Wince: The article on the foreskin ["The Fantastic Foreskin," by Craig Malisow, July 12] reminded me of the 1990 German film Europa Europa, said to be based on a true story. A teenager is taken in by Nazis who believe him to be a war orphan and do not know he is Jewish. Eventually joining the Hitler Youth, the boy realizes the giveaway is that he is circumcised. In an excruciating scene, he fashions a foreskin with needle and thread. Very soon he undoes the self-surgery when it becomes infected. The good news is that he does survive the war and is reunited with his family. The surgery scene sure made this guy wince and wince again.
Flattered: I find it flattering that I was so compelling in my essay for "Red Velvet" that Troy Schulze found it useful to print large portions in his review "Disrobed" [July 12]. I am sorry he disagreed with my premise with such hostility, but a strong reaction is always the best reception a writer can hope for.
I take exception to his characterization of Whitney Riley's paintings, "insipidness as a nurturing entity." I believe the artist intended to mock didactic stereotypes of women today with her absurd juxtapositions of bikini-clad models and domestic interiors. Troy may write a bit concretely for art criticism. Good luck with the journalism, and keep up the good work.
Slow news week? In response to Troy Schulze's "Disrobed," which reports on the movement of a piece of artwork in the "Red Velvet" group show at Vine Street, our reaction was much the same as it was when he contacted us to even inform us that there had been controversy it must have been a very slow news week.
As I explained to Schulze, through context that was provided but which did not make its way into the article, to portray either law firm or our building management in any way as "anti-art" is a gross mischaracterization. The building's common areas are a showplace for art local, national, international, good, not so good, controversial and noncontroversial. Fletcher Thorne-Thomsen, the building owner, is himself an accomplished photographer. He has made it his ambition to provide a space for FotoFest and others to exhibit notable work. I venture to say that every tenant in this building is here largely because of the art brought to this building by FotoFest and others.
As for our law firm, we have supported FotoFest in its exhibition of controversial exhibits involving Arab art and Guantánamo during the past couple of years, despite the controversy that these exhibits generated. We annually pay a vendor's fee for, and participate in, the Warehouse District's Art Crawl, even though as a law firm we have nothing to "vend." We exhibit art from artists who were and are tenants in this building in our offices. We commissioned much of our furniture from local artists. We are "art-friendly" to the core.
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So what happened to make this story a story? Our employees, among others, objected to the placement of the piece that was moved. In properly evaluating what is essentially a difference in opinion, I think both the nature of the expression and the remedy chosen by the building management need to be considered. Make no mistake, "Red Velvet" is a commercial art show. Fundamentally, the exhibit is designed to sell art. It is as much a commercial venture as our law firm. This is made abundantly clear by the price tags hung with the descriptions of the pieces, which is against the building's policy. There is nothing wrong with a business venture designed to sell art, but it does change the argument from one of free speech and expression to one of competing commercial interests with differences of opinion as to what should be hung where.
The sponsors and the artists have, it appears, tried to bring attention to an otherwise relatively unnoticed exhibit by getting the Houston Press excited about a supposed act of censorship. I cannot blame them for that. Free advertising is enticing to any commercial venture. What I do blame them for, and the Press for indulging them, is creating the false impression that Vine Street Studios, its tenants and our law firm are not art-friendly, or that what occurred here had anything to do with freedom of expression or speech. There is a place for everything at Vine Street, including the kimono. The place for the kimono turned out not to be the main entrance to a building visited daily by people, including children, seeking out not art but cell phones, concert promotion, nonprofit agencies, architectural services, publishers and even lawyers. Whether the hall where it is currently placed is appropriate is for others to decide.
Our employees only asked not to be immediately confronted with it upon arriving at work. We, and I, believe all of the building tenants respect and admire the people who create and bring us this work. It is at the core of why we chose this building as our home. All we ask is that they respect us, and the hundreds of people who visit this building daily, as well.
Thomas P. Carnes
Carnes Ely LLP
Vine Street Studios