Demonstrators call for removal of controversial art exhibit

By The Associated Press
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 29, 1996

PHOENIX - An estimated 2,500 demonstrators gathered yesterday outside the Phoenix Art Museum to call for the removal of a controversial exhibit that includes an American flag stitched from human flesh and another draped in a toilet.

But museum spokeswoman Amy Carr said officials do not intend to close the exhibit - or remove certain pieces - before the scheduled end of its run on June 16.

''Artists who are showing this work are responding to events in their time. Some of the events were disturbing and that's probably why those pieces are disturbing to some people,'' said Carr.

The exhibit, entitled ''Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art,'' has been on display since March 16 and been seen by more than 15,000 people but also has been met by daily protesters.

The exhibit also prompted corporate sponsors to withdraw their support from the 37-year-old museum.

Of the display's 80 pieces, a handful have been singled out by opponents as contemptible.

One, called ''The America Dream Goes to Pot,'' featuring the flag and a toilet bowl, was created in 1970 by artist Kate Millet as a protest of the Vietnam War.

Another piece, created in 1992 by an artist whose parents were in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, shows dyed human hair and flesh sewn in the form of an American flag.

''We find this display of hateful disrespect for the flag truly objectionable,'' said retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, a former Congressional Medal of Honor winner who is chairman of the Citizens Flag Alliance Inc.

The alliance is a national coalition of more than 100 organizations working to pass a constitutional amendment to return to the people the right to protect the flag from physical desecration.

Yesterday's protest was a peaceful one. Many of the demonstrators were American Legion members from around the state.

''This is not just a veterans' protest. It's a protest for everybody who loves our flag,'' said Al Tercero, commander of American Legion Post 6 in Prescott.

''Every time we allow the flag to be dishonored, we take another step towards becoming an America where 'anything goes,''' added Brady.

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich have previously called for the exhibit to close. So have Sen. John McCain and Rep. Bob Stump, both Arizona Republicans and combat veterans.

Carr said the museum ''respects everyone's reaction to the exhibit, especially those who fought for our right of freedom of expression.''

She acknowledged that per-week attendance had increased by 800 since the exhibit opened, but noted that the museum is a nonprofit organization which does not charge admission.