Twelve years ago a young man called Raul Zambrano, who would later become a circuit judge in Flagler County for a few years, was at the center of a controversy involving a red devil and his penis. The artist Alberto Gomez had painted a piece called “Dreamer.” It showed a young boy daydreaming in a child-like setting, but with a red devil in the background, and the devil’s penis clearly exposed. The painting hung at the State Attorney’s Office in DeLand—until Zambrano, an assistant state attorney there, relayed complaints to county officials alleging that the painting was offensive. The Bible-thumping John Tanner headed the office at the time.
The painting was removed. A controversy erupted. The painting, after all, had been approved by the county’s own committee that regulates public art. It was eventually hung back, but in a less visible place. The DeLand controversy broke out not long after Renee Cox’s “Yo Mama’s Last Supper”—a fully naked female surrounded by 12 black apostles—so upset then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani (who did not make clear whether he was offended by the female Jesus or the blackness of the apostles) that he tried to have it removed from the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Not much later, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8,000 in taxpayer dough to drape the breasts of Lady Justice at the Department of Justice.
Near and far, breasts, butts and penises rendered as art in every shape and medium have riled up politicians and patrons of the arts since Manet’s “Olympia” was ravished and reviled by critics and the public at the Paris Salon in 1865. Artists have willingly courted controversy. So have museums and galleries. It’s a wonder Palm Coast’s Hollingsworth Gallery, which prides itself on tonguing the cutting edge with every show, went this long without finding itself in the crosshairs of a sexually themed tiff.
Now it has, and in the most ironic of circumstances.
The show opening at Hollingsworth Saturday night is called “The Monster of Bigotry.” It’s also termed the First Schreiner Memorial Show, after the late Richard Schreiner, whose art rhymed with shock. The show is curated by JJ Graham, the gallery owner.
Even though Graham was short of works to hang or show, one work he initially accepted to include in the show—Constance Payne’s “Will You Take Me Seriously Now”—will not be shown. He rejected it after its creator turned down an offer to have it hung, but covered up.
The oil painting is of a woman who’s shorn her hair and her breasts, which lay at her feet, and strapped on what Graham calls “a giant dildo,” reddish pink. It’s not a realistic painting, nor was it intended as such. It combines a comical effect with a brutal suggestion that sums up Payne’s idea of a daily bigotry women face in the workplace.
“Basically if she just cuts off her breasts and she rips out her hair, and she has a giant cock, then she’ll be respected,” Payne says of the woman in her piece. “It’s a very good conversation piece, and I think it comes from a very strong standpoint from being a female in business on how hard that is. Not everybody is going to get it, but it’s not the point. The point is that there are people out there that know how I feel, and I think this self-expressive piece, it shows people who don’t get it right away a little bit of insight on what it’s like to be a female in business. If I was twice my age and a man, my life would be easier from a business person’s standpoint.”
Payne, 26, a child of single parenting, poverty, homelessness and abuse, is an artist who runs a non-profit in Ormond Beach for at-risk youths and young adults by way of art instruction, small-business and life-readiness coaching. She’s also a tattoo artist.
Payne and Graham had talked about her entering a work in the bigotry show two weeks ago when they were showing their works at a restaurant in Ormond Beach. They sealed the deal there. Payne got to work painting the piece. “Not all artwork is landscapes and waterfalls and flowers, you know?” she said, using words taken out of Graham’s mouth. “This is a very raw piece, and the very first thing that I thought of when he said the word bigotry, I thought of how that relates to me and how I’m going to express my personal feelings about bigotry. It is a bit gory, but it’s a very emotional piece.” She doesn’t claim it to be a masterpiece.
She paid the $35 entry fee and turned in the painting Friday, unquestionably late. She had not followed Graham’s rules of first previewing the piece on an invitation-only Facebook page, where he could evaluate it, nor had she respected the deadline, though she says that she “never actually received a deadline and it was a little confusing, there was kind of information all over the place” about when to submit.
