GIRARD'S U of M ART EXHIBIT FIASCO (1981): JUDY IN THE STARS

 Master of Mud (aka artist) and former Center for Creative Studies (CCS), Detroit,  professor of art, Bill (William J.) Girard Jr., passed away in 2011. The website created to honor him is found at https://girardsvasari.com/

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Bummer, man. Just a real bummer.

At the beginning of 1981, California conservative and former actor, Ronald Reagan, had assumed the presidency of the country. Around mid-year, the dread disease that would come to be known as AIDS was first identified in the US. And just before Christmas, our hero, artist and professor of art, Bill Girard, was forced to remove two of his paintings from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Power Center exhibit in which he was one of the three featured artists. 

One of the two paintings was MARS. The other was JUDY IN THE STARS.



Article: WOE TO ‘MARS’ AND ‘JUDY IN THE STARS’ 

Hand dated: 12-13-1981 By Jeff  Mortimer News Staff Reporter Ann Arbor News



What happened?  Well, the text of the article appears below. But the bottom line is that someone clearly took offence to two of Girard's paintings, both featuring vivid characterizations. MARS depicts an undraped representation of the God of War, blowing his horn,  announcing the grim effects of violence.

JUDY IN THE STARS, on the other hand, is an utterly delightful spoof inspired by the 1930's space opera comic strip character, Flash Gordon. It was apparently a favorite of the artist as a youngster.

This piece is a favorite of mine.


  Judy in the Stars. Artist: Bill Girard, Royal Oak, MI. 1940 - 2011.


As the article in the Ann Arbor News makes clear, Girard's paintings were by no means the only depictions of human flesh in the show, nor even the most aggressive of those images. Maybe they were just the most riveting. I don't know. I never saw the other pieces.

The resulting splash in the (local) press ended up bringing the entire exhibit to a premature close. This surely must have disappointed the show's curator, Michael Curtis, and the other participating artists, Urban Jupena (now a world-renowned fabric artist and former chair of the Wayne State University weaving department) and Dennis Knight, a sculptor and like Girard, an art instructor at the Center for Creative Studies (Now College for Creative Studies) in Detroit, Michigan.

THE WEIRD THING about this is that the University of Michigan of that period had, in general, a reputation for being one of the premier institutions of learning in the entire country and certainly in the Midwest. And as one of the most liberal. (I can state this with some confidence having graduated from that institution only a few years earlier,)

Moreover, given the professional accomplishments of the artists as art instructors at art education institutions of note in the region, it seems doubly odd.

If, just by chance, Michelangelo's David had been part of the exhibit, do you think it might have been removed from the show? Or Botticelli's Birth of Venus? Or Rodin's The Kiss?

The funny thing is that JUDY IN THE STARS started as a painting assignment for Girard's Center for Creative Studies students. The model is Judy Kunesh. More about her, below.

At Girard's request, Judy came to a painting class with a variety of props. Girard also brought props, including the "space helmet" of his son, Chris.

Judy, dressed in those items, apparently had a good time playing to her art student audience, on the model's stand, accompanied by a recording of Duke Ellington tunes dating back to the 1920s.

Girard had asked his students to make multiple short sketches. Their next assignment was to  develop  the sketches into a full painting. Girard, too, made sketches. JUDY IN THE STARS is the result.

By the way, Judy's pose is apparently a pastiche of two Hyacinthe Rigaud paintings of Louis XIV (circa 1701). In one, the Sun King stands in elegant stockings of his own, with an extended leg. In the other, his right arm is cocked not unlike Judy's, though at a different angle.  The "fleur de-lis"  in the robe of the Sun King (Musée du Louvre)  have become star ships in Girard's  painting.

Innocuous, huh? Who'd a thunk it?

Just another piece of bad luck for our artist I guess, robbed of his chance to display a truly lovely, playful piece for the community to enjoy. 

ABOUT JUDY (KUNESH) 

Like most painting students at the Center for Creative Studies, I drew or painted Judy all the time. 

Despite her attitude in the painting, she didn't have a terribly saucy personality. She had the sass, but it was tinged with bitterness. Judy was a recovering alcoholic. That sauce had so damaged her liver that drinking fluids beyond a small daily allotment was life-threatening. She was also a former equestrian. She had owned and groomed horses. But that was part of her past. 

I once visited the tenement apartment she lived in somewhere in the downtown area. What I remember is that the broken windows had been filled with really lovely abstract paintings, on cardboard, I think, that were certain to be destroyed by the weather. It was shocking to me. Incredibly sad.

A few years later, I heard that Judy was living in a downtown  homeless shelter. She deserved better, I thought, so I invited her to share my small, 950 square foot house, for a time. 

I admit the possibility that I might have been influenced by an offer she had once made me to trade paintings. She had taken a shine to the first two paintings of which I was proud. I passed on the offer and those pieces hang in my kitchen nook now. I did end up buying a self-portrait by Judy that I prize.

Still, moving her in wasn't one of my best life decisions. She wanted to bring some personal items with her. Sure, I said, why not? Later, she showed up with a huge moving van packed with more stuff than the house would hold. Telling her that that stuff wasn't coming in the house didn't make for a great start. Oh boy. She was irked. And I get it, today. 

