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Davis & Davis and the Undemocratic Democratic National Convention Show

by Naomi Spellman Tuesday, Aug. 08, 2000 at 8:56 AM
nsplman@calarts.edu 661 799-9854 25057 Chestnut Street

The intersection of art and politics in Los Angeles.

errorCurating art is thankless work in Los Angeles. Exceptional artists abound, but the art-going public is relatively small, and gallery clusters are few and far between. With the exception of museum shows, exhibitions garner little attention. In spite of thisor because of itLos Angeles artists have a history of making trouble. Home to the Feminist Art Movement and birthplace of Conceptual Art, the Southland breeds artists that challenge accepted notions of art.

When Denise and Scott Davis, an art making and curating duo from Los Angeles, were presented with the opportunity to assemble an exhibition inside the National Democratic Committee Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, they were intrigued. Their audience was guaranteed: the day-in day-out traffic at the headquarters during an election summer. The conditions: no budget was allocated for the exhibition, and work that was deemed "too political" in nature could be removed by the committee.

The first condition was predictable. Artists in Los Angeles operate with little support. But "too political"? Why would anyone in politics be afraid of "political"? To everyone inside the Election Committeeand most of us withoutthe answer is obvious. The National Conventions are tightly controlled media campaigns designed to consolidate the electorate base for November. And given the highly visible stunts of activists/artists at past conventions (Remember the 1968 Democratic National Convention? Or the WTO demonstrations in Seattle last November?), campaign committees are wary of political activity generated outside sanctioned walls.

Nevertheless, Davis & Davis took on the task. When they were told one of the works chosen for the show was to be removed due to "inappropriate" content, there was little surprise. Not on the curators' part, anyway. Some of the artists, however, were incensed. Several of them balked. A mini campaign was waged to boycott the show. One of the artists penned an essay on the inequity of the situation. (The creators of the censored work were Sally Stein, a prominent Los Angeles cultural historian and a professor at UC Irvine, and Stephan Callis, a Los Angeles-based photographer)

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Davis & Davis decided the show would go on. They faced a dilemma many curators face: an exhibition is subject to the concerns of those who own or control the space. The question is: does the value of exhibiting in a given space override the limitations imposed by the space?

For most of the artists, the answer was yes.

The opening was a success. Interest in the show was substantial. For the curators, it seemed a worthwhile investment in time and effort.

Then things turned strange. Boxes were piled in front of Randy Gavazzos "Bushcamp" photographs, a series depicting homeless camping beneath the 405 freeway. A request was made to move two of Harris Hartsfield's looming portraits of African-American men away from a worker's sightline, because they "seemed lonely" away from the main grouping of photographs. And then the exhibition was closed to the public, phone calls went unanswered, and credit for the exhibition went to a lobbyist who acted as liaison to the Democratic Committee in an article in the Los Angeles Downtown News.

In response, Davis & Davis have printed a limited edition catalogue and generated an online version of the exhibition. As the Convention date nears, interest in the show that can't be seen is heightened. Artists include Stephanie Allespach, Michael Arata, Randy Gavazzo, Harris Hartsfield, Mark Housley, Kanji Ozawa, and Barbara Strasen. Racism, housing, healthcare, women's rights, gay rights, free trade, immigration, military recruitment, campaign financing, and other issues are addressed in photos, painting, sculpture, text, and

If you want to see the show onlineincluding Sally Stein and Stephen Callis' "Cornering the Millennium with a New Round of Monopoly"log onto: www.davisanddavis.org/dncshow . Or, for those who wont take no for an answer, try the Democratic National Convention Headquarters at the Arco Building: 515 South Flower St., 43rd Floor, Los Angeles, CA. tel. 213-DNC-2048. Through August. Contact Davis & Davis at: davisanddavis@geocites.com or (818) 988-6059.

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