didn’t much care for a painting that depicts a man with one leg sliced off holding a coffee mug and drill and a woman with bleeding legs holding a coffee mug and a power saw. He either didn’t get the social commentary or, having gotten it, still didn’t deem it appropriate for City Hall.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Whipple said that the content of art to be shown in a public place “shouldn’t be an issue for someone who’s not an art professional to make a decision about.”

Well, former Mayor Hood made one.

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