And the guidelines had never mentioned children.
Graham is an obsessive curator: how he hangs a show is at times more impressive than what he paints. He doesn’t take the job lightly, and “balancing” a show, to him, is as much of a work of art as creating a painting. He was willing to cut Payne some slack, and told her that she could break rules as long as her work was interesting. That, it was. But it wasn’t enough.
Graham has never been squeamish about the art he shows. But “Will You Take Me Seriously Now” was too much for him. He was not thrilled about the painting’s technical quality. Or its “gore.” Or the fact that children could see it. “I am subject to my taste. I did not like the painting, pure and simple,” Graham said.
A short time after she turned in the piece, Graham called Payne and said he’d hang it, but either in a back room, or in the main gallery, with a drape over it.
Payne refused the deal, and took back the painting. “I didn’t know they were going to censor my painting,” she said. “I thought it was an art gallery. I didn’t know it was a day care center.” She disputes the notion that the work was rejected because it was late. “It definitely wasn’t an issue of timing because he accepted my piece and he accepted my $35 entry fee, so it wasn’t an issue of timing,” she said. “I just thought it was very ironic that a show about bigotry is censoring my self-expression on what bigotry is.”
Graham says Payne was as much a censor as he might have been by refusing his offer. “I did censor her work from children in the aspect that I think parents should be able to make the decision whether or not their child views that, and I can’t stand by the piece all night long,” Graham says.
Such matters have not been an issue before at Hollingsworth. Breasts, butts, fully frontal female nudity, even naked children, have been shown at the gallery, as has a great deal of violent or violently themed art, not least that of Schreiner, or Peter Cerreta’s demoniac send-ups of sexually explicit classics, including an “Olympia” rendered as a Muslim who might get stoned if she persists in her ways, or Jen Kaczmarek’s naked and bound woman, apparently murdered, in a forest clearing.
And Graham has no problem with a pair of Harry Messersmith mixed media works in the show that opened Saturday, and that can be interpreted as brutally as Payne’s. One is called “Knockers” (use your imagination) and another, which pre-empts the imagination, called “Pro Pell Her,” depicting a propeller sodomizing a woman’s ass.
“But it’s the absence of the gore that makes me contemplate that piece,” Graham says. “And I understand his statement. What he’s saying is that women are viewed for their parts, the sexuality, the sex trade, pornography. But that piece allows you to contemplate the space between those, and above them, in a very tasteful way. To me. Because every man that looks at women that’s not capable of judging them on their intellect or their persona are viewing them for their body parts.”
Graham’s is an oddly literalist definition of gore: he sees it in Payne’s painting because breasts are visibly severed and blood spatters appear. But a propeller in a woman’s ass can be seen by definition as a goring image, and not just because of the discomforting verbal pun: a propeller sodomizing a woman is unquestionably goring her, a notion arguably as violent, if not more so, than the blood-spattered metaphor of Payne’s painting.
Payne is surprised by Graham’s interpretation. “This painting was not meant to be realistic. It was meant to be symbolic, and a statement, and it was meant to be shocking,” she says. “A lot of art galleries also feature women’s breasts, and why is that considered art? But you throw a penis in there and now everybody is shocked and shaken.”
But Graham also received a piece by Cerreta that was disturbing, and accomplished—and that he didn’t accept. It didn’t fit in the show. It was not a matter of censorship, he says. It was a matter of art. “And yes I have broken my rules before but it was because there was a sense of serendipity and that piece just tended to fit right where it came in, and that did not happen this time,” Graham said.
There was also the matter of Payne’s excitement about being turned down, Graham said. Payne, he said, made herself a martyr at his expense. “It just seems to me like she was really happy for me to reject the piece, and she’s all just bubbly about it on Facebook,” he said. “She can promote herself. That’s great. I thinks she’s already got enough attention for the piece at my expense. I don’t know why I have to give her a viewing and make it special.”
