Point of Spousal Privilege

I’ve been told that Governor Shumlin’s wife is a fan of this blog. Oh well, let’s alienate another regular… 

Apparently when you’re married to the governor, you get to use his ceremonial office as a sounding board for your pique.

That’s the lesson I drew from Katie Hunt’s art installation, on display in hubby’s ceremonial office at the Statehouse. There are two works, each comprised of a set of papier mache figures. And it’s hard not to see them as Hunt’s own personal Festivus celebration with the Vermont media as the recipient of her Airing of Grievances.

Deets, and pictures, after the jump.

Four CowsThe first tableau, entitled “Judgment Day”: A cow on its hind legs, which are bowed outward to give full display to its bright pink udder, is facing three seated bovines with menacing expressions and bared, jagged teeth. The standing cow is reportedly Ms. Hunt herself — either that, or a sub rosa endorsement of Sue Minter. The “demon cows” represent the media. Their ID tags, respectively, say “Dairy Free Press,” “Bovine Days,” and “cowpiedigger.org.”

Closeup of Demon Reporter.

Closeup of Demon Reporter.

Hahaha, that’s… almost funny.

Sorry, TV reporters and Vermont Press Bureau. You are apparently not beastworthy.

The other installation includes two figures: a standing peacock holding a long gun and a disemboweled cow lying dead on the ground. This one is entitled “P-cock went hunting.” “P-cock” refers to Peter Shumlin. (I hope to God it’s not also her pet name for the governor.)


But it begs the question. If reporters are portrayed as angry, demonic cows in one tableau, and Governor P-cock has just killed a cow in the other,  then, well, should our media try to avoid Shumlin’s East Montpelier manse during hunting season?

Perhaps this was all meant as lighthearted satire, but it struck me as sour, bitter, and vengeful. And I wonder about the appropriateness of the setting: this is tourist season at the Statehouse, and there’s a steady parade of visitors wanting a glimpse of the ceremonial office. For most of them, the installation must be a puzzling distraction. It’s certainly out of character with the room, which is full of antique furniture and portraits of Dead White Governors. The artist is identified as “Katie Hunt,” but there’s no mention of her marital connection to the office’s official occupant.

And there’s a dissonance between the tenor of the work and the pretentious, wordy Artist’s Statement on view (pictured nearby). She claims Bread and Puppet Theater as inspiration, and posits her work as “satirical critique of events in my life, specifically when groups of people exercise authority and power.”

ArtistStatementAll righty then. Let’s try to deconstruct that just a little bit.

Problem #1. It’s not the media who are “exercis[ing] authority and power” in that setting. It’s the  Governor and his officials. The ceremonial office is the embodiment of the pomp and power of its occupant. The media do not possess the authority or the power. They might be annoying, but they are (to quote a baseball player whose name I do not recall) “flies at the show.” So the theoretical framing of the piece is off kilter —unless you live your life on the “authority” side of the media/authority divide.

Problem #2. I sincerely doubt that Bread and Puppet Theater would accept this construct. From my knowledge of their work, they would be likely to portray the government officials as demon beasts. The media would be depicted as irrelevant or clueless — or possibly as David figures battling a governmental Goliath.

My visit left me a bit unsettled. And, honestly, wondering how this all came about. The only explanation I can come up with is that the artist is married to the governor. Doesn’t that strike you as, well, a bit off?

13 thoughts on “Point of Spousal Privilege

  1. Robert Haskins

    Okay, I’m not an art critic, but that display presented by Mrs. Hunt-Shumlin is nothing short of ridiculous. Saying it’s off putting is kind, more like Kathy Bates crazy a la Misery. What’s next performance art having an Anne Galloway look-a-like hit with a pie-in-the-face?

    Shumlin hitting the rockiest of rock bottoms as he departs back to the Dominican to work on his paper mache with his Warhol wannabe.

  2. newzjunqie

    Blame-the-victims much? Lighthearted — how unfunny. Not only an inartful display of angst but vindictively so. Very public & personal projection. Not buying the flourishes of fancy ‘splaining either. Apparently polite society is running out of venues to display visceral rage & attack opponents but now must clothe in high-minded artistic endeavors to remain polite. Pardon me while I grab a glass of pinot noir to properly view the exhibit becoming of its style.

