“Dubious Display” Of Contemporary Art Stars Opens In Venice

Red-hot contemporary sculptor Jeff Koons among 19 artists featured in Italian museum’s latest exhibition, which runs through Dec. 31, 2012.

<--break->Koons' Hanging Heart features prominently in Venice exhibition
<--break->Koons' Hanging Heart features prominently in Venice exhibition
Rocco Moliterni

VENICE - With has short hair, grey suit and tie, Jeff Koons could be mistaken for a Wall Street trader. Indeed that's what he was before becoming an internationally-renowned artist. Watching him pose for a picture below his giant Hanging Heart sculpture – which sold at an auction in 2007 for a record $23 million, and now dominates the last room in Venice's Punta della Dogana Museum – it's easy, in fact, to doubt whether Koons really is an artist.

Having doubts here is normal. Indeed, the museum's curator, Caroline Bourgeois, titled the current exhibition "In Praise of Doubt." The display opened April 10 and features pieces from French fashion tycoon François Pinault's permanent collection.

The exhibition at Punta della Dogana Museum, which was brilliantly designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, displays the works of 19 artists from the last 50 years. Among the doubts it raises is whether artists from several decades ago were better able to question art and the wider world than their contemporary heirs.

An example is Ed Kienholz's Roxys, designed in the 1960s. The artwork reenacts a brothel for soldiers during World War II. In more recent work, it is almost impossible to find this same uneasiness and torment, combined with a fierce criticism of machismo and war. The post-surrealist Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers grapples with the theme of war too. His Décor (1975) is a comparison of conflicts from different ages. Broodthaers combines cannons, rifles, an ironic sun umbrella, and a puzzle of the Battle of Waterloo.

A piece by the octogenarian Elaine Sturtevant consists of a room with a vault made of jute bags over many reproductions of artwork by Marcel Duchamp. Her take on the dadaist and surrealist master is more articulate than a similarly themed piece by India's Subodh Gupta, whose Et tu Duchamp is just a black bronze sculpture of a bearded Mona Lisa. Still, Gupta's sculpture, which consists of pots and spoons, at least encompasses a certain depth that is noticeably lacking in the pots and spoons Jeff Koons has hanging form a child's lifejacket in one of his works.

Bruce Nauman's video Clown Torture, created in the 1980s, still makes an impact, as does a room dedicated to Donald Judd, a big name in1960s minimalism. Roni Horn's piece Well and Truly conveys a similar sense of gravity, though it is even more esoteric than the Judd exhibition.

Maurizio Cattelan's All (2008) is always upsetting. The line of corpses covered by marble blankets is all too reminiscent of the bodies of the migrants who drowned when a boat carrying them to Europe capsized last week south of Sicily. Blankets also play a key role in Thomas Schütte's Efficiency Men (2005), which features a disturbing parade of cloaked monsters. Another of Schütte's sculptures, Vater Staat, dominates the square opposite the nearby Chiesa della Salute.

The exhibition has its letdowns. Work by young artist Adel Abdessemed, so promising in past shows, here seems dull. Two years ago, in Turin, Abdessemed exhibited some very strong videos. Here his Taxidermy consists of the hearts of stuffed animals, and his sign Grève mondiale uses a neon light just for the sake of it. Thomas Houseago is another example. His sculptures were monumental in 2009, at the Belgian exhibition Beaufort03, and in 2010, at the fair Art Basel Miami Beach. In this exhibitoin they are simply lacking.

In the end, one is left with a lingering doubt about whether it is possible to combine the needs of a themed exhibition and the needs of a permanent collection as opulent and impressive as François Pinault's.

Read the original article in Italian.

Photo - Achimh

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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