Let’s face it: we’re eager for controversy. The word represents a competition to find the most daring, vulgar or dangerous of low blows, in an attempt to see bland mediocrity placed firmly on the ropes. But it’s not always a spectator sport. Examine, for instance, Exhibit B with protestors storming the Barbican in order to close down a ‘fetishising’ depiction of the human zoos that constitute a very ugly scar on the 18th-19th century. I would argue that the resulting removal of Exhibit B has proved more controversial than the performance itself. In that way, the protestors have acted as an extension of the piece: they have become Exhibit C. Cause-for-concern? Catastrophe? Crisis-in-bourgeois-ideals? No. I propose: Exhibit Censorship.
This is (I hope) a befitting contradiction, as to be a part of an exhibit is to have a voice and to have freedom. But to censor is to inhibit somebody else’s. In this case the protestor has chosen to deprive the public of a work of art; and this act has stolen the voice of the artist. Instead of being able to observe and question Exhibit B in its gallery space, we find it occupied instead by the imposing figure of Exhibit C.
But are the protestors in the right? When art such as Black Hand’s satiric graffiti is removed by the authorities in Tehran, the censorship is unjust. But Exhibit B has been removed at the will of the London people: the 23,000 against the work have recognised their right to dismiss this art, on the premise that it is public property – their possession to throw away or boycott. And I do agree with the reasons for the protest, as it has an extremely important purpose given the sensitivity of the subject matter.
Yet, if the result is still censorship then the result is illogical, as you can’t judge what you can’t see. All that we are left with (to examine) is a vague outline of the concept behind the piece; equivalent to the silhouette of dust that indicates when a painting has been stolen, or moved. Those who objected may not feel victorious because now nobody can see the piece, so nobody can discuss or critique the piece, and so nobody can truly know whose expectation was right. We’re left to muse over dust.
As if modern art isn’t already inaccessible and incoherent enough.