Hide/Reek?: Catholic Staten Island Politician Hangs Disgusting Toilet-Bowl Portrait of Brooklyn Museum Director in His Office
Like many artists, Staten Island painter Scott LoBaido wanted to get one of his works into the Brooklyn Museum. He didn't succeed. Of course, the content of the artist's painting — a slime-slicked portrait of a miniature Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman perched on the edge of a toilet bowl — didn't help. But it was also the way he approached the museum with his work: namely, by running into a gallery with the canvas under his arm and attempting to hang it himself, guerrilla-style.
LoBaido's actions were in protest of the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition of "Hide/Seek," an exhibition exploring queer themes throughout art history that attracted controversy at the Smithsonian because of its inclusion of David Wojnarowicz's "A Fire in My Belly," a video that features a shot of ants crawling over a plastic crucifixion. The imagery attracted the ire of right-wing Christian groups, who labeled it as blasphemous and mounted pressure to have the work censored from the show — successfully, to the enduring shame of Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough. The art world was enraged.
At the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, however, the divisive work has been restored. LoBaido, as a Catholic, didn't like it, and thus created the severely unflattering portrait. After the museum denied entrance to LoBaido's work, Staten Island borough president James P. Molinaro showily installed the disgusting, technically undistinguished painting in the waiting-room of his own wood-paneled office. "This is a true piece of art," Molinaro, a practicing Catholic, told Staten Island Live. "It's very fitting for this office." The piece, which "perfectly sums up Molinaro's own feelings about the museum exhibit," will be displayed in his office "for a while," the borough president said.
In turn, the artist was "very excited that one of my original paintings has been hung on loan here in this prestigious, beautiful office of the borough president." LoBaido and Molinaro invited Lehman to the piece's unveiling, but the director replied by fax that he had a previous engagement. The Brooklyn Museum did not immediately respond to ARTINFO's request for further comment on the portrait's hanging.
Slimeball portrait or not, the Wojnarowicz video isn't going anywhere. The museum's "Hide/Seek" exhibition has drawn further praise for its subtle look at a hidden side of art history, and for its unwillingness to bow to censorship.