Unwanted audience participation

“77 Stab Wounds.”

“77 Stab Wounds.”

New York City’s mayor doesn’t own the patent when it comes to artistic persecution. Rudolph Giuliani-style art appreciation—or lack thereof—has found its way to Sacramento.

Here in the liberal heart of downtown, a mini brouhaha recently broke out at the Espresso Metro café when the paintings and collages of Sacramento artist John Davis came under fire from some of the employees.

Davis is a “hard-core statement maker, an old pro from San Francisco,” who specializes in impact art, according to friend and gallery owner Alix McQueen.

She was there on the recent Sunday when two Metro employees, upset with the graphic content of the pieces, revolted and took them down from the walls. One allegedly went so far as to toss one of the pieces to the ground, damaging it. It’s a reaction, unfortunately, that McQueen feels belies a strong ambivalence toward art in this city.

“These two people that attacked, they’re just a symbol to me of what really rests under the surface in Sacramento. It’s a real hate [of] art and artists and what they do,” she said. “They were just both practically violent.”

Davis first approached the café several weeks ago, showing slides of his controversial work to the manager, work that includes depictions of Dr. Ruth as a nymphomaniac and Charles Manson embracing singer Perry Como. The manager agreed to the Sunday showing, a decision that surprised Metro employee Mark Reddick.

“I think she just basically glanced at the small slides,” Reddick said. “If you don’t look at it [closely], it just looks like colorful blotches.”

With slightly upper middle-class customers that often come in from the church across the street, Reddick feels it’s unlikely his manager would have agreed had she been more scrutinizing.

What resulted is that the two employees almost immediately took down his art, accusing Davis of being mentally ill with a childlike grasp of his craft. But McQueen defends the style as protest art.

Reddick said two older women and a little girl that had just come in from the church service across the street sat next to a painting of a chainsaw and grinning phallus.

“As I glanced over, the little girl had her finger on the painting asking a question about it. Then Olivia runs over and takes it down, and they’re like, ‘That’s disgusting,’ kind of under their breath. They didn’t seem too shocked by it, but they definitely said they didn’t like it.”

As for Davis, he seems pleased with the reaction his art elicited: “Any kind of work that doesn’t cause a strong reaction, then the artist hasn’t done his job. Either I want people to love my artwork or hate it. At least I made an impact.