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Casualty of War

Iraq War-themed sculpture shunted from arts-fest site

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The most interesting piece chosen for the Society of Sculptors' annual show, currently on display at PPG Place as part of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, may be the one you don't see there. "God's Door," by sculptor Dennis Childers, was either banned, voluntarily removed, never accepted or never even seen by display space managers, depending on whom you ask.

The piece gives an unassuming piece of wood a provocative soundtrack. Several speakers of varying sizes have been imbedded in an old door with peeling paint, which Childers found discarded at a church. Once viewers approach the door, a 10-minute audio loop begins: "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, followed by the rattle of AK-47s, M-16s and cruise missiles spun into a rhythmic percussion section. George W. Bush joins in next, declaring, "It is God's gift to humanity," a reference to the war with Iraq that Childers took from one of Bush's speeches. Soon Saddam Hussein's translator adds "God is great" from one of his speeches. The repeated sounds overlap and reverberate until they become a single throbbing cacophony.

Childers, board member and vice president of the SOS, says "God's Door" was juried into the show, reviewed by PPG Place management and rejected. SOS board member James Shipman, responsible for coordinating the show with PPG, says building managers informed him the piece's political content might offend some viewers. Wishing someday to use the space again, Shipman agreed not to include Childers' sculpture. Childers says he is only aware of the conflict because he is an SOS board member; the controversy was discussed at their recent meeting.

Shipman will not say whom in PPG Place management nixed Childers' piece, but Anita Falce of Grubb and Ellis Co. says she is sole manager of the display space for this show -- and that none of the artwork SOS submitted to her was refused. PPG Place maintains artwork guidelines -- only pieces suitable for family viewing are eligible, Falce says. Pieces precluded from past displays were excluded because they contained sharp objects or other physically dangerous features. No pieces were rejected by building management in the past few years, she adds.

Arts Festival Curator Katherine Talcott, who said the work was not accepted because it did not fit the format of the rest of the show, has arranged for "God's Door" to be presented in an alternate space in the basement of the Harris Theater, which cinemagoers with strong bladders need never visit. But the sculpture will only be available for viewing during the evening, when the theater is open, and certainly won't receive the same notice.

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