U.N. Cancels Art Show, Stuns Backers (LT) LA Times, May 12, 2001
Politics: Last-minute inclusion of Tibetan artist prompts the move. Laguna Beach group hopes to find a new venue for the exhibit. The United Nations canceled an upcoming exhibit of art from around the world after the show's Laguna Beach organizers enlisted the Dalai Lama and his movement-in-exile in arranging the participation of a Tibetan artist, the art foundation behind the show said.
A stern May 7 letter from UNESCO regional communications advisor Andrew Radolf told the Laguna Beach organization, known as TIMOTCA, that UNESCO's New York office was also revoking its longtime sponsorship of "Art Beyond Borders" because "you or those associated with TIMOTCA took actions . . . that had the potential to cause serious harm to relations with member states and with the United Nations."
Radolf and U.N. spokesmen did not spell out their concerns. But China--which annexed Tibet in 1951, prompting the flight of the Dalai Lama--is a heavyweight on the five-member U.N. Security Council. And the Dalai Lama is a thorn in Beijing's side.
TIMOTCA Chairman Ed Solomon compared the rejection to another Tibetan dust-up in September, when organizers of a global religious summit at the U.N. invited the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader in exile, to speak. The Dalai Lama bowed out after discreet reminders that his presence would offend China.
Scrambling to Cancel Reception Solomon said his group is now frantically scrambling to cancel a June 14 VIP reception at Lincoln Center in New York and two other events connected to the exhibit--a piano performance by an impoverished Bosnian musical prodigy, and the issuance of a million special bookmarks urging schoolchildren to attend the exhibit. Not to mention canceling travel and hotel reservations of artists from 47 countries. The paintings are in storage in Las Vegas, the host of the exhibit last fall.
"I'm still speechless," said Solomon, 67, who wore a gray wool suit, a long gray ponytail and a weary expression as he sat in the foundation's office--a small study with views of the ocean at the Laguna Beach home of TIMOTCA's co-founder, Maryann Del Pizzo.
Del Pizzo still hopes to find a last-minute venue in New York for the exhibit, though it takes up 400 feet of wall space. TIMOTCA is talking to New York's Tibet House--a support group for the Tibetan movement in exile--about possible sites.
Solomon said one of the show's financial sponsors, an Irvine consulting firm, will not be able to recover $50,000 spent for the costs of the exhibit.
"Of all the borders, can one imagine it would be at the United Nations? It's mind-blowing," Solomon said. "It was China that said they wouldn't allow the Dalai Lama at the United Nations, and they backed down. That's religion. Now they've done it with art.
"We've spent a lot of money on this exhibition," he lamented. "We walked into this totally innocently. Had we realized that bringing a Tibetan artist would have caused all this stir . . . we would have waited to include Tibet at our next exhibition--outside the U.N."
UNESCO withdrew its sponsorship of TIMOTCA's exhibit not only because the participation of a Tibetan artist contravened U.N. rules, but also because of questions about the group's fund-raising and the use of UNESCO's name without the agency's consent, officials said.
"This is the United Nations," Radolf said. "You have to take into consideration the sensitivities of member states and the rules and regulations of the U.N. as well as UNESCO. The U.N. raised some concerns that UNESCO shared."
A U.N. spokesman said the U.N. is not simply a gallery, but a hotbed of political sensitivities.
"If it's going to be a U.N. event, it has to be sponsored by member states, or a group they approve of," said U.N. spokesman Frederick Eckhard. "Not governments in exile, not rebel groups." "They said, 'We're "Art Without Borders," ' " Eckhard said. "But we are governments with borders, and we have to go by the rules."
The rejection of the exhibition was a chilly retreat from UNESCO's onetime embrace of "Art Beyond Borders."
In a previous letter, Radolf himself described the group's debut exhibit at U.N. headquarters in 1997 as a "big hit" and said TIMOTCA had achieved "its objective of contributing to world peace through the universal language of art."
A letter from one former U.N. assistant secretary general called the 1997 show a "great historic event" and credited TIMOTCA with "fulfilling one of my dearest dreams as a peacemaker and life lover."
Solomon said the U.N. has allowed politics to seep into a program that has launched successful exhibitions around the world with the aim of creating international understanding. "We are nonpolitical. This is art," he said.
Solomon said the 1997 exhibition displayed the work of artists from 22 countries. It grew to 37 artists when it moved to Lisbon to coincide with EXPO '98 and encompassed 43 artists by the time it moved to the Las Vegas Art Museum in September.
The new exhibit, which was to hang in the visitors' lobby of the United Nations General Assembly, had grown to 47 artists--including the last-minute inductee from Tibet.
Dalai Lama 'Thought It Was . . . Wonderful' The inclusion of a Tibetan artist began with a meeting with the Dalai Lama on March 13. TIMOTCA representative Vlasta Livi, who lives in Belgium, traveled to the Himalayan town of Dharamsala, India, where the spiritual leader lives, Solomon said.
The Dalai Lama "thought it was a wonderful project," Solomon said. "He thought Tibet should be included, and we offered for them to be included."
Solomon said they did not tell UNESCO about the invitation. "We didn't feel like that was something we had to do," he said.
But UNESCO found out. A few weeks ago, an Eastern European musician met with U.N. spokesman Eckhard in New York and casually remarked how excited he was that Tibet had been added to the art show.
"That's what triggered the whole thing," Solomon said.
Initially, a U.N. e-mail indicates, officials mistakenly worried that the Dalai Lama had been invited. Solomon then called Eckhard, "and he told me that we could not have a representative from Tibet at the exhibition."
The piece of Tibetan art that was going to be shown was a traditional thankga, a type of religious hanging art. When it became clear that a monastery of the Gelupka school of Tibetan Buddhism--the Dalai Lama's sect--was unable to create one in time for the exhibition, New York collector Dennis Cordell agreed to supply one.
The piece he offered to loan is called "The Merit Field." Its central image looks like a large tree with many leaves, he said. Each one represents a saint or teacher who carried the teachings of Buddha to the Gelupka order's founder. One of three Tibetan artists who worked on the piece was to attend the opening of the New York exhibit.
Cordell is a self-described "dilettante Tibetanist," with a degree in Tibetan and Sanskrit from Columbia University.
Last year, he protested across from the U.N. when the Dalai Lama was discouraged from coming.