    Bread & Puppet for politicians because…they’re hurting & need to make a statement too? Somebody needs a new pair of glasses. Chicken Soup for the tired and weary souls of crooked politicians facing angst of agrieved voters waking up to the aftermath? We the bankrupted & impoverished need also to feel the pain of the politicians who abuse us? How very sardonic.

    The bigger the egos the larger & more grandiose the constructs necessary to shield them. Art a highly personal venue of expession & difficult to criticize hence its usage to express controversy, however it is always a reflection purely of the mood & persona of creator(s). Personally find it unsurprisingly & darkly humorless under the glare of stage lights above the overarching circumstance here of Shummy’s spectacular betrayal of public trust. And the press has been far too kind, so undeserving of the pointed finger of ingracious reprimand.

    So very Shummy & simply an extension of the legendary doubling down, no matter who is channeling-must be contagious. Also see it as ploy to silence critics by having what is hoped to be the last word. Reminiscent of the presser where in a lavish display of self-pity went on offense attacking the press as a smokescreen presumably to cover discomfort of fall from grace.

    Cry me a river! Personally do not feel sorry for dishonest politicians who betray public trust period. Peter Shumlin a victim of his own devices as we all are. Expect he is finding it very uncomfortable to lie in the bed he alone has made for himself. And those who have suffered as a result will find it *much more* difficult as we do not have the advantage of wealth & privilege to cushion our blows, or mop up the blood when falling on own sword, state executive pension compensation for life or luxuries such as custom-created fine art displays in ceremonial quarters to express our miseries.

  3. mmmmm

    Dude. The P-cock shot a male deer – a buck – not a cow, check out the antlers. The two installations are not directly connected pieces.

  4. tansy2013

    This isn’t an entirely fair portrayal of Mrs. Hunt’s work (although I realize it’s a political opinion blog, not an art-critic blog). The satire was primarily making fun of herself and her husband — the peacock and the angry cow in heels — which takes some balls. And she has actual artistic ability. The display provokes a reaction, but it’s not just the subject matter, it’s because she has the skill to make figures that convey strong emotion. That’s in keeping with the best political satire. It would be ridiculous to suggest that spouses don’t have emotions or a point of view, and in theory we no longer expect wives to sit meekly in a corner making sweet needlepoints of hearts to decorate the hallway (not that there’s anything wrong with needlepoint). The Governor’s wife has been known for being too quiet, not for being too opinionated. So she took one chance to express herself in a medium where she feels comfortable, for a brief period of time, in one state house room during the summer break. So it made some people squirm. I’m not suggesting it should be a permanent installation, but I have to believe we’ll all survive the experience of knowing one woman’s perspective.

    1. Brooke Paige

      Kate’s Paper Mache POS !

      I am sure that the folks at vtdigger (Anne and Diane) will be especially appreciative of Ms. Hunt/Shumlin’s portrayal of them. They have occasionally called my political expressions “nasty” – I will be curious what they will label this POS ?

  5. Brooke Paige

    Call Waste Management to Schedule a Pick-Up at the State House !

    I will be leading summer tours at the State House in a couple of weeks and hope this tasteless , pointless exercise in anger management therapy has been relegated to the dumpster (or at the very least the door to the ceremonial office has been locked from the inside) by then !

    I do not want to be asked to explain this to our visitors from around the world AND the non-profit that I help out certainly doesn’t want anyone to hear my explanation !

  6. Dave G.

    Judging by the juvenile nature of Ms. Hunt’s “art?.” she’s even younger in mind, which probably plays even better to Shumlin’s constant need to be worshiped. He chose well.

  7. newzjunqie

    No one squirming thet I can see but if it makes Shumlins’ sorry hide feel better, wonderful. Continuing to decieve self gets one nowhere even faster. Seems more like collective revulsion & near unanimous affront to wealthy and powerful attempting to position themselves as victims here. And artists, writers etc etc do not get to control responses, opinions or what their works reflect, the images seen in beholders’ eye Resultant takeaway ours alone as Stravinsky once discovered with widely reviled but also acclaimed disonant disaster “Rite of Spring”.

    Evoking controversy is *not* art, or as a lightening rod who does not have an artistic bone in my body, would make me an artist? Ann Coulter & Rush Limbaugh — artists? One commenters’ “Warhol wannabe” comes to mind & totally apropos.

