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by Bill Lasarow

“Shyboy and Captain Brewer,” oil
enamel on canvas, 5’4” x 5’4”, 2001.

Shortly after going to press with last month’s October issue, we learned that Alex Donis’ exhibition War, at the Watts Towers Art Center, had been removed due to the threat of demonstrations and possible violence by members of the local community. For those of you who read Betty Ann Brown’s Preview article and were surprised to find nothing to view at the Art Center, we apologize, and hope that you understand that these circumstances were truly beyond our control.

Of deeper concern, particularly in the post-September 11th atmosphere, is that the apparently bigoted miscomprehension of this work led to the kind of threats that have no place in America.

According to Art Center Director Mark Greenfield, himself an artist, he stands behind the work, yet feared for the physical safety of the artwork and employees at the Art Center--particularly with major open events celebrating the reopening of the Watts Towers coming up the following week. Given these fears, which we take to be legitimate, Cultural Affairs Department General Manager Margie Reese authorized the premature closing of the show (which was actually on exhibit for three days).

It is very difficult to blame Department staff for acting as they did out of concern for their physical safety. This was clearly not an action that the City was seeking. Indeed, they have indicated sharp regret that the artist’s right to free expression has been abrogated, and a desire to place the exhibition into another venue later in the season. We shall see. While not the most courageous of positions, we cannot take authorities too vigorously to task considering that it was some of them who unexpectedly found themselves at personal risk.

The behavior of some community members is not so easily forgiven. It besmirches the Watts neighborhood in a way that an art exhibit never could. Ironically, Donis’ work is intended to serve as a statement of reconciliation. To the artist we say: Funny how you never can tell how your art is going to register with the public.