Strange as it sounds, this summer’s “must see” art exhibition is a “may not see.” Training Ground for Democracy, a colossal installation by the Swiss artist Christoph Büchel, was to have opened last December at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts (MASS MoCA) in North Adams. But last week, after a series of fitful and last-minute demands by the artist that tripled its cost, the museum cancelled the exhibition and is now pursuing court action against the artist. Until the dispute is resolved, the installation will remain in limbo, roped off from the public—leaving only tantalizing glimpses of objects peeking out forlornly from above the yellow tarps.
Training Ground for Democracy is installed in MASS MoCA’s Building Five, a former mill that measures some 300 by 75 by 40 feet. Over the years, this hangar of a space has invariably affected artists in one of two ways, pushing them either to playfulness or to portentousness. Tim Hawkinson is an example of the first type; in 2000 he filled the gallery with a mad array of sputtering organ pipes, a Dr. Seuss fantasy that he called the Überorgan. Similarly lighthearted was Ann Hamilton’s Corpus (2004), in which machines mounted in the building’s roof truss released sheets of paper, to waft down like autumn leaves. An example of the portentous type is Robert Wilson, whose 14 Stations (2003) made a grim sacred procession out of concentration camp barracks. Büchel’s installation is of this sort.
The CIA is currently attempting to fill a sensitive position that involves temporary “overseas travel.” All applicants for this slot are warned that “friends, family, individuals, or organizations may be interested to learn that you are an applicant for or an employee of the CIA” and that their interest “may not be benign.” Furthermore, one “cannot control whom they would tell.” The CIA therefore urges applicants “to exercise discretion and good judgment” in disclosing their intentions to sign up with the agency.
To get the job, an applicant must successfully complete a psychological exam, a polygraph exam, a polygraph interview, and an extensive background investigation. U.S. citizenship is required.
What is this sensitive job? Three hints.
Eighteen years ago today, elements of the vicious 27th Army were mopping up scattered resistance in the center of Beijing. Most of the fighting occurred in the streets west of Tiananmen Square, where Chinese citizens took on armored vehicles with rocks. By the time the People’s Liberation Army pushed its way to the symbolic heart of China, the death toll had reached hundreds, perhaps thousands.
Beijing’s leaders do not permit commemoration of the dead and rarely talk about “that 1989 affair,” as they now euphemistically call it. In Hong Kong, however, Tiananmen remains close to the center of public discourse. This year’s June 4 vigil—an annual event in Hong Kong—attracted 28,000 residents, according to police, and 55,000 in the estimation of organizers. The crowd was about 10,000 larger than it was last year.
The increased turnout was no surprise. Ma Lik, chairman of the main pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong, recently stoked public debate on Tiananmen. “We should not say the Communist party massacred people on June 4,” Ma told a group of journalists last month. “A massacre would mean the Communist party intentionally killed people with machine guns indiscriminately.” His larger point was that Hong Kong, now a special administrative region of China, should not have universal suffrage until its students have received “proper” national education. The fact that people still use terms like “massacre” show, in Ma’s opinion, the citizens’ lack of “heart-felt” patriotism.
Press coverage of yesterday’s Democratic debate in New Hampshire was so heavily focused on the in-fighting between the candidates over who was more fervently opposed to funding the military’s operations in Iraq, that, as best I can tell, not a single major media outlet caught the most important moment of the night.
Edwards, courting his party’s Left, accused Obama and Clinton of failing to offer strong leadership during the Senate floor debate over whether funding for the war in Iraq should be continued. Obama and Clinton, he noted, had voted against the funding, but neither had spoken against it from the Senate floor. Obama responded testily that he, unlike Edwards, had opposed the war from the start. Senator Clinton (with one eye on the general election) replied, “The differences among us are minor. The differences between us and the Republicans are major. And I don’t want anybody in America to be confused.”