Anti-Americanism in the Art World

The public resentment and hostility for America is striking in the art world as well as the political arena. It has been for a spell. The penchant to burden America for all the evils of the world, even the art world, is completely surreal. But it is real.

The exhibition Saved! (100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund, Hayward Gallery, London), 2004, shows anti-Americanism in the European art circuit, with the saving of Botticelli’s The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1485 (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). This painting was saved for the nation in 1999 with the aid of 550,000, the biggest grant the National Art Collections Fund has ever transferred. It is one of the greatest Renaissance paintings secured for any museum in the UK since the Second World War. It was about to be sold to the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, USA, when the Art Fund learned of its impending export to America from editorial in the press and saved it. The idea that America would have plundered and deprived us of this Botticelli masterpiece had us digging deep into golden purses, crying and hissing that America is not worthy of it.

But how much do we in this country really think of art? Consider, that in Britain, history of art was not thought of as being important enough to be taught as an academic subject until 1932. By then it was all too late, for the French and German art fascists had already invented anti-Americanism way back in the 1920s and 1930s. The French and German were partisans of a close-mouthed pure country, against the cosmopolitan melting pot of America.

Why had the French and German such disrelish for America, when on the whole and for various reasons, the USA was more receptive to the art of continental Europe with L’Esprit Nouveau, the School of Paris and the Bauhaus? Proven, when the Nazis shut the Bauhaus, and many teachers and artists went into exile in the United States.

France and Germany wanted to challenge the United States. The anti-American feeling spread amongst the arts world intended to blitz the command of the American art scene. Why? Such a slow project, you’d go through purgatory quicker than understand this. Today it is the 1930s all over again. European artists are jealous of their American cousins.

I thought art was supposed to deliver the universal qualities within us. To pass boundaries. To identify us from one another. To be the best form of diplomacy. Instead, it is surprising that European artists should have so little respect for American art and culture. A bit too humdrum and impotent in their anti-Americanism, what the Europeans don’t realise, is that America’s culture, makes America the greatest mechanism of modern art. Remember that America has two margins; The Atlantic and the Pacific. On the one side it looks towards Europe, on the other to the Far East. From European art to Oriental painting. This is an example of the roads of culture crossing paths. And that from the USA began the all-influential shaping of an international art and culture, that I shall name Internationalism.

The American dream then shifted, as the new artist hijacked art of its antique responsibility of bearing witness to events, to political beliefs that enabled us to ‘live’ in art, politically. When Andrew Wyeth, Grant Wood or Grandma Moses painted a farmer and his wife, the American painter was unconditionally preoccupied in the passion that is only the American life – the American dream.

American art and culture is not only songs by Madonna and sci-fi action films starring Schwarzenegger the governor of California; it is 1,700 symphony orchestras, opera visited by 7.5 million people annually, and museums that are seen by 500 million every year. All American museums where entrance is free owe their existence and subsidy to private supporters. Isabella Stewart Gardner is an inspiration. So is the Harvard University Art Museums collection donated from past graduates. And the Las Vegas casino billionaire, and one of the world’s biggest private art collectors Steve Wynn.

The narcissistic use of American symbolism grows as the world becomes more fearful of terrorism. Why? Because the animosity attached to America is stuck on American culture, as American culture is so all-powerful.

Take a look as German artist Sigmar Polke takes pot shots at American gun law, Afghanistan, Iraq and al-Qa’eda. And the French, who opened Disneyland Paris in 1992 and unveiled the event as a ?cultural Chernobyl.? But, the Europeans can’t get enough of America’s 3 Cs (culture, cinema and consumerism). Ironically, the anti-American extremists triumph in making Europe even more clinging on the United States.

Works by Turner Prize artists Jake & Dinos Chapman show African masks and fetishes as ideal and appropriate for celebrating contemporary leading culture by applying American McDonalds symbols and emblems.

Inasmuch as six hundred galleries up and down the country benefit from the NACF, the Arts Council is supposed to be the national development agency for the arts in England. The problem was, and is, the total inadequacy of government funding for the arts here in this country to create anything of any benefit. Distributing public money from Government and the National Lottery, where are Tessa Jowell and Estelle Morris keeping England in the first rank of world arts?

The Arts Council England serves the truly talentless. With a grant from the Arts Council, a replica of Camp X-Ray complete with blindfolded prisoners in orange boiler suits was built in Manchester. This mock Guantanamo Bay prison is nothing but a Herculean political misappropriation and an outrageous waste of public money, on a political subject, that has nothing to do with art. The Arts Council is simply being dishonest funding this as art, when it is nothing more than anti-Americanism expressiveness.

The influence of American culture is now so all-pervasive, it seems like art history has come full circle, and imperious European artists just about cope with their American peers. Take a look at Paul McCarthy’s video, showing the Queen hosting a disgusting tea-party orgy for George Bush, with Bin Laden. It’s a cathartic artless and boring insult, screened at you.

Bill Viola best uses video to illustrate his interest in religion. I’ve heard people say “what a waste of money! Religious voices drive us mad!” But they are positively at home in a country whose money has “In God We Trust” on each coin and note. Viola champions differences between the religious right and the non-religious left, between conservatives and liberals.

America’s monumental personality is victorious in symbolising free-expression in art. We can bear democracy and individualism, so long as it’s not American. When you get to this, the scale of antipathy and disdain of the perverted level of which you would associate with propaganda about an enemy in wartime, you realise European art that is anti-American is nothing more than a little cultural jerk, done by the same.

© Estelle Lovatt FRSA

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