Although art may sometimes shock us, so do many recent attempts to regulate it. Increasingly contemporary art displays new values and beliefs that may disturb or even frighten viewers.
In Chicago, a painting of the late Mayor Harold Washington in women's underwear was seized by outraged politicians and the police. The National Endowment for the Arts rescinded funds it had pledged to a New York City exhibit confronting the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. The Corcoran Gallery balked at mounting a retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs, some of which depicted homoerotic scenes or nude children. In Florida, a music store owner and 2 Live Crew were prosecuted for the alleged obscenity of a record album.
Drawing upon extensive interviews, a broad sampling of media accounts, legal documents and his own observations of important events, Steven Dubin surveys visual art, photography and film, as well as artistic upstarts such as video and performance art. He examines both the nature of art work which disarms its viewers and the social reaction to it--the dual meaning of arresting images. Dubin combines the eye of someone familiar with art and the rigor of a social scientist with insights about contemporary society and politics.
Dubin (sociology, SUNY) combines sociological and aesthetic approaches in this survey of major altercations in the ongoing culture wars. He examines cases chiefly from the visual arts and photography, beginning with the heated dispute over the portrait of Mayor Washington of Chicago in 1988. His selections all exhibit the crucial elements of a social controversy: a sense of threatened values and subsequent attempts by power groups to mobilize in response to these threats. Dubin views censorship as a social process initiated by both the political right and the political left and takes a hard look at the infighting and conflict among artists themselves over freedom of expression. Although it covers familiar territory, Arresting Images provides a fresh look at the social, political, and psychological forces influencing the American art world today. Recommended.-- Jacqueline Adams, Carroll Cty. P.L., Westminster, Md.