Payne had suggested a special viewing of the work on a subsequent Saturday, giving patrons a chance to judge for themselves. But she dismisses Graham’s claim that she was thriving on the controversy, or that she had sought it out. “I’m a busy person. Not only am I an artist and an entrepreneur but I also help my husband in his glass business,” she says. “Any artist who is confronted with the fact that their work is going to have to be censored, especially for the subject matter that this show was about, would be equally as offended. I mean, I’m cool with JJ. We’re friends. So I don’t feel like my decision to remove my painting reflects on his decision-making on what he stands by. We’re just on two very different sides of the spectrum on it.”
Payne was late bringing her work, but just as clearly, Graham was equally late in deciding that to fill out the walls, he’d have to bring in children’s work—a surprising judgment call, considering the theme of the show and the number of other works that challenge the boundary between shock and taste. But Graham, who relies to some extent on his children’s art classes to pay the bills, has been working with local government to expand the presence of children’s art in public spaces, making him perhaps more careful about what he shows in his galleries.
The end result for “The Monster of Bigotry” is a show that lacks a certain unity, or much monstrosity to match the title. It’s a show in three parts: the works themed around bigotry. Schriner’s works, most of them recycled. And children’s work. Individual walls have a sense of narrative. The show as a whole does not. It leaves Messersmith’s “Knockers” and “Pro Pell Her” as the unintended focal point, the way Graham feared the dildo in Payne’s painting would have been. That, and an arresting but also oddly placed, enormous painting by Brian Buck called “Defiant,” of an Arab woman in an aggressive “Tank Man”-like stance against a colossal tank, which looks suspiciously American.
Graham, worn out as always on the approach of a show’s opening Saturday afternoon, wasn’t reveling in his decision to exclude “Will You Take Me Seriously Now.” He just hopes it’s the right one.
“It’s very hard to make that decision. It’s not easy,” he says. “It almost makes me want to shut the doors and go back to painting on my own. I made just as much money when I painted in my garage, or just teaching kids and not have to worry about herding cats. Dealing with artists is like herding cats. It really is.”
“Monster of Bigotry” Opened Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Hollingsworth Gallery, at City Marketplace, and runs through the end of the month. Reach the Gallery at 386/871-9146 or visit its website.
I think it’s sad when someone like JJ decides to bring something like this to our community and one individual breaks all the rules and expects things to go there way and make a martyr out of themselves. It almost seems a bit intentional. He owns the gallery and has every right to decide what should be in a show or not. It’s disappointing that you portrayed him as a “sell out” to keep the peace so as not to offend anyone or loss business in the way of classes for children. Could it be that the piece just did not speak to him or that he didn’t feel it fit. He’s obviously not afraid to be provocative given several of the pieces shown this evening. I know many who attended this evening and found the art to be thought provoking and a wonderful display of local talent. Thanks JJ for bringing a slice of culture to our community. Great show!!
I find it hard to believe people are offended by this piece. What makes all of you experts on art? Art is expression and this is very expressive and since when is art about rules? Thats the point of it, its what makes it art, pushing the envelope and forcing you to think about something that the artist wants you to think about. clearly she accomplished this given the high level of offense. GO CONSTANCE!
I understand the article and the painting. However all men themselves are not treated equally by other men. I’ve never met any men who run around feeling like they have to flop their private parts out on an office desk to prove their manhood. To the contrary most men will have to settle in whatever place they find themselves amongst alpha males, or move on. This mythical equal stuff between any sort of mankind ain’t going to happen right now. We as humans always find a way to change the rules or the requirements when things seem to be leveling out. Why don’t people just concentrate on being the best person or neighbor they can be as opposed to starting manufactured battles. All men do not see woman as weak and second class I love my mother and my wife and I view and treat the opposite sex the way I would want someone to treat them. Seems like a “shock value Madonna Lady Gaga type thing”. Yeah, got some attention but just because you can doesn’t mean you always should. I personally thought the sex toy in the painting was primarily for woman. Hhhmmm, am I stereotyping???
