Jesse Helms is (Thankfully) Still Dead

I was cruising the internet looking for good photography, as I’ve been doing more often lately, and I came across this amusing advertisement from 1989:

These days, I think he's falling apart

Jesse Helms was one of the most destructive senators we’ve ever endured. One of his little side projects was trying to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, because the angry voices in his head told him that some art is obscene.

The ad above was made by a feminist group called the Guerrilla Girls. Wikipedia tells us this:

Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous group of feminists devoted to fighting against sexism within the visual fine art world internationally.

The ad apparently was trying to embarrass the big art museums into displaying more than just white guys’ art, so it’s not really an open letter to Jesse Helms. What does it say about fundie Republicans when they’re being used as examples of shame?

I think the reason the teabaggers and other extremists hate intellectuals and other educated people is they know we’re laughing at them, but they can’t quite figure out the joke.

6 Responses to “Jesse Helms is (Thankfully) Still Dead”

  1. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Not knowing ANYTHING AT ALL about the art world, I am curious if things have gotten better compared to when that ad was posted.

    It actually comes as a shock to me how much of a white boys club the art world was in ’89. I would have (incorrectly, it would seem) assumed the art world was far more liberal.

  2. YogaforCynics Says:

    I’ve always thought it was sad that Helms died just a few months early to see an African American elected president.

  3. Ron Britton Says:


    Not knowing ANYTHING AT ALL about the art world, I am curious if things have gotten better compared to when that ad was posted.

    The Guerrilla Girls are still active, so they must feel the need still exists.

    I’ve been a member of SFMOMA for the past year. When they run retrospectives of artists from decades past, they are definitely skewed toward white men. I don’t know if that is bias on their part or merely reflects that very few women and minorities had any significant impact on the art world in decades past.

    (Sort of the way history of the founding of the U.S. is “biased” toward rich white guys. They were (mostly) the ones doing all of the work. Of course what’s often left out of those histories is that many of them had the time and money to sit around being enlightened and debating how to start a country, because the slaves back on their plantations were doing all the hard work making them all their money.)

    However (back to SFMOMA), exhibits on current modern art are fairly diverse. Women are visible (probably still not at 50%, though) as are minorities. They’re not all rich, either (probably most of the women!). I remember some sort of horrible exhibit by some urban artist. I can’t even remember what they guy did, other than it was awful. (I’m assuming he wasn’t rich, because of his background, and I’m hoping he isn’t rich, because his art is so bad.) They’re currently running an exhibit about gay marriage.

    Now this is San Francisco, one of the most diverse cities in the country. You would hope they’re diverse. But most modern art museums are in big cities, so I would expect the same anywhere.

    Most of the Guerrilla Girls’ ire seems to be directed against “fine art” museums such as the Met. I wouldn’t be surprised if that part of the art world is more backward. For example, I’ve only been to the DeYoung Museum a few times in the last year. If memory serves, that was always to see a high-profile white-guy exhibit, such as Picasso or the Impressionists. To be fair to them, they do have galleries devoted to art from different parts of history around the world, as well as contemporary stuff from what appears to be a diverse group. But the big, blockbuster exhibits, as I recall, tend to be about white guys.

    Like any sort of integration, it can take a long time for its effects to spread. If women and minorities suddenly had equal status in the art world today, it would take time for them to make the great works, and time for those works to be recognized, and time for them to have enough works to earn their own career retrospective, and time for them to die off, which is when an artist really makes it big.

    Funny story: Yesterday, my employer sent me to a trade show at Moscone. I got bored after about two hours, so I went next door to SFMOMA, where I spent the rest of the day (to see, among other things, an exhibit by a 20th century woman photographer).

  4. Troy Says:

    Well the art world is pretty much based on hype and illusion sort of like religion itself so I suppose the way people create gods in their own likeness perhaps they elect the artists they pick to be hot properties the same way. I think there is a similar salary ratio for movie stars and the like which possibly illustrates a deep undercurrent of entrenched sexism. One thing to consider is that women and men are different and there is some natural division of labor. This division of labor has at its core the reason for two sexes with different priorities and responsibilities. At the end of the day it is all about getting genes into the next generation once that is accomplished, the rest is biologically trivial.

  5. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I have to agree with your second to last paragraph, Ron. As diverse as they can be to living, modern artists, the fact is that the “classical” artists are a big draw.

    I remember when some big collection came to our museum here. I think it was Picasso, but hell if I remember — fine art is not really my bag. Anyway, it was on the news, banners everywhere, and apparently there were long lines and it was wildly successful.

    The only other art/history event I can remember being so big was when some ancient egyptian exhibit rolled into town and was on display at the same museum.

    That’s diverse, right? Some white guys and some ancient Egyptians??? 😉

  6. Sue Blue Says:

    He who screams loudest in outrage at “obscenity” is he whose genitalia is most engorged by it – and he who doesn’t want anyone else to know it. Just another out-of-my-ass theory about why fundies are so proudly, loudly stupid.

    Who knows what steamy little pornos were flickering through Jesse Helms’ addled brain when he railed against “Piss Christ” and other stuff nobody else cared about?