A few months later, I left her in charge of the house while it was up for sale. I moved to Arizona to look for better prospects after losing my ad agency job in Detroit. Well, that didn't turn out too well, either. She was supposed to keep it clean and as attractive as possible until it sold. The resulting hullaballoo will follow me to my death. 

Tell you what, though. Judy struck me as special. Damaged. But special. I wrote a poem about her back then. I still like it.


Judy Detroit


Mythic, miraculous,
a mother, an oasis, a little queer
like the earth, like the stars;
plundered, object to eyes that object,
horse mistress;
too good to waste, too wasted
to be recognized by chumps;
distilled, clarified and rectified,
pure, more pure;
artist, artist’s model,
collector’s piece, masterpiece;
Judy, earth priestess, witch,
oracle, Godmother, presides.

While earth still wobbles, lonely,
On an inky circuit
Of the outer Milky Way, spermy
Droplet on a suction vortex,
you can bet on Judy,
who never was a virgin,
but always staunch and muscled,
barbaric as this city, pungent,
plain and beautiful.

I’d bet on Judy
before I’d bet on God.



Text of article pictured above.

Paintings removed from show 

WOE TO ‘MARS’ AND ‘JUDY IN THE STARS’

Hand dated: 12-13-1981 By Jeff Mortimer News Staff Reporter Ann Arbor News

 

Jean Galan calls it a "tempest In a teapot "

William Girard calls it "censorship.”

Michael Curtis calls it a "misinterpretation.”

Galan is general manager of the University of Michigan Professional Theater Program and the individual responsible for the art exhibits that appear regularly in the lobby of the Power Center.

It was she who requested that two paintings by Girard, a Royal Oak artist whose works are part of the current show appearing there through Dec 20, be removed from display.

It was Curtis, head of Ann Arbor's Curtis Gallery and the person who set up the exhibit, who acquiesced to her request on Dec. 2 and then returned the paintings for a reception last Saturday. at which time he posted a "manifesto” next to each that analyzed the works and protested their removal.

Curtis took the paintings down again before Saturday night’s performance of “Morning's At Seven.”

“WE SET THE SHOW up (last Wednesday) and. about five o'clock, we were asked if we would take the pictures down,” said Curtis. "Jean called in a fury and said she had gotten some flack and she thought the pieces should come down. We went over there and took the pieces down and, while taking them down, we were approached by many people (waiting for the University Musical Society’s presentation of Romanian Folk Dancers) who were shocked and disappointed that we were doing that. They expressed disbelief.

“Jean really is trying to make the right decision, but I think she's forced into making a very unfortunate decision for the community and the artist by catering to the wrong opinions of a militantly conservative audience.”

The paintings are entitled “Mars" and "Judy in the Stars.” The former depicts the god of war. standing a horn while standing nude among the rubble that results from his specialty. Curtis calls it “a visual statement meant to protest the destruction and essentially evil nature of war."

The latter is less representational, showing an individual of uncertain gender against a fantastic background.

SAYS CURTIS. “The painting is, in both its style and subject matter, a burlesque meant simply to lampoon the folly of human activities. The work, as a whole reminiscent of a state portrait, is executed in comic-book style and is meant to be seen as a comic diversion.”

I think part of it was a misinterpretation of the pictures,” Curtis said. “Everybody has their own interpretation, but the artist knows what he was trying to do.”

But Girard, who teaches at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, said he wasn't sure what was done to him.

“TO TELL YOU the truth. I really don t know what happened,” he said. “And I've been waiting to get some sort of response from her to find out just what it was that was so disturbing about the pieces. She hasn’t been in touch with me at all.

 “I’m not interested in an apology. I just want to know what the scoop is. ‘Judy' is not even a nude figure; it’s a burlesque The painting is entirely tongue in cheek. And the other one. I can’t imagine what was so objectionable about ‘Mars' because there are three other male nudes in the show.

“I'm so aggravated that someone can say this and that is immoral when the immorality is really in their head. There's nothing about either one of those paintings that’s suggestive ”

GIRARD SAID the other two artists in the show - Dennis Knight, a Canadian sculptor, and Urban (sic) Jupenia. head of the weaving department at Wayne State University - were similarly baffled.

“After the show (on Saturday), we were laughing because Urban's ’Macho Man' (a tapestry in the show) is much more erotic than anything else in the show, and that was its purpose. None of us can figure out what's happened. Now there's a possibility that somebody put the bug in her ear. It was right after the Musical Society came in that evening. Possibly it came from the Musical Society, but nobody has said anything ”

Gail Rector, president and director of the Musical Society, said he wasn’t aware any works had been removed from the display and that he has made no official comments on the art work.


 

By Glenn Scott Michaels.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2021.
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Master of Mud (aka artist) and former Center for Creative Studies (CCS), Detroit,  professor of art, Bill (William J.) Girard Jr., passed away in 2011. The website created to honor him is found at https://girardsvasari.com/


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