” I’ve never met any men who run around feeling like they have to flop their private parts out on an office desk to prove their manhood.” Well, you obviously never went to Wharton Business School with Anthony Weiner!
Ayn Rand's Spleen says
The only penises allowed to be seen openly by the public in Flagler County are the ones in office, I guess.
Unless the Hollingsworth Gallery is a public museum or other tax payer funded entity or location, Ms. Payne has no standing. And to use the terms censor or censorship is inaccurate and approaches irresponsibility. A more appropriate word would be “opinion” for the gallery’s owner decisions.
Last I checked, this is a free country with certain individual rights for its private citizens. Mr. Graham should be free to host whatever pieces of art he chooses. Its his decision. Period.
If Ms. Payne desires to show her offensive art work, she is more than welcome to open her own gallery to show this trash.
Clearly, Ms. Payne is seeking attention and has apparently obtained the support of this website to bash a private business owner for his opinions. Shame on both of you for hyping a non-issue.
This isn’t art it’s trash.. They were high on something when they done these pieces of s–t,
I know, your waiting for the Velvet Crying Clown Collection show to come to town. We’ll get back to you on that.
Golden Flame says
I’m not sure why there is so much hostility in the comment section. I don’t think the article was bashing JJ or his gallery at all but merely talks about the irony of the show title and the ACCEPTED but later rejected painting.
@ Norton Smitty: Forgot about him, can’t argue that one.
I’ve found a new bigot and it’s not J.J. Graham. As a curator you have to assemble a show. You choose what works. If that’s censorship then every creative person is guilty of censoring. JJ did state on facebook he wants nothing with gore because he felt you don’t need gore to get your point across. Mastectomy and a dildo… doesn’t make you a respected woman. Shhh…I know who rules my world! This may be a mans world but it would be nothing without a woman!!! Breast cancer survivors who have had a mastectomy deal with many issues but I doubt they have the time to pontificate on wanting to be a man… Wait til the last minute and spring it on ’em. Very insensitive and self serving!
While I personally don’t care for this piece of art, JJ has every right to choose what does or does not ‘show’ in his place of business.
And taking that thought to it’s ultimate conclusion, It is his gallery and it is not only his right not to show what may offend, it is also his right not to show it to….
There is no hard lines when it comes to censorship. And we all know stepping over that line puts you on a very slippery slope. But it is no doubt that denying access to anything provocative that might make whoever sees it think is a powerful responsibility that should never be taken lightly. JJ has never been timid before. If he feels this piece is not right for his show, he has earned the right of veto by his history of displaying art that offended without consideration of his own benefit. He is intelligent enough to know that he has a few Strikes available, and if he does continue this to the point of,,, well Ballessness for lack of a better word, he will lose his reputation and it will hurt his business. Reganomics meets Aesthetics.
It ain’t gonna’ be pretty or perfect, but it’s what we got in 2013. The fact we have it here in Palm Coast at all is something we should all be thankful for.
Jon Hardison says
I think JJ did the right thing. Payne’s painting is art, but is extreme to say the least. But art, even at its most extreme, should be seen. There was another painting right at the front door or a baby banded with a swastika feeding from the breast of old dixie. It was a simple and disturbing idea. What I found most interesting about that painting was that the artist hated the idea of it. She hoped someone might purchase it and then burn it. She’d also hoped that if that happened, she would be invited. :-)
JJ’s choice not to show the painting was a good one. We toss the word censorship around as if it is always a bad thing. Would this painting have helped or hurt that message the show hoped to discuss? Would questions from the young children in attendance have been worth the addition? The artist certainly didn’t think so.
I’m friends with JJ as well, but I support his choice in this because I think he was right and I think Payne should have been big enough to accept placement at the back of the show. I wouldn’t have allowed it to be covered either, but the back of the show was a perfectly reasonable deal given the subject and audience.
JJ was still visibly bothered by this mess all through the opening yesterday.
He;s a good man.
