On Controversial Art and its Display

Recently, the Walker Art Center placed a sculpture in the Sculpture Garden inspired by gallows, among them those used to hang Native Americans during the Minnesota Indian Wars. The outcry was predictable.
I have wanted to comment on this issue for some time, but have been reluctant to do so because of the vitriolic posts the issue has generated. I am not wanting to castigate anyone or shame anyone, but merely to generate some thoughtful discussion on art in general and this art in particular. The Walker has agreed to dismantle the sculpture.
Those who know me know that I am pretty much a First Amendment absolutist who supports the free exchange of ideas, believing that the best way to combat bad ideas is with good ideas. Shutting down discourse generally has the opposite effect.
Durant’s “Scaffold” is art; as much as Seranno’s “Piss Christ.” Both works were roundly condemned by those who were offended. The point is, however, that art is challenging at times and will cause us to think and consider. “Scaffold” causes us to consider the consequences of history and our use and misuse of capital punishment, and of our collective pogrom against those who are different than us (whoever ‘us’ is). I will not criticize Durant for his work as it does remind me and challenge me concerning our history. So too do the paintings in the Capitol that the Governor tried to suppress. Frankly, if one is offended by a work of art, the artist has probably succeeded in his task. Think about and consider why the offense, what it means to you, and how you might react to the same.
What I will criticize is its placement in the Sculpture Garden, a place of whimsy and recreation. “Scaffold” is out of place next to a giant cherry and blue rooster. There are appropriate places to display such a work, but the Sculpture Garden is not such a place, and the Walker’s management was wrong to place it there.
So, some might ask, “What about the Confederate Monuments, are they not art?” Probably, but they do not belong in public areas. It is okay to put them in some kind of museum if they are properly contextualized. For example, Robert E. Lee’s statue recently taken down in New Orleans could be in a museum with the following caption? “Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Virginia during the Civil War committed treason against the United States and violated his oath as an officer in the U.S. Army in order to lead an army in rebellion, the purpose of which was to defend and extend the institution of slavery.”

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January 21, 2017

I watched most of the inauguration yesterday. Trump’s acceptance speech is certainly one to remember, if only for the difference in tone as compared with prior acceptance speeches. No, “With malice towards none . . . .” No, “Ask what you can do for your country.” Rather, “America First” with a fist bump, shame on the elite in Washington, and the promise that the “forgotten people” will be forgotten no more.

I don’t know if Trump will keep his promise to the folks in fly-over land or not. His initial actions and his choices for Cabinet seem to belie that.

It will be interesting to see how the protests go today. Yesterdays’ were marked by violence. Protests are fine and good, but rioting in the streets is not.

Over the course of the campaign, many came to see Trump supporters as racist reprobates who eagerly await the arrival of their KKK membership card and hood. No doubt many may be. But, I suspect that a good percentage of them are pretty much just like the rest of us: White, brown, black, red, yellow, male, female, educated, not particularly educated, a few LBGT, etc. They are not, I think, the “deplorables” vacuously cited by Hillary. May I describe one?

Last weekend, we went to the Chicago area to celebrate Christmas and Molly’s birthday with Geoff et al. On Sunday, we drove home. On the way, we stopped at a Culver’s in Mauston, WI. Mauston is about 75 miles north of Madison on the interstate, is the seat of Juneau County, and has a population of about 4500.  It is fly over. On Sunday’s after church, it seems that Culvers is the place to be for lunch. It was packed. We sat near several tables populated by friends and obvious family members.

One group got up to leave after finishing the burgers and fried fish. The leader of the particular table was a farmer, dressed in his Sunday best; off the rack suit and tie, plain black shoes, nothing stylistic. His grandson who appeared to be about 13 or 14 also wore a coat and tie, and had his hair slicked down and parted on the side. They obviously had been to church. In all, they were good, solid, working citizens – common folk.

On the way out, the farmer got into a conversation with a friend at another table, and in the course of the conversation recounted how a recent windstorm had damaged his barn; part of the roof and one end wall had been taken down. He told his neighbor that he reported the damage to his insurance agent and was told that his policy would cover the loss only if the damage exceeded 60% of the value of the barn. The agent advised him that the company had changed the terms of the contract sometime in the last couple of years. He had been paying some $1500 per year for several years and told the agent that he could have been putting money towards the repair instead of wasting in on an insurance policy that would not cover his loss.

A couple of things struck me. First, he had a bad agent. Why in the world would the agent not have highlighted the contract change? A good agent would have cemented the relationship with his client by working with him to obtain appropriate coverage. Second, what kind of insurance company sells policies that only cover catastrophic losses? Would anyone buy car insurance that would only pay if the car were totaled?

And third, this: Here was a guy, a family man, a church goer, a hard worker, a citizen who values his neighbors and his community, who lives in mid-America in a small town, etc., who has been screwed by those in whom he has placed his trust. Guess who I think he voted for, and why?

Trump has made promises to him and to folks like him. Time will tell if the Donald holds true to that promise.

