The Spectre of Karl Marx Hits Winnipeg

by Art Fag City on July 31, 2008 · 10 comments Newswire

winnipeg.jpg
Image via Rise and Sprawl

Canadians give a shit about Karl Marx, or least that’s the way it would seem after few local citizens in Winnipeg forced the removal of the figure from a mural depicting Eastern European immigrants in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. Rise and Sprawl, a Winnipeg blog first to take critical stance on the mural, noted that while the image would adorn a shop selling public auto insurance, one of the most visible legacies of Manitoba’s long history of social democratic governments, sprung at least in part from the labour radicalism of 1919, it has little connection with Karl Marx.

Kelsey Shwetz, the 21 year old university student who came up with the concept for a larger inner-city beautification project, refuses to comment on whether she resisted her patron’s injunction, or whether the man in the mural was supposed to be Karl Marx. Not that her refusal to identify the man means much of anything; anyone with a whit of sense can match the first Google image result with her image.

On the subject of her resistance however, her unwillingness to reveal her position suggests a slightly more unimpassioned connection to Mr. Marx than the level of controversy suggests. The Globe and Mail‘s Joe Friesen initially intimates as much, describing a her purely by the objects she’s bought.

“…her eyes hidden behind gold-rimmed Ray Bans, with iPod headphones dangling from her ears.”

Friesen however, goes on to blow that moment saying,

Ms. Shwetz’s struggle echoes the battle over Mexican painter Diego Rivera’s mural Man at the Crossroads, commissioned for the lobby of the RCA building at Rockefeller Center in New York in 1933. The piece included a scene of a workers’ demonstration, with Vladimir Lenin at its centre. The Rockefellers objected to Lenin’s presence and asked that his image be replaced with that of an unknown man. They couldn’t reach an agreement and the mural had to be destroyed.

We don’t even know if there was a struggle. She hasn’t said. What’s more, the public debate around a mature artist’s mural commissioned for the Rockefeller Center is not equivalent to that of an art student. Neither the context nor artistic merit are comparable. Apparently a Facebook group to protest the removal of the Marx figure has been started, though frankly, I couldn’t care less. I’d pick up the “artistic freedom” torch if I thought there was enough thought put into the project to warrant it, but there’s no reason to engage a public debate in which one party refuses to make the intellectual investment it takes to issue a statement.

Link via: Mooney on Theatre

  • Errol Naumko

    I live in Winnipeg, and I’ve been following the mural debate intimately since it began.

    Your post contains many innacuracies — for example, Kelsey Shwetz is not a “school program councillor,” a mistake you made by misreading the Globe and Mail caption — but you get the general situation across.

    Joe Friesen suggested that Ms. Shwetz’s mural parrallels the Diego Rivera debacle, not that it is “comparable.” I think the observation was accurate.

    Remember, though, as Mr. Friesen pointed out, the Rivera mural was destroyed. You claim you “couldn’t care less” (a statement belied by your post’s very existence) about the Winnipeg mural because the artist doesn’t take a stand.

    Would taking a stand before the mural is completed be worth the Rivera work’s fate?

    I suggest that, maybe, the artist cares more about making art than making a controversy.

  • Errol Naumko

    I live in Winnipeg, and I’ve been following the mural debate intimately since it began.

    Your post contains many innacuracies — for example, Kelsey Shwetz is not a “school program councillor,” a mistake you made by misreading the Globe and Mail caption — but you get the general situation across.

    Joe Friesen suggested that Ms. Shwetz’s mural parrallels the Diego Rivera debacle, not that it is “comparable.” I think the observation was accurate.

    Remember, though, as Mr. Friesen pointed out, the Rivera mural was destroyed. You claim you “couldn’t care less” (a statement belied by your post’s very existence) about the Winnipeg mural because the artist doesn’t take a stand.

    Would taking a stand before the mural is completed be worth the Rivera work’s fate?

    I suggest that, maybe, the artist cares more about making art than making a controversy.

  • Art Fag City

    Errol,

    If you want to parse this post for what you think are inaccuracies you are more than welcome to do so, but at least get it right. At no point did Joe Friesen use the word “parallel”, he used the word “echo”. In either case, evoking the name of artist to point out a similarity in situation suggests a comparable event, and this is EXACTLY what Friesen did.

    When I said “I couldn’t care less”, I was speaking specifically about the facebook group established due to perceived impingements on artistic freedoms. I maintain my position: I don’t want to engage in a debate on that subject with this story. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest the artist has any investment in the debate. Indeed, SHE’S MADE NO STATEMENT.

    My text now indicates Shwetz is a student. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Art Fag City

    Errol,

    If you want to parse this post for what you think are inaccuracies you are more than welcome to do so, but at least get it right. At no point did Joe Friesen use the word “parallel”, he used the word “echo”. In either case, evoking the name of artist to point out a similarity in situation suggests a comparable event, and this is EXACTLY what Friesen did.

    When I said “I couldn’t care less”, I was speaking specifically about the facebook group established due to perceived impingements on artistic freedoms. I maintain my position: I don’t want to engage in a debate on that subject with this story. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest the artist has any investment in the debate. Indeed, SHE’S MADE NO STATEMENT.

    My text now indicates Shwetz is a student. Thanks for the heads up.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ L.M.

    Errol’s suggestion that the artist is more interested in making art than making controversy bypasses the fact that a cultural producer participates in the culture, and in particular this piece was dealing with an historically charged subject.

    Most of the time, as an artist I’m not inclined to explain myself (mostly because my activities are inexcusable), but sometimes what’s necessary isn’t so much a formal statement but a willingness to enter into a dialogue when my work’s misunderstood or even threatened. A lot of the comments and arguments on those links you provide were interesting, I’d want to be part of that conversation if it was my work. But ultimately we’re talking about a young artist under attack for the first time and having been there myself on occasion, I can safely say that it’s nerve-wracking.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ L.M.

    Errol’s suggestion that the artist is more interested in making art than making controversy bypasses the fact that a cultural producer participates in the culture, and in particular this piece was dealing with an historically charged subject.

    Most of the time, as an artist I’m not inclined to explain myself (mostly because my activities are inexcusable), but sometimes what’s necessary isn’t so much a formal statement but a willingness to enter into a dialogue when my work’s misunderstood or even threatened. A lot of the comments and arguments on those links you provide were interesting, I’d want to be part of that conversation if it was my work. But ultimately we’re talking about a young artist under attack for the first time and having been there myself on occasion, I can safely say that it’s nerve-wracking.

  • Art Fag City

    L.M. You’ve taken a more compassionate position than me, which I appreciate. It might have been a good thing to include something like that in the post.

  • Art Fag City

    L.M. You’ve taken a more compassionate position than me, which I appreciate. It might have been a good thing to include something like that in the post.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ L.M.

    Except that ultimately I agree with the last line in your post.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ L.M.

    Except that ultimately I agree with the last line in your post.

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