Marc Thiessen: A museum fuels hatred of America in a foreign land
BILBAO, Spain — The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a masterpiece of American architecture, a swirl of curved configurations crafted out of sheets of titanium by Frank Gehry. But step inside the stunning structure, and the celebration of America is over.
Most of the second floor is dedicated to the works of American artist Jenny Holzer, who seems to be filled with loathing for the land of her birth. As you enter one gallery, you are greeted with an exhibit called the "Inflammatory Essays," a series of posters printed on colored paper and containing the artist's various manifestos. They were originally pasted throughout the public spaces of New York City, and now plaster the walls of the gallery in a rainbow of geometric designs. The presentation is beautiful, but the sentiments are anything but.
The first one I see, right by the door, is titled "THE END OF THE U.S.A." It reads: "ALL YOU RICH F---- SEE THE BEGINNING OF THE END AND TAKE WHAT YOU CAN WHILE YOU CAN. YOU IMAGINE THAT YOU WILL GET AWAY, BUT YOU'VE S--- IN YOUR OWN BED AND NOW YOU'RE THE ONE TO SLEEP IN IT. WHY SHOULD EVERYONE ELSE STAY BEHIND AND SMELL YOUR STINKING COWARDICE? HERE'S A MESSAGE TO YOU — SPACE TRAVEL IS UNCERTAIN AND ANY REFUGE OF YOURS CAN BE BLOWN OFF THE MAP. THERE'S NO OTHER PLACE FOR YOU TO GO. KNOW THAT YOUR FUTURE IS WITH US SO DON'T GIVE US MORE REASONS TO HATE YOU."
Charming. The posters are helpfully translated into Basque, Spanish, French and German, so that visitors from many lands can take in Holzer's sentiments and, according to the Guggenheim, "consider the necessity of social change, propaganda's potential to manipulate the public, and the conditions that attend revolution."
In another gallery, Holzer has created paintings out of redacted U.S. government documents relating to interrogation of terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some canvasses show intelligence documents with the black redaction lines in gold and silver leaf, while others are blowups of handwritten statements by detainees alleging all kinds of horrific abuses at the hands of Americans.
Nowhere is it noted that terrorists were trained to lie about abuses in custody, that multiple government investigations found that no torture took place at Guantanamo Bay or that when abuses did take place, as they did in Abu Ghraib, abusers were investigated and punished. The vast majority of U.S. personnel responsible for detaining and questioning terrorists served with honor to prevent another attack such as the one we suffered on September 11, 2001. But if you came through the exhibit, you would think that the American military was the modern-day equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition.
Not all her works are so offensive. In one exhibit, a four-sided vertical LED sign swings from the ceiling with scrolling first-person accounts from those detained and tortured by the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. But even here, the juxtaposition of this exhibit with the redacted military documents seems designed to send a subtle message that there is really no moral distinction between Assad and America — both are torture regimes.
In fact, it was the U.S. armed forces that struck Assad's regime to stop his use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians and drove the Islamic State from its murderous caliphate. The men and women of the U.S. military risk their lives every day to protect us from evil men bent on our destruction. Their courageous service gives Holzer the freedom to produce her art.
It's no surprise that the art world is left wing. But the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao — an institution owned by an American foundation, in the heart of Spain — has turned itself into something worse: an instrument of anti-American propaganda. The museum is spreading calumnies against the men and women of the U.S. military and fueling hatred of America in a foreign land.
Among the redacted documents in the gallery, one of her most recent works is displayed — a massive rendering of a page from special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of Paul Manafort. Missing from the exhibit was the page from the actual Mueller report that declared there was no conspiracy with Russia. She has yet to turn that redacted document into art. I'm sure she's working on it.
Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.
Washington Post Writers Group