Lawmakers condemn images in KSU art exhibit on AIDS

An art exhibit at Kennesaw State University has upset some of Cobb County’s state lawmakers, who condemned it as inappropriate and disgusting.

The exhibit, "Art AIDS America," in the university's Zuckerman Museum of Art, includes artwork showing how the AIDS epidemic was addressed by artists, some of whom suffered from the disease themselves. It runs through Sunday but has been at Kennesaw State since Feb. 20.

The lawmakers expressed their displeasure this week.

“My initial reaction was I thought it was a poorly done exhibit, in content and message,” said state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta. “If the majority of the population in Cobb saw the exhibit, I don’t feel they would think it was an appropriate exhibit.”

Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, who leads the powerful statehouse committee that allocates funding to Georgia’s colleges and universities, said, “It’s gratuitous, an insult for the sake of making a political statement.”

The criticisms from Tippins and Ehrhart, along with Acworth republican Rep. Ed Setzler, were first reported by the Marietta Daily Journal.

KSU president Dan Papp, who announced his retirement last week, plans to speak with the lawmakers, said a university spokeswoman. Before this week, the university had only received positive feedback about the exhibit, she said Friday.

“Art AIDS in America” is a national exhibit organized by the Tacoma Art Museum in partnership with The Bronx Museum of the Arts.

An AJC art review, which ran Feb. 23, described the exhibit as, "unapologetically raw, sexually provocative and not for the pearl-clutching prone," wrote the reviewer. "Death and discrimination are rarely pretty, but talking about them is essential." Images include underwear soiled by diarrhea and discolored by urine brought on by the disease and medications.

Lawmakers took exception to a painting of a naked man with a clown mask engaged sex with a skeleton. They also criticized pieces with images of conservative leaders including former President Ronald Reagan, televangelist Jerry Falwell and others, which take them to task for not speaking out sooner about the crisis.

“Can you imagine if that (exhibit) took” people liberals honor “and put pornographic material around them,” said Ehrhart. “There would be a massive outcry, and they would be justified. That’s not art.”

Ehrhart said he had not seen the exhibit, but was given six photos from the show by the Marietta Daily Journal. Coming to see the exhibit himself would not change his mind, he said. “I read the descriptions, I saw the six photos, that’s sufficient.” Tippins, who chairs the Senate education committee, visited the exhibit this week.

As a stop on the national tour, Kennesaw State was responsible for about $54,000 in shipping and insurance costs, almost $2,800 for the installation of the exhibit and $8,320 for museum docents during the run of the exhibit.

KSU professor and nationally known artist Robert Sherer, a leader in bringing the exhibit to KSU, called the lawmakers’ comments “political posturing. “The show is deeply humanitarian,” said Sherer, who is known for using HIV-positive blood in his pieces, and who has artwork in the show. “Its’ a show about loss, the political fallout of the AIDS crisis, and touches on all sorts of good and heavy subjects. I was appalled that anyone had a problem with that.”