Archive: Issue No. 87, November 2004

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Clinton Fein

Who Would Jesus Torture?

Clinton Fein

Like Apple F-ing Pie (detail)


Artist and advocate Clinton Fein has his controversial images destroyed prior to exhibition
by Kresta Tyler Johnson

California-based, South African born artist and advocate Clinton Fein recently had an unbelievable experience, especially for an ardent defender of the first amendment. Fein had an exhibition at Tommey-Tourell Gallery in San Francisco on October 14. Just prior to its opening he learned that printing company Zazzle had deemed two of his images controversial and not only failed to print them, but destroyed them as well.

The result was a frenzy to try and compensate for the absence and an unavoidable inconsistent presentation of the artist's work at the opening. The two offending images were titled Like Apple F-ing Pie and Who Would Jesus Torture?. The first work was a U.S. flag with stars that clearly depicted an Abu Ghraib torture victim. The second showed George W. Bush on a cross with a prominent erection.

In an attempt to disassociate themselves from these images, Zazzle declared them inappropriate and failed to print them for the artist. Little did they know who they were defying when they chose this course of action. Noted for successfully challenging former Attorney General Janet Reno in a case that went to the US Supreme Court, Fein was not deterred.

Instead of avoiding publicity, Fein ensured that is exactly what Zazzle got - particularly negative. The artist brought into question the ethical nature of Zazzle's actions and the problems that arise when printers exercise editorial control. As Fein said, 'It's unfortunate that a printing service felt it was more important to apply a bizarre, inconsistently applied standard to an image that nobody ever would have associated with them anyway.'

Ironically one of the very images Zazzle destroyed was recently reviewed and printed in the New York Times, and the image of the Abu Ghraib torture victim has already been widely disseminated by the international media.

While Zazzle has previously printed controversial imagery, their decision here was made more problematic by the fact that Fein had not granted the company permission to use the images, attach their name to the work or release information about the work - essentially ensuring they would avoid any association.

Zazzle has previously printed a reproduction of a Library of Congress photograph of hanging hooded bodies of the four conspirators who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but cited its position as a licensee to Disney as the reasoning behind destroying Fein's images.

Fein has not decided if he will take legal action in this case, but has been quoted as saying, 'I don't know what kind of statement such business practices make about academic freedom and thought in a democracy, but when a company associates itself with major brands and institutions it must be very careful about the corporate image they present and the consistency of the positions they take.'

The exhibition is on view at the Tommey-Tourell Gallery until November 13. If you happen to be in the Bay area have a look and let ArtThrob know what you think about the decision by Zazzle to destroy.