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Original story: So this is Christmas? Artist’s non-yule work censored from Con Ed gallery

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A Park Slope artist says her nature-centric woodcarving exhibit got tossed from a corporate art space in Downtown because it’s not “Christmas-appropriate.”

Judith Z. Miller — who says she explores spiritual themes by carving animals into tree trunks — has been forced to remove her art from the lobby of a Con Edison building on Flatbush Avenue after workers complained that it lacks holiday spirit.

“Employees demand a festive lobby … during the Christmas holidays,” curator Leon Kalas wrote to Miller in an e-mail, demanding she pack up her wooden doves and dragons.

But Miller — who is Jewish by birth and Pagan by approach — contends that she never agreed to showcase holiday-themed art.

She also claims that Kalas and his corporate honchos broke a contract, then gave her the boot because she rejected the Santa-and-sleigh bells aesthetics of a suburban strip mall.

“They’re making an assumption that Christmas is for everybody,” she said. “It’s so offensive.”

Miller agreed months ago to exhibit her work at the building near Fulton Street — where local artists showcase monthly exhibits free of rent.

She hoped the exposure would help her sell some of her art — which looks vaguely Native American and was featured at the boathouse in Prospect Park for months. She chose the month of December because it’s gift-giving season, then signed a contract stipulating only that the pieces would not be “pornographic or religious” — but made no other promises in terms of content.

On Dec. 1, she moved her carvings into the lobby — but discovered that a large fake Christmas tree had taken up half the wall space.

She got an e-mail from Kalas the same day demanding she take it down — pronto. “Your exhibit has been cancelled,” he wrote. “[Con Edison] has the right to ask for a festive look during the holidays.”

He noted her art must gone by Dec. 7 — or Con Edison would make him toss it.

A spokeswoman for Con Edson did not respond by press time, noting only, “We are looking into this.”

But Kalas, himself an artist who once claimed to be censored back in 2007, said the exhibit is in fact being removed because it’s a “safety hazard.”

He said wooden sticks from the art “poke out” of the wall and “could injure employees,” adding Miller is making a fuss for the purposes of self-promotion.

“She is a sick, disturbed woman,” he said. “I gave her the space out of the goodness of my heart.”

But Miller sure doesn’t think of it as gift — “Holiday season” or otherwise.

“It just feels wrong,” she said, adding Brooklyn is full of folks who don’t sing songs about Rudolph or hang socks full of chocolate. “Why does everything always have to be about Christmas?”

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:28 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
I saw this stuff. It's just a bunch of sticks. At least the Christmas Tree had needles on it. The stuff was awful
Dec. 6, 2011, 9:01 am
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Damn, Swamp Yankee, you're right...just checked out her website...buncha ugly sticks...why the hell did they ever
even hire her?
Dec. 6, 2011, 3:10 pm
Staceyjw from Bk says:
If you don't own the gallery or have a binding contract, oh well. did they even look at her work before they booked her? I do think it's rude to book someone and tell them no at the last minute.
Dec. 6, 2011, 3:23 pm
Judith Z. Miller from Park Slope says:
Mr. Kalas curated the exhibit after being quite familiar with my work - as he attended other art shows where it was on display - and Con Edison was supplied with images of my work. They did not request a holiday themed show and specifically stated in the contract that the work could NOT be religious in nature - so doing a "Christmas" show would violate that agreement.

I want to make it clear that I did not make the statement attributed to me above "she said, adding Brooklyn is full of folks who don’t sing songs about Rudolph or hang socks full of chocolate." I have no idea why the reporter wrote that or where that sentence came from.

I think it's rather shocking that the curator who told me he loved my work when we hung it, derided my character by suggesting that I am "sick" and "childish" for sticking up for my rights and the rights of all artists to display work that is not "Christmas" related. I doubt if he would describe a man's reaction this way. Also the idea that he was doing me a favor by showing my artwork, suggests favoritism - certainly not a proper way to curate in my book.

Regarding the "quality" of my work - everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion - that's what makes this country strong - and I will defend to the death our right to freedom of speech.

You might be interested to know that the pieces are mostly the roots and trunks of trees, not "sticks" - but rather entire small trees dug up by hand, with permission of course. The top portions are the roots. Each piece has a specific purpose/theme.

To give you a bit more background on me and my work, here's my bio:

Judith Z. Miller is a multi-talented artist living in a musical, spiritual universe. She writes, sculpts, collaborates with other artists, and performs healing rituals -- as a way of engaging its intense beauty, sensuality, frustrations, and ecstasies.

Judith is a self-trained visual artist inspired by the majesty of nature and the guiding force of her intuition. She draws and carves primal sculpture and wearable art from trees that she digs up by hand, and, using no electric tools, embeds with stones and other found objects. She fashions these materials into ritual staffs, wearable amulets, and instruments, which she employs in healing rituals.

