25. ARTIST FIGHTS INTERNATIONAL COVER-UP

Richard Corey is an angry American artist. In 1976, he was one of 700 artists who sent more than 1,000 paintings to an exhibit sponsored by ARGRAF (Cultural Association for Knowledge of American Graphic Art in France).

Widely distributed promotional materials indicated the affair was sponsored by French governmental agencies including the Ministry of Tourism and the Paris City Council. Its image was legitimatized by association with companies like Air France and DuPont and big names like Pierre Salinger, president of the award jury. Princess Caroline cut the opening ribbon for the exhibit titled "The American Painters in Paris Exhibition" which was promoted as a celebration of the American Bicentennial.

At a fee of $200 per painting, the artists contributed from $240,000 to $600,000 to the exhibition. The figures are approximate since no one seems to know how many artists participated, how many paintings actually were exhibited, nor how much money was sent.

While the artists thought they were participating in an important artistic and Bicentennial event, it turned out that the exhibit was a fiasco, if not a scam. Bankruptcy was declared by the American Painters in Paris; ARGRAF disappeared; and an incredible series of international cover-ups began.

For seven years, Richard Corey has been trying to expose the scandal, bring justice to its victims, and warn American artists that similar scams still exist. He has not been successful. He has written more than 5,000 letters, run up extensive phone bills, produced his own video tape, and sent out press releases to nearly 200 news organizations. In frustration, he even chained himself to the door of the Manhattan headquarters of the French Cultural Service Office. The latter act generated 12 column inches of coverage in Long Island's Newsday.

Despite his rash act, Mr. Corey is not a nut nor, apparently, in it for the money. His charges are well documented and he is supported by leading art organizations and artists. Air France offered him several thousand dollars to drop the matter in 1977.

Indeed his crusade may not seem important in an era of political corruption, economic hardship, nuclear threats, and civil war. But it surely does raise a question of media access.

Are the mating habits of pandas really that much more newsworthy than the plight of a lone and frustrated artist with a just cause?

SOURCES:

New Art Examiner, February 1983, "Warning to Artists," by Richard Corey; Newsday, 3/21/80, "Activists: Medium is Message," by Noel Rubinton; correspondence from Richard Corey, 1982/1983.