Talking Sex Toys


Colorado Gov. Bill Owens has some harsh words for a piece of artwork that originally went by the apt title Twelve Dildos on Hooks. Tsehai Johnson, who created the ceramic and metal installation three years before she received a $5,000 state grant, explains that she renamed it Large Implements on Hooks because "I wanted the title to be a little more open-ended so that it didn't become so easily dismissed." After all, "They're meant to be sex toys, but sex toys that are talking about a lot of issues."

Owens just didn't see it. Literally. Since he was in Washington at the time, the governor had to have a staffer describe the piece to him over the phone so that he could muster the appropriate indignation after the Independence Institute, a Colorado think tank, discovered Johnson's phallic fascination. (It did not take that much digging, since Johnson submitted the piece when she applied for the arts grant, although she had to haul it out of storage for the benefit of a TV news reporter.) "Obviously, this is offensive and in extremely poor taste," Owens declared after getting the lowdown on the well-hung exhibit. "It serves as an important reminder that whenever tax dollars are involved, government must be cautious and prudent."

You might think caution and prudence would require that tax dollars be reserved for the legitimate functions of government, which do not include subsidizing artists who can't manage to support their work through sales or private philanthropy. But for Owens, caution and prudence require only that the recipents of tax dollars have no dildos in their closet.