Thursday, September 10, 2009


Reader responds to negative spin in SFMOMA Blog posting:

"It is always difficult to critique the heartfelt efforts of another to defend those deemed less fortunate in society–especially when those sentiments are couched in a cleverly written introduction to an impending public event. Sadly, however, Adrienne Skye Roberts’ recent evaluation of the forthcoming Tenderloin exhibition “Wonderland” amounts to a self-conscious rant that reinforces the unsupported stereotypes she, herself, attributes to supposedly unseasoned artists, gawking tourists, unresponsive government and even San Francisco’s Tenderloin district’s homeless and downtrodden themselves.

In short, Ms. Roberts assumes the role of Louis Carroll’s Queen of (Bleeding) Hearts. She shouts “Off with their heads,” in response to the efforts of a broad consortium of talented and well intended exhibitors and community partners whose aims are far from facilitating what Roberts predicts will be only a brief encounter with the Tenderloin—an encounter that she assumes will be fed by “the lure and thrill of visiting San Francisco’s seediest neighborhood for one night through a voyeuristic meandering.”

After attributing her own misperceptions and stereotypes to the project, Robert’s at last asks, “Whose wonderland is this?” Perhaps the genius of Alice’s magic kingdom is that it is EVERYONES’.The objective of true literature, art, public largess and humanity is eclectic! Could it be that a visitor to the Wonderland exhibition might come away with a renewed determination to mitigate the plight of the less fortunate who are struggling in the heart of city. Might the artists who are contributing their talents to bring attention to the Tenderloin view its inhabitants with interest, compassion and even respect? Might it be more important to view the entire project from the very real perspective of potential paradigm shift and positive change rather than rolling out Robert’s hackneyed, negative projections that insist that all the roses MUST be painted red not white.

Ms. Roberts states, “I’m not terribly interested in identifying which projects are more or less appropriate or community oriented and which are not….” She then proceeds to do just that including her personal perspective regarding not only the artists’ intentions, but her assumptions as to what the viewers conclusions will be. In particular Roberts cites the “Offstage” project that draws on the Tenderloin’s theater history as an antecedent to the “human drama in extremely raw form” now extant on it streets. Art often imitates life including the presentation in “Offstage” of a sleeping bag form “to reference those without shelter in the neighborhood”. But art’s wonder is its ability to inspire vision and possibility. If one were not constrained by foregone negative conclusions, might one view an upright, twisting sleeping bag form as a cocoon of human possibility, or as a modern representation of Michaelangelo’s captives writhing their way from the un-chiselled marble into human perfection. One cannot grasp future possibility without calling attention to present conditions–however, horrific.

It is said that one cannot make a difference without “being better and KNOWING better.” It is ironic that knowing is often the function of fantasy. Rather than Wonderland being Robert’s “A World Turned Upside Down” might Wonderland be the catalyst for righting the landscape of the Tenderloin? Who said Alice “only woke up later and returned to her safe and comfortable life”? She may have decided that including roses of every color in her life’s bouquet was to her liking. She may have turned her efforts to growing something worthwhile!"

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