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ART WATCH : Bad Show

August 06, 1993

The notion is outrageous: using tax money for a public art performance that consists of handing out signed $10 bills to immigrant workers as a "celebration" of their economic contributions to the country. But this is precisely what David Avalos, Louis Hock and Elizabeth Sisco did, not far from the place in San Diego County where three years ago a young migrant was tied up and made to wear a sign reading, in broken Spanish, "get out of here."

It's not the first time these artists have created controversy. In the tradition of artists like writer Andre Breton and painter Marcel Duchamp, they specialize in a type of conceptual art deliberately designed as a provocation. But this "performance" had negative repercussions.

Institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts may suffer because this reinforces the claim that it is incompetent as a custodian of public funds. And the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego and the Centro Cultural de la Raza are left in a precarious situation because they commissioned such a work, although they did not know what the artists planned to do with the money they gave them. Also, this conceptual act adds anti-immigrant feelings to an already roiled environment.

The most damage, however, is to art itself, because this provocation gives a pretext to reactionary members of Congress trying to crack down on the NEA. If this incident contributes to demands for previews of artistic projects before funds are granted, these three artists will have undermined the already weak position of the NEA.

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