    Exhibit hideously repugnant & disturbing in its perverse & pointed assault on VT digital media sector: VTDigger & Seven Days — which are the ones who are in fact working overtime pulling back the curtains revealing to Vermonters their discoveries — dishonesty of our leaders in Montpelier Of which Shummy a prime example & becoming poster-boy for political corruption in VT which has spread like a black plague of disease & now systemic. We need a new shiny-badge in Montpelier to get rid of all the criminals. This blog, The VPO also delivers laser-like beam of prescient analysis can’t forget Green Mountain Daily who have reported many of the same issues for years.

    Deer represent weakness, nearly defenseless & always prey to a variety predators. How very Freudian — the display of Shummy’s abject arrogance as a peacock — standing above the fragility of poor animal lying shot down with bloody entrails exposed. metaphoric in its representation of we the defenseless — including Jeremy Dodge — outgunned by the governor & his soldiers: administration, agency heads & appointees of Peter Shumlin. Though clearly unintentional, poetry pronounces its justice even over its supposed purveyors.

    Exhibit & corresponding ‘splainer reeks of pretentiousness. Haughty attempt at artist-by-association doesn’t work either. Litany of famous artists representing laundry list of famous works does not make Ms. Hunt one of them. Inverse attempt to associate Bread & Puppet the most monumental fail of all probably b/c personally see no connection whatsoever. Art teacher did no favor if failing to give honest critique.
    The kabuki-ish play productions, brilliantly masterful eye-catching artistry of the giant puppets seemingly loom over protests & marches like the giant overlords of corporate reichocracy & associated heavy-handed interests loom over ours of which politicians like the wealthy Shumlins represent.

    Have a little cheese with your whine. After the stages of grief & blood is mopped suggest they face themselves rather than simply smashing the mirror held to the dishonesty which has come to define Peter Shumlins’ regime.
    Never an honest word…that was when when I ruled the world:

  8. Stacey R.

    This post strikes me as unfair and dull-witted. In the installation, I see themes of display and exposure, scrutiny and violation, with a bit of vulnerability peeking out at the edges. It looks to be about “the press” about as much as Warhol’s soup cans are about “soup.”

    When an artist talks about power and authority in galleries and college art courses these days, they’re usually talking about white male privilege; one of the main symbols of this, a la Freud, is the phallus—hence, P-Cock. Hunt is a young woman—she might be married to the governor, but I don’t think she sees herself as sharing his power. From the piece, it’s pretty clear that she sees Shumlin as the possessor of the power, as well the one who displays it (like a peacock). Furthermore, Hunt is not an idiot: she knows that even though she and Shumlin might have the most fantastic relationship on earth, people will automatically place her in the category of “trophy wife.” And look! At the food of the bird: a fallen buck, a hunting trophy, which despite being male must surely represent Hunt herself. (Maybe she put the antlers on she it wouldn’t look so much like the cows. Or maybe Hunt is deliberately obscuring her meaning—me, I’d love to see some blond lady-hair on the buck.) And what’s the artist’s name again? Oh yeah: Hunt. As in P-Cock Hunting. Get it? What Hunt is doing here is poking fun at the power differential between herself and P-Cock with satire, one of the most effective weapons against authority. Dude, she’s not making fun of journalists! She’s making fun of her husband!

    The other image of Hunt is the cow, with her exposed udder, who is being scrutinized by unfriendly cows that aim to exhibit her. Again, it isn’t about the press—it’s about Hunt. She says so right in her statement. The press is a symbol of scrutiny and judgment, an embodiment of it. The artwork itself is about feeling vulnerable and exposed and over-sexualized. You know, it can’t feel that great to be a Mount Holyoke grad one day and find yourself in a reviled category of womanhood the next. Most people are pretty judgmental about May/December, trophy-wife/power husband couples, especially other women. She’s taking a risk and showing her feelings in this piece, albeit in a coded and half-obscured way.

    I’m not sure if this art is good or bad or what—it’s notorious hard to photograph installation art, and these photographs are piss poor—but I think Hunt is aiming for something interesting and sly and subversive, something that allows her to have her say in the governor’s house, in her own way, in her own medium.


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