While it is probably not the first time that artwork has been suppressed from the annual New York State Fair Photography Exhibition for annoying someone’s delicate sensibilities, it’s probably the first time that a piece of award-winning artwork has been yanked during the Fair for non-obscene content.
That’s right, it wasn’t being censored because of the blow-up doll: it was being censored because of the cigarette. I have only one thing to say about Dan O’Hara’s censorship of artist work at the New York State Fair: What will our fine new Syracuse arts community have to say about this? (Nothing?)
Honestly, I’ve never heard of anything so ludicrous in all my years of Fairgoing. It’s also ironic. You’d think it would be the image of the blow-up doll (in all its gape-mouthed glory) that would have prompted some conservative Republican prude to scream for it to be taken down. Nope, it was Spitzer’s own appointee, Dan O’Hara, Democrat of Baldwinsville, who decided that artistic expression can also be sacrificed to his narrow agenda of banning smoking from a Fairgrounds that has sat next to industrial smokestacks for over 100 years. (Although, it could possibly be that O’Hara is just a well-meaning fellow who really can’t tell the difference between artistic expression and “advertising.” I’m trying to be charitable here.)
But honestly, on second thought, it’s the contempt for art itself that really “shines” through. Agenda over human expression. (The artist apparently wasn’t even contacted!)
O’Hara wants to stamp out smoking in our lifetimes, even if means stamping out elderly Fairgoers who are courteous about their smoking and are highly unlikely to quit at this point in their lives (that’s coming soon, if not next year), and he thinks that banning the sale of tobacco products at this year’s Fair was a good start. Banning smoking in the Grandstand would also be also a start. Fine: I can certainly understand where people trapped in assigned seats would want to not be afflicted by secondhand smoke.
However, if you think O’Hara wants to stop there, think again. I especially loved his disingenuous remark about how banning the sale of tobacco on the Fairgrounds didn’t seem to stop people from smoking, so maybe they’ll try something else next year. Uh yeah, Dan. Like this all isn’t part of a program. Uh-huh.
I guess censoring artwork and photography is the next logical step in the program.
Sorry, this bugs me. I am a nonsmoker, but I paint as a hobby and do other crafty things – albeit, nothing so socially dangerous as blow-up dolls with ciggies – and have often wondered if I might enter something into the Fair someday. Maybe I should stop wondering: if what I produce doesn’t fit O’Hara’s vision of what’s a safe and seemly image for New Yorkers to gaze upon, I’d probably suffer the same fate as Ms. Chalone.
Updated: A few letters in the Post-Standard this morning about this, including this one, which includes an astonishing quote from O’Hara (who, it turns out, personally took the photograph off the wall).
I saw the director’s response on the Syracuse NBC Channel 3 News. When asked about the artist contract clause that states, “Under no circumstances, will any winners be allowed to be removed from exhibition before the end of the fair,” he replied, “I am the director and I can over rule policy.”
This person is not experienced enough to properly handle the power he was entrusted with.