For some reason parents don’t get to decide if children see the butt with a propeller in it? That somehow is less offensive than the painting? Personally I don’t appreciate any of the ‘art’ depicted in the article although the knockers one is humorous. I understand them all…I just wouldn’t be going to see it hanging anywhere
Sheila Zinkerman says
Art should not be about an artist’s “self,” and censorship debate should not supersede the larger debate on bigotry. Let’s bring the conversation back on message, “The Monster of Bigotry.”
I wonder why people even bother to put time and
effort into something just to get bad attention.
“The knockers and propellers are not so fun either. just sayin’
I am curious as to why Ms. Payne is so adamant that Hollingsworth Gallery exhibits her painting while she refuses to display the image on her facebook page even though at least 10 of her friends have requested that she do so.
Concerned Parent says
Well I have a problem with this article. There is nothing like logging into FlaglerLive website to see whats up and having your child behind you and that picture populates the screen. I think its offensive and should of not be published in a public paper for kids to see!
So it’s not your responsibility to make sure your kid isn’t standing behind you looking at it? To protect the children we all must dumb it down to Disney cartoons? And just the recent ones cause The Sorcerers Apprentice made us think and Bambi made us cry. Put your concern into thinking how your kids will be prepared for the real world after they leave your cocoon. You are not protecting them, you are weakening them.
Controversy is an established bedfellow to art. The more you question what art is, and whether a piece falls into any category of artistic expression, the more it becomes a piece of art.
I like the concept of the painting– it’s definitely something that needed to be expressed– but I think it’s execution is a bit juvenile. Then again, part of me wonders if that might be intentional. Makes more sense that way.
Oh, and just to address the other items pictured above, “Knockers” and “Pro Pell Her” are tacky and sexist– something I might find in a Benny Hill retrospective.
ART !!!! How come there were no pictures of J. Edgar Hoover with his dresses on ? Now that would have been some real ART .
His name was not Art, it was Clyde Tolson.
Jon, I agree. But somehow I find that Constance actually understood what she was doing in that she waited anticipating to take advantage of JJ.. Her piece is art and should be seen. Whether the artist/curator had his choice of his statement using the art submitted is up to him. He choose to make offers to her and not turn it away despite his posts on facebook and despite his creative ideas about the look and message the he wanted the show to state. The show is in memory of Richard Schreiner. What would he say? He’d probably have a ggod laugh. I think JJ bent to accommodate her. At any rate art creates dialog. That’s a good thing.
“Basically if she just cuts off her breasts and she rips out her hair, and she has a giant cock, then she’ll be respected,” Payne says of the woman in her piece.
Ms.Payne, with all due respect I hope you are fortunate enough to run into a real man in your life. We are not all Philistines.
Christopher V. says
The article makes reference to John Tanner as a “Bible Thumper,” presumably referencing his religous views. Tell me, when a radical Muslim kills someone, are they refered to as a “Koran Thumper?” (Let’s see how long this comment lasts.)
They’re referred to as much worse, though they’re cut from the same cloth. Here’s an example on this site of a defense of a Floridian Bible-thumper, in comparison with his murdering Koran-thumping likes in Afghanistan. Crow not included.
@ Concerned Parent: Your responsible for what your kids visit on the internet not Flaglerlive. Maybe reacquaint yourself with their policy.
it’s no more offensive than the other pictures shown!!??
Sheila Zinkerman says
Reference: August 12 FlaglerLive says
Response: Bigotry Monsters are bound by two common threads pulled from the same cloth, bad faith and fear. Bigots lie to themselves and are fearful of being trapped by the unlikeness of others. They are stitched together by hate.
This poor excuse of art is a representation of Constance’s opinion and feelings which seem to be quite the graphic, inappropriate, and hateful “art”. I as a young woman have worked in a male dominated industry and have not found this representation/ideology to be accurate. The thinking and feelings of inequality spark not conversation of the perceived problem, but greater division and pathetic whining. It was deemed inappropriate for some audiences as it should be, and I’m disappointed that this website displayed te graphically inappropriate painting.