Scents And Shivers (exhibition)
Region: North America
Medium: Exhibition, Mixed Media
Artist: Bill Paul
Confronting Bodies: The Christian Coalition; various U.S. politicians
Dates of Action: 1991
Location: Valencia, Florida
Description of Artwork: In February 1991 an instillation of Bill Paul’s work appeared in the art gallery at Valencia Community College in Florida. In this exhibit, Paul wanted to represent the parallels he saw between the politics of AIDS and the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany. His Valencia exhibit dealt with difficult topics – male nudity, death, man’s inhumanity to man. One piece featured an old suitcase stuffed with phallic shapes, covered in tar and piled to suggest bodies stacked up in the German concentration camps. Another of Paul’s works exhibited was a tribute to a man who had committed suicide, and died alone with no one to claim his ashes. Paul decided to give his remains a home. He put the ashes in an old jar and scattered broken glass beneath them as a reference to kristallnacht, the infamous “night of broken glass,” when Nazi’s smashed synagogue windows and stores in Jewish neighborhoods. Thinking the man might have been thinking about religion before he committed suicide, Paul’s tribute also included a set of photos of a nude Christ figure with a crown of thorns.
The Incident: A clerical worker at Valencia, shocked by the male nudity and the references to Christianity, charged that Paul’s work was blasphemous and anti-Christian. The clerical worker contacted local ministers including George Crossley and John Butler Book who then contacted the Christian Coalition. The Christian Coalition sent out a mass-mailing to supporters about the exhibit. The organization also took photographs of part of the exhibit, prominently featuring the male nudes, and sent them to state legislators and Governor Lawton Chiles. Many of the politicians who saw the photos, including Chiles, were aghast. Despite never seeing Paul’s exhibit, Chiles took action against it; he wrote to Secretary of State Jim Smith asking him to “ensure that future exhibits of this nature will not be paid for by the taxpayers”.
Results of Incident: The Christian Coalition convinced U.S. citizens and political figures that Paul’s art is pornographic, homoerotic and anti-Christian, and as such should not be sponsored by U.S. taxpayers. As a result, it has become more and more difficult for controversial artists to be awarded grants.