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19 April – 10 May 2016 Eastern Europe with David and Jane Kostik

About a year ago, we talked with David and Jane Kostik about a trip through Eastern Europe. We had traveled with them to Italy (and saw my relatives) and France. This was to be another opportunity to travel with them, and for Dave to touch base with relatives is Slovakia. We had several planning sessions, and decided on a final itinerary. Ann and I left MSP on the 19th of April, and met Dave and Jane in Berlin as our tour started. Not counting our transfer in Amsterdam, we did 6 countries and 8 cities in just under 3 weeks.

The trip was one of Sightseeing in the cities and Slovakian countryside, Culture and Art in several museums (we saw 5 Vermeers, several Rembrandts, our favorite painting “Sistine Madonna” by Raphael, one of three oils by daVinci “Lady with an Ermine”), Family and Relational as Dave found relatives in Slovakia, Geographic as we learned about Slovakia and it people and history, and Remembrance of the Holocaust as we visited Holocaust memorials in all the cities, and toured the camps at Terezin, Auschwitz, and Birkenau, Schindler’s factory and the ghetto in Krakow.

In addition to the above, we enjoyed a variety of wonderful local food – sausage, veal schnitzel, kraut, dumplings, cheese, bread – and drink – slivovitz both pear and plum, and a lot of local beer both pilsner and porter.

Most of our travel was by train between the cities, but we did drive from Bratislava to Bardejov to Krakow.

This was a trip to remember.

Lest anyone think we dogged it, our itinerary follows:

Berlin (4 nights)

  • Dinner at Brecht’s, Kaiserschmarren dessert
  • Rick Steves’ walking tour
    • Brandenburg Gate
    • Pariser Platz
    • DZ Bank Bldg
      • Gherey designed lobby
    • Memorial to Murdered Jews
      • German government has admitted it was murder
    • Fuhrer Bunker
    • Unter den Linden
    • Babel Platz and Hedwig Church
      • Burned books
    • Neue Wache memorial
    • Berliner Dom
    • Friedrichstrasse
    • National Museum and Nefertiti bust
      • Bucket list for Annie
    • DDR Museum
    • Marx & Engels statue
    • Alexanderplatz
  • Gemaldegalerie
    • Rembrandts, Raphael, and 2 Vermeers
  • Reichstag Dome
  • Bauhaus Museum
  • Brohan Museum

Dresden (day trip on the way to Prague)

  • Zwinger Museum and Gemaldegalerie
    • Rembrandts, Sistine Madonna, 2 Vermeers
  • Frauenkirche
  • Walk along promenade

Prague (4 nights)

  • Rick Steves’ Walking Tour
    • Wenceslas Square
    • Hotel Europa Velvet Revolution
    • Lucerna Arcade
    • Franciscan Garden
    • Mustek
    • NaPrikope Street
    • Municipal House
    • Powder Tower
    • Celetna Street
    • Old Town Square
      • Hus Statue
      • Astronomical Clock
      • Karlova Street
      • Charles IV Square
      • Charles Bridge
    • Mucha Museum
    • St Vitus Cathedral and the Castle
      • Mass at St. George Basilica
    • Terezin (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp
      • Memorial to the assassins of Reinhard Heydrich
      • Concentration Camp
      • Fortress (Prison and crematory)
        • Sadist guards
      • Jewish Quarter
        • Old New Synagogue (oldest in Europe)
        • nb: Hitler preserved the Jewish Quarter in Prague as what was to be a museum to an extinguished race
      • Prague City Museum, Mucha’s “Slavic Epic”
      • Museum of Communism (hard to find because the Reds don’t understand marketing and advertising)

Vienna (3 nights)

  • Stephen’s Cathedral
  • Klimt search (FG went to Secession Museum and Belvidere Palace)
  • Kunst Historisches Museum
    • Rembrandts, Caravaggio’s, Raphael, Brueghel, Vermeer (our 5th)
  • Ringstrasse Tram Tour
  • Rick Steves’ Walk
    • Climbed the tower at St. Stephens (FG 347 tightly wound circular steps)
    • Peter’s Church
  • Hofburg Palace
    • Sisi Museum and Imperial Apartments
    • Albertina Museum
      • Monet, Kandinsky, Marc Chagall
    • The Prater (amusement park with the giant Ferris wheel (“The Third Man”)

Budapest (1 night)

  • Parliament tour
  • Holocaust memorial – shoes by the river
  • Mathias Church and plaza
  • Istvan Cathedral
  • Evening river cruise

Bratislava (1 night)

  • Walked the old town
  • Met Dave’s cousin Maruska and family
  • Castle

Bardejov, Slovakia (3 nights) (travel from Bratislava to Krakow was by car – 503 miles total)

  • A well preserved UNESCO sight for the old town and its walls and basilica
  • World War I cemetery
  • Egidius Cathedral
  • Scenic drive across Slovakia
  • Point of the visit to Slovakia in general and Bardejov in particular was for Dave to find his relatives. His father’s family and his mother’s family came from the region around Bardejov, and we visited several villages and in particular, Becherov. We met and were treated to wonderful hospitality by several of Dave’s relatives. They were as happy to see and have a visit from David and Jane, as David and Jane were to visit them. Ann and I were blessed to be able to tag along. Many thanks to Peter who translated for us.

