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Did GLBT art trigger vandalism?
Did GLBT art trigger vandalism?
Benham Gallery's windows smashed, smeared with feces during display of Trans photographs

by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

Two acts of vandalism hit the downtown Benham Gallery over the Easter weekend during its Erotic Beauty exhibition, timed to coincide with the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival. Gallery owner Marita Holdaway believes the acts - a midday smearing with feces and a late-night broken window - were a violent reaction to the subject matter of the exhibit, which included photographs of Transgender people.

"I think it was in reaction to the show," Holdaway told the Seattle Gay News on Wednesday. "I've been here for over 20 years. & At least once a year I will do an exhibition that challenges people. We've done them on S&M, we've done them on sexuality, we've done them on reverse roles, and this one has Transgender in it. I think that it affected people's homoerotic fear."

The first incident occurred on Saturday afternoon, the day before Easter. "One of my employees heard a loud hitting on the window and she looked out the window and saw something all over the windows," Holdaway recalled. "She went outside and it was immediately obvious that somebody had spread feces on the door and the window."

"Somebody literally had it in their hand and rubbed it on the window in the middle of the afternoon."

There were no apparent eyewitnesses to the vandalism, though the employee did notice a man laughing as she cleaned the windows.

The next, more threatening attack came under the cover of night. At 3:50 a.m. Sunday morning, the Seattle Police Department received a report of property damage at the Benham Gallery. The same window which had been vandalized earlier had been shattered.

"Somebody threw a gas lid - the gas meters in the street, those big square or rectangular heavy metal lids - through the window with such force that it made a big mark on the other side of the wall," said Holdaway, who was surprised by the violence and intensity of the attack.

"The person had taken the lid from across the street & and walked across the street with it and then threw it in my window. So it doesn't seem like the act of an irate street person," she reasoned, "who probably would have lifted the one right in front of my space and thrown it through my window."

"When I picked it up to get it out of the window, it took all of my strength just to be able to pick it up to scoot it across the floor," she said. "I don't think I could have got it up over my head to hurl it through the window. I think it would have to be sort of a tall person, just because of the trajection of where it hit the window and how it lodged into the side of the wall. It would either be two people or it would have been a very tall person."

Holdaway believes the two attacks are related. "I can't guarantee it; I certainly didn't see anything," she said. "But I knew after the feces thing happened I was a little worried there would be more to come. The only reason why I connect them in my head is the closeness of the incidents."

The police report of the vandalism notes Holdaway's theory, but the SPD cannot speculate as to any connection between the two incidents, nor a motive. "The only thing I can tell you is we responded to a report of property damage at this location," said Officer Mark Jameson, SPD spokesperson. "At this point, all we have is property damage. Somebody came along and threw an object through a plate-glass window. We don't know why."

Holdaway is certain the attacks were a response to the "challenging" content of the Erotic Beauty exhibit. "They're really beautifully done photographs," she said. "Most of them are dancers in a very beautiful light. They kind of look like 1950s sort of poster pictures. But there are some that are showing that there is a Transgender occurrence in the person's body." "That's the only [reason for the attacks] I can think of, because I've had male nudes. I've had Greg Gorman have an exhibition in my gallery, and he does full frontal male nudity. I've had female nudes; many photographers have photographed the female nude. I've had sexual connotations or acts being displayed in a very tasteful, very artistic way by a couple of my artists. But never anything that was Transgender before."

The violent reaction to the exhibit brought about an epiphany for Holdaway. "As I was licking my wounds and realizing the expense and discomfort that this cost me, I looked around the room at the subjects that were in the photographs and realized these people had violence daily - not just to their premises, but to their person. This was just a very small experience compared to what a lot of these people experience daily because of their choices."

Far from being intimidated by the attacks, Holdaway posted a note to the plastic now covering her broken window that invited the vandals to talk through their problems with her. "If they're really disturbed by the images in the exhibition, I would prefer a conversation," she said. "They can come in, they can call me, they can e-mail me, they can talk to me anytime that they want to."

Even if Holdaway is unable to reach through to the vandals, she can appreciate this demonstration to the power of art - however misguided the response may be. "I just hope that, if anything, that this could bring up attention that art is about making people think," she said. "Sometimes about beautiful things and pushing boundaries, sometimes coming up with ideas that we haven't thought of before. But I've never had anything in my gallery that I wanted to create [in] people & the action to be violent. It's just sad that something so beautiful could be considered or taken that way."

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