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Linda Hesh and the $2,828 Questions

Meant to Provoke Debate, Her 'Art Ads' to the Masses Portray Four and Draw Six

By Jonathan Padget
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page C05

You're an artist with a political statement to make, you want to jump into the fray of the presidential election campaign, and you want to make sure your work gets seen by a huge audience.

That was the challenge facing Alexandrian Linda Hesh earlier this year as she envisioned photographs combined with text that would address sentiments in the gay-marriage debate. The solution she came up with was to raise money to buy advertising space in The Washington Post and New York Times to display her art.


Linda Hesh hoped to add to the gay-marriage debate with this ad, which ran in The Washington Post in October, but there were only six responses. (Linda Hesh - Courtesy Linda Hesh)

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After all, says Hesh, sometimes when you show in a gallery, "you're preaching to the converted."

She dubbed the project "Art Ads" and created two portraits of friends -- a mixed-race couple and a male couple -- taken at a Sears Portrait Studio, "a familiar format that you can instantly relate to." But Hesh wrangled with both the Post and Times advertising departments over their objections to the original phrases she chose to accompany the images: "At least they are not gay" for the mixed-race couple and "They could ruin your marriage" for the male couple.

Ultimately, Hesh says she gave up trying to clear the ads with the Times. They were finally approved by The Post's advertising department with the phrase "Do you notice their race or gender?" for the mixed-race couple and "Could they affect your marriage?" for the male couple. Each image ran in a not quite two-inch-square space in the Post's A section in October, along with a post office box number to which readers were invited to send feedback.

Cost for the ad space? $2,828. Number of responses? Six.

Given the effort, expense and outcome, Hesh may end up inspiring more dialogue about issues much different from marriage -- such as "Was the project worth it?" and "Do tiny newspaper ads with cheap pictures and generic layouts count as art in the first place?"

She responds yes on both points.

"My main goal was for the pieces to be seen, and that happened," says Hesh.

And as for her artistry, what makes the Art Ads the least technically polished, in Hesh's vision, is what makes them the most artistically successful: "They are art. They don't look like regular ads. They're not beautiful. They're not retouched. They're not designed like ads, so they look more like art."

The project also got her accepted into "(In)visible Silence," an exhibition about race and class issues opening Saturday at Baltimore's School 33 Art Center. Hesh's installation will feature larger versions of the Art Ads, along with documentation about the project, including copies of her e-mail correspondence with The Post and Times, a list of more than 30 donors who supported the project, and, of course, those precious few responses to the Art Ads themselves.

In fact, Hesh -- still unsure why they didn't generate more reaction -- hasn't ruled out going through the whole process again.

"Maybe I'll try the Washington Times," she says thoughtfully. "Maybe I'll get a response there."

Arts and Religion

A rusted angel cookie cutter floats in a cloud of shattered automotive glass. Another angel -- this one a store-bought figurine -- sits nearby deep inside a tower built out of hundreds of those tiny plastic magnification boxes used to collect bugs. Is she trapped? Everywhere you turn, other disparate objects -- old clock cases, a lunchbox (also rusted), monocles, a decrepit violin bow -- are integrated into pieces of spiritually themed art.


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