Special Report

Avant-Ghraib

Enlightened liberalism’s ups and downs in Sunni, er, sunny San Francisco.

By 6.2.04

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Conservative satire never eclipses life in the progressive precincts of America. As predicted, Abu Ghraib is now avant-ghraib -- fodder for "progressive" art amongst the National Endowment for the Arts set. By May 16, Guy Colwell, a painter from Berkeley, had slapped together "a black-and-white painting depicting three hooded and naked men undergoing electric shock torture by American soldiers," reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

But Nancy Pelosi won't get a chance to view Colwell's contribution to modern art. At least not until it winds its way to the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. After North Beach gallery owner Lori Haigh hung Colwell's painting, she "began receiving the first of about 200 angry voice mails, e-mails and death threats," reports the Chronicle. She found "broken glass, eggs and trash strewn outside her storefront." A week ago, a "man walked into the gallery and spat in Haigh's face," which prompted Haigh to "consider giving up on her dream of owning an art gallery." She called it a day after "another man knocked on the door of the gallery and then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose and causing a concussion."

Modern art is supposed to provoke, but things were getting out of hand. As the Chronicle puts it, the controversy at the Capobianco Gallery was "more than Haigh ever imagined. She opened the studio 1 1/2 years ago, hoping to display the works of important and possibly controversial modern artists." Haigh is "disappointed" in her fellow San Franciscans. "I don't want to have a gallery if I can't show artists like Guy Colwell. Their art reflects the world around them, and if I have to resort to showing Thomas Kinkade the rest of my life, I'm not interested in doing that."

North Beach artists and First Amendment activists defended the Abu Ghraib art this past weekend. "The people came out in support of Lori and in support of freedom of expression because that's what is really being attacked here," North Beach poet Jack Hirschman said to the Chronicle. "The attack is not only on the gallery but on the art. If they close, it's not just (one artist) that is censored but all artists."

North Beach gallery owner Daniel Macchiarini declared San Francisco occupied territory. "When this can happen in the middle of North Beach in San Francisco, where people always expressed themselves, it means Iraq is not the only place being occupied," he said to the Chronicle. What's next? E.L. Doctorow getting booed at City Lights?

BUT LIBERAL ENLIGHTENMENT SURGED back into San Francisco this week. Phyllis Hamilton, a federal judge based in San Francisco, declared laws against partial-birth torture and killing "unconstitutional." The Associated Press, to its credit, reported precisely what Hamilton gave Planned Parenthood protection to keep doing: "the living fetus is partially removed from the womb, and its skull is punctured or crushed." Then with continued surprising specificity AP reported that abortionists consider crushing neater -- or a "safer" solution -- than "a conventional abortion, in which the fetus is dismembered in the womb and then removed in pieces." (Other outlets, by comparison, made sure to keep things general and lard their reports with ebullient quotes from abortionists.)

Hamilton was in no mood to implement the Geneva Convention at Planned Parenthood clinics. She "agreed with abortion rights activists that a woman's right to choose is paramount, and that it is therefore 'irrelevant' whether a fetus suffers pain, as abortion foes contend," reported AP. This bears repeating: Hamilton wouldn't even consider the pain of the child, regarding it as "irrelevant."

When will avant-garde abortion and the pain of unborn children capture the imagination of modern artists? If North Beach artists want to spur progress away from barbarism, they should sketch abortions at San Francisco Planned Parenthood clinics as graphically as they portray torture at Abu Ghraib.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.