Patriot Act comes to Chicago

Secret Service agents took in an art exhibit in Chicago last week. It was business, not pleasure.

Published April 13, 2005 6:36PM (EDT)

Two U.S. Secret Service agents checked out an art exhibit in Chicago last week. It was business, not pleasure.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, just prior to the public opening of "Axis of Evil, the Secret History of Sin" at Columbia College's Glass Curtain Gallery, the agents arrived and took pictures of some of the art pieces -- including "Patriot Act," showing President Bush on a mock 37-cent stamp with a revolver pointed at his head. (See the Sun-Times link for the visual.)

The agents reportedly inquired as to what the artists "meant by their work" -- perhaps taking care of due diligence while also dispensing with the cost of the audio tour. But what came next starts to look more reflective of the aforementioned work's title, and how expression of dissent is treated in America under the Bush administration. According to the Sun-Times, the agents also wanted museum director CarolAnn Brown to turn over the names and phone numbers of all the exhibit's artists (47 of them, from 11 countries). And, she said, they wanted to hear from the exhibit's curator, Michael Hernandez deLuna, within 24 hours.

Was it also a matter of public opinion? Columbia College spokeswoman Micki Leventhal told the Sun-Times that agents were responding to citizen complaints about the artwork, which received some pre-show publicity in the Chicago media. But she expressed surprise at the incident -- the show had opened in Philly without a hitch -- and she said that Columbia College took the exhibit per its "high artistic standards."

For his part, Hernandez was wary of a trampling of First Amendment rights. "I think it's frightening for any artist who wants to do edgy art," he said.

Needless to say, he's not getting a whole lot of sympathy over at Blogs for Bush.

"Cry me a river," wrote editor Matt Margolis this morning. "Artwork? Political statement? I fail to see how those mock stamp fall under either of those categories."

The discourse nosedived from there. Reader Paul Sather concluded that the mock stamps are a clear and present danger. "Any 'artist' who creates 'art' that threatens any president, does not matter who the president is, should be investigated and or arrested," he said. "This extends to former presidents as well. We as a civilized country can not tolerate having our president threatened by some moonbat, for the sake of freedom of speech."

When another reader asked, "So, what exactly is the threat? That he might in fact shoot himself?", Margolis replied: "The stamp depicts a gun being held to Bush's head. It is clear that this is not depicting him holding the gun himself. The stamp also has the words 'Patriot Act' on it, which quite honestly is inciting under the guise of art and faux patriotism to kill the president."

A reader named "Troll" had a slightly different assessment of what was at stake. "Will someone in Chicago volunteer to follow this guy and put a (fake/squirt) gun in his face a few times[?]" Troll asked, referring to Hernadez. "See how he likes it."

Free tickets to the theater, anyone?

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

MORE FROM Mark Follman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room