Back in March of 2001, the Taliban blew up two giant statues of Buddha. There was an international outcry and almost no support for what was seen as theocratic and/or barbaric destruction of monuments that held incalculable cultural and historical value. Almost no one who wasn’t an actual member of the Taliban supported or tried to defend it.
Fast forward a little over 18 years and there’s another case of an important historic and artistic heritage under attack for ideological reasons and…. the response is not the same.
In the case of the Arnautoff murals at a San Francisco highschool quick checks at supposely ‘progressive’ sites (Slate, Salon, Huffington, Vox) reveal no coverage of the story at all. Almost all of the outrage at this seems to be coming from the Right which is more than a bit odd considering that the artist was a committed communist who was trying in his very small way to help forment revolution by depicting horrors from American history such as slavery and the killing of native Americans.
Portrait of the artist as a well-dressed revolutionary.
Part of the problem seems to be a kind of pre-(post?)-modern thinking which cannot distinguish between representation and support, or rather understands any kind of representation as an active endorsement of the artist. Part of it seems to be the consumerist drive to reject any of the past that is not acceptable to the present (the consumerist past has been turned into an inexhaustible and infinitely malleable commodity that can be consumed or rejected at will).
To be frank, personally I’m not a fan of Arnautoff or the murals (in terms of style of execution) but they indisputably an important cultural and historical landmark and wantng to remove or cover them is the purest cultural barbarism.