The Egomaniac Artist and the Farting Art Critic: Point, Counterpoint
Tower, who paints scenes of complete despair over in East St. Louis, has a show ongoing at the Sheldon Art Galleries; Bonetti panned it in 334 words on March 9, writing:
"Tower must realize that she doesn't cut it as a painter, because she insists that her painting is merely the product of a heroic performance. She breaks the law painting on site! She puts her life at risk! There are rabid dogs prowling the site -- not to mention the humans! So, she hires a bodyguard -- an ancient man who looks as if he wouldn't be much good if any trouble occurred -- and she does her heroic thing.
"Sorry, but I'm not buying her schtick. What she's doing is not performance art, not even bad performance art. It's the result of an ego out of control. She would be far better off teaching herself to paint in her studio than wasting her time hauling canvases and paints back and forth across the river."
(To read the full review, click here.)
The criticism prompted an *immediate* outcry on the "Critical Mass" arts listserv, with some local artists pooh-poohing Bonetti, calling him and his work "lazy," "disrespectful" and "jaded," among other things. Others (sort of) defended the critic, saying they'd be tickled if he'd take the time to give their work a look.
The conversation on "Critical Mass" lasted a week.
And then the embattled artist Cindy Tower herself finally weighed in -- on YouTube.
Tower apparently got out her saw, hacked up what she calls the "Bonetti Cheese Cutter"/"Bonetti Board" and filmed an "infomercial" touting the $9.95 product, which cuts fromage and doubles as a paddle.
Bonetti -- maybe after watching Tower whack somebody's rump with his likeness -- then rose to his own defense on the P-D's "Culture Club" blog:
"I admit that my review of Tower was harsh, but she has enjoyed positive press elsewhere - she is favorite [sic] of Malcolm Gay and the Riverfront Times - and, as a grown-up, she should be able to handle it. She's not some babe in the woods." (Note: Malcolm Gay hasn't worked at or for the RFT in a long time.)
I thought maybe there was a little more civilized dialogue to be had about all of this controversy (Bonetti himself noted that "controversy is good in the arts"!) and asked the critic for an interview, but he referred me to the paper's spokeswoman -- the death knell to that idea.
At least, there's YouTube: