02/04/2015 11:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

MoMA Speaks out for Freedom to Express


Sir Harold Evans helmed a panel to discuss the merits of free and uncensored art. The sold-out event was organized by Glenn D. Lowry and Klaus Biesenbach of MoMA and Anne Pasternak of Creative Time in little more than a week. Perhaps because of Charlie Hebdo, there is now a great hunger to discuss and try to understand the values of free expression in our increasingly dangerous world. The panelists included artists Sharon Hayes, Kadar Attia, comedian Aasif Mandviwala, Jason Mojica, editor-in-chief of VICE News, and art history professor Simon Schama. It was organized with the help of Creative Time.

Aasif: Has more to do with coming up with a newsworthy act for al-Qaeda
Simon: Art's not the issue; we have to fight the gains of the Enlightenment all over again.
Jason: VICE didn't publish Hebdo's cartoon of Mohammed after the shooting because it wasn't news.

Simon: Charlie didn't ask people to kill. When free speech leads to murder...
Kader: Injury of colonization in France is deep... radical Islamism -- there are legitimate reasons they are inspired.
Sharon: There is great complexity...

It wasn't the most coherent discussion but it was lively and important. We need to talk about these things--like why we're still supporting a relationship with fundamentalist Saudi Arabia while bloggers get a thousand lashes and women fight for the right to drive.

I would have liked to have discussed Hustler Magazine's 1978 cover of a woman in a meat grinder. It was shocking and ugly. Not everyone has a god, but we all have a mother. Still, I don't think Larry Flynt was shot for that cover and perhaps he was really trying to make a point, ironic though it seems. It's a strong image and might have made even more of a point if it had been a cartoon.

Piss Christ's Andres Serrano sat behind me; one artist who has had to deal with objections to his transgressive work.


As Ms. Schwartz, my neighbor to the right said as we were leaving, "We let them march in Skokie. That's freedom."