Thursday, April 23, 2009

Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise

I just got home from a rally for the artists/teachers who were purged from fine arts at the Parsons School of Design by the new chair of that department, Coco Fusco. (the Times and Artnet stories on the matter are here and here).

Politics sometimes makes for strange bedfellows, and It would appear that Ms. Fusco and the embattled administration of New School President Bob Kerrey are at cross-purposes here, even though their short-term desire to get rid of all the painters and sculptors links up nicely.

The putative reason for the firings were "curricular changes" designed to make the Parsons fine arts department more cutting edge. In the opinion of the dept. chair, none of the twelve adjuncts who got the ax were qualified to teach the courses in her new vision for the department, which will be heavily skewed toward political and critical issues, technology, performance, and other forms that don't rely on more traditional studio practices.

The only problem is that she never asked any of those part-time faculty members if they had the interests or skill sets to teach these courses; they just got an e-mail (not even a phone call), saying they were being cut loose. At today's rally, one of the fired faculty members recalled the story of meeting with Ms. Fusco after receiving his e-mail (he had to arrange the meeting, she apparently didn't feel the need to speak to anyone in person). On her desk there was a reproduction of one of Jenny Holzer's signature lines: "Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise." It should be pointed out that Coco Fusco is a leftist/feminist artist who often takes as her subject the critique of oppressive and illegitimate power structures. Ironic, no?

Ms. Fusco may think that she is going to fill the new vacancies with her own choices, but I suspect the Kerrey administration feels differently. The administration's objectives appear to be twofold: first, weaken the union, which Kerrey never wanted or supported (the part-time faculty union was established in 2005). Their second goal, most agree, is to diminish and perhaps eliminate fine arts altogether. Parsons has been slowly moving toward becoming a high-end trade school for quite some time; minimizing courses which have no demonstrable application to a commercial career, and adding new courses and majors that are specifically job-oriented. This is understandable up to a point given the harsh realities of the 21st century, but it's still Art School after all - it's not as though people don't know what they're signing up for.

And it also brings me back to a point that readers of "No Hassle at the Castle" have heard me make many times: The post-modernist art rebels of the '70's and '80's who felt they were marginalized and ignored by the modernist post-war art establishment have now ascended to the positions of power once held by their oppressors. Once in these positions, their behavior seems shockingly similar to those they unseated. History moves in familiar cycles and to quote a famous artist, it Comes as No Surprise.