The week-long dispute over the GSA's exhibit of Latin American art -- including photos and captions which GSA officials had removed from the lobby of their main building for being "too political" -- ended yesterday afternoon when the show was taken down by the artists.
While GSA officials watched soberly, members of GALA -- the Hispanic arts group that arranged the show -- and one of the exhibited artists dismantled glass cases and unhooked hanging photographs in the exhibit, "Latin America: An Emerging Reality," originally scheduled to run through Sept. 30.
"We wanted the exhibit the way it originally was," said Rebecca Medrano, administrative director of GALA, Inc., as she hoisted a box of Mexican ceramics. "Basically we couldn't reach a compromise and the artists didn't want the text and captions rewritten."
GSA officials agreed last week to reinstate the banned photo panels if GALA representatives would rewrite some of the text from the exhibits. GSA cited a law prohibiting a political forum in government office buildings, and deemed "politically sensitive" the texts wich referred extensively to military governments in Latin America, multinational corporations, and poverty and oppression suffered in South America.
The photographs had been removed by GSA officials only hours before the show opened Monday evening of last week as the kick-off of GSA's celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Week. The action caused a flurry of public complaints from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Chile Committee for Human Rights.
"We never had any arguments about art," said Peter Masters, head of graphics for GSA and in chart of the exhibit. "There have been political artists -- Goya, Daumier. But would we not hang Goya and Daumier? Certainly! We're talking here about slogans and captions."
"The whole exhibit needed to stand the way it was," said Medrano. "Otherwise it becomes something touristy -- something Americans want to see rather than what's really going on."
Hugo Medrano of GALA said that some of the excised texts were actually quoted statements on Latin America from members of Congress and from the National Council of Churches.
"An artist has to show what he feels about what happens in his country," said Uruguayan woodcut artist Naul Ojeda (who has had shows at the Franz Bader gallery here) as he removed his works.
According to Rebecca and Hugo Medrano, all of the artists exhibited supported GALA's decision to remove the art, although one reportedly called Masters at GSA last week to say he wanted his work to remain up no matter what happened.
Isabel Letelier, president of the Chile Committee for Human Rights, said yesterday that she was furious at the GSA's actions. "The General Services Administration has censored the human rights project," she said, "because the exhibit referred to a government with which the U.S. has diplomatic relations. The General Services Administration should pay more attention to the policies of the Carter administration."
The banned photographic panels have been shown in the Chicago Daley Center, the National Council of Churches in New York, and at the Washington Hilton Hotel here, among other places throughout the country, according to Rebecca Medrano and Letelier.
GSA officials, who had said GALA was free to remove its work, will meet today with GALA representatives to discuss resolving GALA's contract to produce the exhibit for $2,088.
"I doubt we'll get paid," said Rebecca Medrano. "But we're more upset about the exhibit than not getting paid."