Region: North America
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Artist: Thomas Rude (b. 1944)
Confronting Bodies: Oregon Governor's office administrators
Date of Action: 2005
Location: Salem, Oregon, USA
Description of Artwork: In this woodcut, American Standard, the American flag is re-created with bombs serving as stars and coffins as stripes. Rude says the piece was a way of expressing his feelings after combat operations started in Iraq.
The Incident: Rude was invited by the Oregon Arts Commission to hang some works in the Governor's reception room at the Oregon State Capitol. The first day the woodcut was displayed went by without any comments, positive or negative. Then a staff member in the Governor's office filed a complaint and requested the work be removed. Other staff members stuck up for Rude and an inter-office battle quickly developed. An aide called the Oregon Arts Commission and requested the piece be removed. While all this was happening, no one from the Arts Commission or the Governor's office called Rude. He found out everything second-hand though a friend in Salem who was checking on the piece.
After two weeks, the piece was taken down. The explanation offered to Rude was that Governor Kulongoski felt uncomfortable speaking at memorials for soldiers who had lost their lives while the piece hung in his office. After speaking with the Governor's office regarding the removal of his piece, Rude picked up the phone and called every newspaper he could think of.
Results of Incident: The case was widely covered by the press and broadcast media, but the piece was not returned to display.
This was Rude's first experience with having his work physically removed from a space, but it isn't his first brush with censorship. While working as an EMT in Northern California in the early 1990s, Rude began to think about encounters with death. This lead him to consider works about religion and the afterlife, and he developed a particular interest in the cross. The cross is a symbol predating Christianity, though its now commonly associated with that religion. Rude created several pieces that used the cross as a center. One featured a bible suspended from a cross, and another featured a photocopy of Rudes hands at either end of the cross with a copper heart and a skull in the middle. The works were displayed in a local gallery and while they were referred to as disturbing, they ultimately served as starting points for conversations. Rude says this was a perfect example of art doing its job: serving as a means to provoke thought and discussion.
Source: 2 Gyrlz Quarterly/2GQ No. 3, Portland, Oregon: 2005, pp. 34-38.