Can Public Art Be Public Hate

Does art become hate? I’m having a hard time deciding. It reminds me of being a kid and looking at renaissance nude art and trying to decide whether it’s soft porn, or really art. I decided at the time some of the ‘art’ was erotic tending to pornographic, no matter what the ‘experts’ call it. I wasn’t old enough to buy it in a magazine, but I could ’study’ it in upscale books and see it in museums.

Some four hundred years ago, a Spanish Conquistador named Juan de Oñate, arrived at the Acoma Pueblo, in what is now New Mexico. What followed at Acoma Pueblo was a brutal battle which the people of the pueblo lost, along with the lives of hundreds of the pueblo peoples.

When does “art” cross the line into something else?

The survivors were taken prisoner and tried. Juan de Oñate severely punished the pueblo peoples. All male prisoners over twenty five had one foot cut off as punishment, and were sentenced to decades of servitude to Spanish families. Younger men were also sentenced servitude. Young women and girls were sent to Mexico City to serve as ‘servants’ to Spanish families.

Some Hopi men who were caught in the battle had there right hand cut off. All this was seen as proper justice back in the day. It mattered little that the Acoma People were defending their home and family from previous acts of Spanish injustice.

In the city of Espanola, New Mexico, a bronze statue of Juan de Oñate was put up against fierce opposition by people who believe Oñate’s statue would be a tribute to hate and genocide, and best forgotten. Up it went anyway.

On the eve of the 400’th anniversary of Spanish arrival celebration plans a group of people cut the right foot off of the statue of Oñate in memory of the brutality that he caused upon the Acoma Pueblo People. Of course people who think of Oñate as a hero were outraged.

More recently, in Mankato, Minnesota, 1862, 38 Native American men were hanged en mass per orders from President Lincoln as punishment for recent uprisings. The 38 men were hanged  in the town square with an estimated 4000 people looking on and cheering at the sight.

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota saw fit in 2012 to allow a gallows scaffolding recreation be erected in the name of ‘art’ amid uproars and dissension from no small amount of people. Only in the last few weeks has this ‘art’ been deemed offensive and the ‘art’ gallows will be taken down.

I remember the public outcry some years back when and “artist” placed a crucifix in a jar of what looked like urine, photographed it, and put it on display calling it, “Piss Christ” (1987). The outrage over this was amazing. The picture was damaged beyond repair about two years later.

Looking back on that incident it seems, whether art is indeed art or something else, depends on how many people are offended by it, and whether they are a minority or not? When does ‘art’ cross the line to become a public display of hate?