Secret Service Inspects Art Exhibit
April 7 was opening night for a new exhibit at the Glass Curtain Gallery of Columbia College Chicago.
Two Secret Service agents paid a visit just before the doors opened to the public.
They were not art aficionados.
They were there to inspect the exhibit, which is called "Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin."
The exhibit consists of depictions of political postage stamps about such topics as racism, violence, torture, the Catholic Church, George Bush, John Ashcroft, and the Iraq War. Forty-seven artists, including some from Canada, England, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia, and Uruguay, contributed to the traveling exhibit.
The agents "took photos of some of the works and asked for the artists' contact information, said CarolAnn Brown, the gallery's director," the AP reported. "Brown said the agents were most interested in Chicago artist Al Brandtner's work titled "Patriot Act," which depicted a sheet of mock 37-cent red, white, and blue stamps showing a revolver pointed at Bush's head."
To see that stamp and other works in the exhibit, go to: http://cspaces.colum.edu/spaces/glass_curtain_gallery.
(Brandtner did not return phone calls from the AP or The Progressive for comment.)
The day after the opening, a Secret Service agent called the gallery, again seeking contact information for Brandtner, according to the Daily Southtown. She did not provide it, the paper said.
The Secret Service agents also told Brown to have Michael Hernandez de Luna, the curator of the exhibit, contact them within 24 hours, the paper reported.
Hernandez told the AP that the Secret Service inspection "frightens" him. "It starts questioning all rights, not only my rights or the artists' rights in this room, but questioning the rights of any artist. It seems like we're being watched."
Micki Leventhal, the director of media relations for Columbia College Chicago, backs the exhibit. "We're an art school," she told the Daily Southtown. "Our position has always been and remains: We support freedom of speech, freedom of artistic expression, and academic freedom."
The Secret Service, meanwhile, defends its inquiry.
"In this particular instance, the artwork was brought to our attention by a private citizen in Chicago," Lorie Lewis, a spokesperson for the Secret Service in Washington, tells The Progressive. "While the Secret Service certainly respects artistic freedom and people's First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of expression, we also have a responsibility to look into exhibits and statements when necessary."
The inquiry may be ongoing.
"I don't know if this inquiry is completed or if we've spoken to everyone we wanted to," Lewis says. "We've looked at the work, and we've asked questions. We haven't confiscated any artwork or questioned anyone against their wishes. We just need to ensure as best we can that this is nothing more than artwork with a political statement."
The exhibit, located at 1104 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, runs through May11.