Krakow (4 nights)

  • Main square
    • Several meals and music
    • Cloth Hall
    • City Tower
  • Mary’s Basilica
  • Fabryka Emalia Oskara Schindlera (Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory) at 4 Lipowa Street
  • The Ghetto and original wall
  • Jewish Quarter
  • Pharmacy under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orlem – Tadeusz Pankiewicz)
  • Auschwitz Concentration Camp
  • Birkenau Death Camp
  • Walwel (the fortress and castle)
    • Feast of St. Stanislaus procession
    • Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine”
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I just read the most fascinating article in the November 16, 2015 “America” magazine. It is by William O’Malley, S.J. and is entitled “On Being and Becoming.”

I commend it to your consideration.

Perhaps I liked it so much because it supports what I generally believe about God and God’s presumed or supposed immutability. In his penultimate paragraph, O’Malley writes,

One consistent divine quality this reverie jeopardizes is God’s immutability. He seems not only the God of being but of becoming. When we dare speak of “the greater glory” of God, we imply God can be “improved”: infinity plus one. However those with flexible minds that accept the Confucian Tao and the quantum principle of complementarity yield to a God clearly prone to paradox and into improving. If such a God sets his mind to it, he ought to be able to accommodate both being and becoming.

I hope you find it as interesting and though provoking as did I.


FG 11/16/15



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The Law

If your job troubles your conscience, your only rational and ethical choice in the matter is to quit.
When I was first starting out in my career, I joined the local chapter of the Jaycees. One of the tenents of the organization was (is) that the US is a “Nation of Laws, not of Men.”
This means to me that our activities are governed by a set of rules democratically chosen, and which represent the sense of the broad public. They are changeable only by a process that takes into account many viewpoints. In contrast, the best example of a nation of Men is Nazi Germany where the rules were formulated by a single clique, and were subject to the whim of a particular individual.
Here, we don’t have the luxury – if it is a luxury – to choose which laws to follow. Our duty as citizens is to respect the laws in place, and if we disagree, work to change.
The only rational and ethical choice presented to the Clerk in Kentucky is to issue the licenses in accord with the law as the oath she took mandates her to do, or quit her job.
She is not being persecuted for her religious beliefs. She’s in trouble because she doesn’t want to do her job, or in the alternative, quit.

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Homage to an expert in the field

Some of my friends do not share my fandom for Pro Football. That’s okay with me, and I respect their choice. That said I happen to like the New England Patriots a lot (I like the Seahawks too) and was happy that the Pats won the game. I especially like the Patriots because I have a huge respect and admiration for Bill Belichick. He is a masterful professional, an expert in his craft.

Whether or not a person likes football, one ought to admire a person who is one of the best at what he does. This holds true for football coaching, lawyering, painting, raising kids or whatever the field of endeavor is.

You all know what happened during the last few seconds of the game on Sunday. A rookie safety, Malcolm Butler made an amazing interception against the Seahawks and prevented a sure win by Seattle.

Now, let’s put the pieces together and see why I have such admiration for Belichick’s ability: During the Patriot’s practice during the week before the game, they practiced that play. Anticipating that the Seahawks might use that formation sometime during the game, the Pats practiced how to defend it. One of the Patriots in practice scored against Butler with that formation. Belicheck, as reported by Jim Souhan in Monday’s STrib, “pulled Butler aside.” “Bill said, ‘Now you know what to do,’ Butler said.” The coach made sure that his player knew the possibilities and how to react to them. It’s an example of a master of the craft practicing the art.

That’s a reason to respect and admire Bill Belicheck.

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Intentional Family

A friend of mine, Laura Davis, recently posted on Facebook an article about intentionality in the selection of friends, and the importance of friends in one’s life. That got me to thinking about the nature of friend and family.

Back in the dark ages of the late 70’s we moved here from a far-away land called Ohio. There were three of us, and one on the way. We left family and came to Minnesota with a group of fellow employees, and a very few connections with the state. Accordingly, we began the process of finding new friends and building what Ann calls ‘intentional’ family. For example, Agnes Mae and Leonard Linn, became surrogate grandparents for our sons. Over the years we have added and cultivated and enjoyed some lasting friendships.

We do have family; son and granddaughter here, son and family in Chicago, a brother, uncle and aunt, and cousins in Stark County, Ohio, a cousin in Cincinnati, sister and nephews in Charlotte, cousins in Raleigh and Tucson. Except for the MNs, we rarely see them. So, the intentional family is so very important to us.

Some are like sisters and brothers. Some are like beloved nieces and nephews. Some are like cousins, more or less distant. And, of course, some are like good and close friends. Last night we spent time with some (but not all) of the closest, a sister and brother, beloved nieces and nephews, and some great cousins. Sunday and New Year’s Eve we will spend some time with other intentional relatives.

So, my thinking leads me to believe that it is vitally important to know and have good friends, because we can’t always be with family family. And, I am also led to reflect how very blessed and fortunate I am to have such a wonderful group of friends and intentional family. You all know who you are, and I thank you and love you.

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