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The FBI's Art Attack

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An FBI hazardous materials team enters Steve Kurtz's Buffalo house, where they found unusual art materials. (Don Heupel -- AP)


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They also asked about "his personal life," Henderson says, but she would not describe the questions or her responses.

The investigation, she says, will have no bearing on Kurtz's standing at the university, where he is an associate professor. (Prior to Buffalo, he taught at Carnegie Mellon University.)

"This is a free speech issue, and some people at the university remember a time during the McCarthy period when some university professors were harassed quite badly," she says.

Nonetheless, considering the kind of art Kurtz practices and the kind of supplies he uses, "I could see how they would think it was really strange."

For instance: the mobile DNA extracting machine used for testing food products for genetic contamination. Such a machine was in Kurtz's home. His focus, in recent years, has been on projects that highlight the trouble with genetically modified seeds.

In November 2002, in an installation called "Molecular Invasion," Kurtz grew genetically modified seeds in small pots beneath growth lamps at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, then engineered them in reverse with herbicide, meaning he killed them.

"We thought it was very important to have Critical Art Ensemble here because we try to have our visiting artist's program present work that takes our curriculum to the next step," says Denise Mullen, vice dean of the Corcoran College of Art and Design, whose Hemicycle Gallery hosted Kurtz's molecular exhibit.

Beyond the cutting edge of art, she says, "we want work that is really bleeding edge."

In Buffalo, in the aftermath of the bioterror probe that has found no terror, activist artists have scooped up the refuse from the Kurtz front yard and taken it away, perhaps, says da Costa, to create an art installation.

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