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    An Uncomfortable Art

    By David Perry–

    The hypnotic music from my D.C. days—my 20s, the 80s—drew me across the expanse of galleries at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA): Bronski Beat’s “Small Town Boy,” a melancholic anthem for a generation of young gay men seeking love amid the loneliness of AIDS in that dark ruin of a Reaganesque era. 

    I walked closer until a red curtain warning of “graphic content” stopped me from instant entry. Once behind the curtain, a wizard of MoCA’s permanent collection confronted me: the 42-minute-long photo-with-music montage that is Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” (1983–2008). I stayed for every minute, for every often disturbingly, yet always intimate, image. I kept wondering how she got these images—these brutally honest, often ugly, but somehow hypnotically beautiful snapshots of gritty humanity. The soundtrack rolled on and I was left strangely moved.

    In another gallery, there was an even more unsettling display: “Chromatic Fire” (2005) by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn. Forty-two minutes in front of this millennial “Guernica” was impossible for me. I had to view it in stages, and at that, sometimes with half-averted eyes. Like Picasso’s monumental scream against the horrors of war, Hirschhorn’s work is a howling witness to the endless cycle of violence that wracks our world. It is a suicide bomber of a sculpture. It acts on the senses like shrapnel. A docent warns everyone who enters.

    After these two, I retreated to a gallery of healing Mark Rothko’s—all swashes of color and texture—for my own emotional health; a visual cocktail after artistic violence.

    When I come again, I will return to both of these assaultive works, as I have returned again and again to view the “Guernica” whenever travel finds me in Madrid.

    My gallery tour today was punctuation to my mental meanderings since watching April 28’s “comedic” presentation by Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Wolf, too, is an artist of the assaultive variety, and her presentation was a controversial case in point. 

    Afterward, people and pundits and postings (herein, a case in point) dissected Wolf’s diatribe—easily the sharpest satirical knife yet poised at the jugular of our current political reality. It out Lennied Lenny Bruce. It trumped Kathy’s Griffin. At times I laughed. Sometimes I gasped. Several times I shook my head at Wolf’s stand-up in sheep’s clothing.

    I did not approve of some of her language or material, but that was exactly the point. Like the Medieval jester only allowed to taunt the king, or the slave holding a laurel above the head of triumphant Roman conquerors whispering in their ear a warning that “all glory is fleeting,” this triumvirate of expressions from my past weekend served as an epiphany: art is not always lovely. Art is often meant to make us uncomfortable.

    Michelle Wolf made a lot of people—in the media, the White House, and both sides of the Congressional aisle—extremely uncomfortable.


    We are living in uncomfortable times. Sometimes, we need to be reminded. 

    David Perry is the CEO and Founder of David Perry & Associates, Inc. (