Her wearable art and sculpture were included in a fashion show and exhibit and seen by over 8,000 visitors in a 3-month solo show “Sticks & Stones” at the Boathouse in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, sponsored by the Prospect Park Alliance and the Audubon Center, and a two-month solo show at The National Museum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History. In 2009 she was awarded a grant from Fractured Atlas for a month-long study in Alaska with Tgnlt Master Caver Tommy Joseph. In 2008 she was selected for acrylic artist by the acrylic society. She was profiled in The Daily News; the subject of feature articles in Mann About Town magazine, Home News Tribune, In Brooklyn, The Park Slope Paper, The Wave, The Daily Sitka Sentinel, and featured on NY-1 Television. Her primal carvings, amulets and percussive instruments will be featured in the upcoming short film “Spell.” In December 2011 Judith’s “Sacred Staffs” will be on display in a month long solo show at the Con Edison Gallery in downtown Brooklyn.

Judith was trained as an actor in Washington DC, and co-founded The Fine Line Actors Theatre (formerly Earth Onion Women's Theatre). She acted in numerous productions in the DC area. Her grant writing skills and hustling ability enabled the theatre to raise the necessary funds to produce its performances and special constituency projects, including the groundbreaking Women’s Prison Project that included six weeks teaching and performing in a women’s federal penitentiary. In addition, she co-created original works with the communities the company’s various special projects served, developed dramatic and comedic original performance material. Judith’s passion for performance and arts management nationally acknowledged when she was awarded an NEA Arts Management Fellowship in Theatre.

Upon moving to New York, Judith went on to found and direct ZAMO! (Zelda Arts Management Organization), representing a multi-cultural mix of world-class GRAMMY® nominated and JUNO ® award-winning performing artists to venues such as The Kennedy Center, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Smithsonian Institution, and to cities all over the US for over 20 years. During this period, she produced showcases, successfully funded her artists with grants by the Mid Atlantic Arts Organization, wrote study guides for The Kennedy Center, and co-produced the “Voices” Festival event, “Presenting Latin Music,” at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters national conference. Continuing her passion for promoting the arts, she became the Chief Rhythm officer of Microfundo, a unique crowdfunding platform supporting musicians worldwide.

Most recently, Judith conceived and produced the Celebration of Life! “Be-In” in Park Slope, an artist response to September 11th. In her duel role as artist and music producer, a short no-budget music video of “Mankind,” by “MAURI” (Argentina/Uruguay) will soon document the event. Judith continues to teach and consult on self-promotion for performers, presented by organizations such as The Field, The Red Tent Women’s Project and the Brooklyn Arts Counsel.

In New York, Judith reads her erotic poetry and short stories at events sponsored by organizations such as Nehirim, Zeek Magazine, Essentiality, and at venues such as Blue Stockings, The Jewish Community Center, Wow Café Theatre - and late at night to her girlfriends in bed. She published in Inside Arts magazine, The Washington Post, and American Theatre magazine. In 2008 her paper “Sometimes a Tree Isn’t Just a Tree,” was read at the First International LSP-and Translation Studies Oriented Textual Analysis conference at Chouaib Doukkali University, El Jadida, Morocco. On December 2nd & 3rd 2011, she will perform as part of the Writers In Performance Workshop at The Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

In 2008 Judith created a series of spiritual self-portraits that enabled her to begin to visualize a new spiritual path. Having had profound spiritual experiences, she sought out council. This year Judith won the 2011 British Airways Face-to-Face Opportunity contest, which enabled her travel to Thailand for an audience with a well-respected Buddhist shaman, who confirmed that it is Judith’s “destiny” to heal with her hands and shakers.

Encouraged to pursue a path that further incorporates all of her gifts and talents, now, in addition to teaching jewelry-making/experiential workshops at retreat centers, non-profit organizations and for private clients, she draws upon all of her many years of experience in the arts, her BA in Psychology/Law, Gestalt Therapy and other body-centered modalities, and combines them with her inquisitive, intuitive sensitivities. Her newest work is a moment-by-moment exploration – a form of body, mind, spiritual therapy, which incorporates her tree branch shakers along with touch, guided imagery, breath work, chanting and percussion in a peaceful environment – and is designed to stimulate deep relaxation, release, self awareness and increased knowledge.

On December 2 & 3, 2011 Judith performed her piece “Goddess/Sacred/Shamanic/Whore” as part of Writers in Performance at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

Judith resides in Park Slope Brooklyn. Her blog, Artist Soul Speaks, is a forum for arts, culture, and community in NYC and beyond.

Website: http://www.zamo-zamo.com

Blog: http://www.ArtistSoulSpeaks.wordpress.com

Featured Member Fractured Atlas: http://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/blog/2009/10/16/featured-member-judith-z-miller/
Dec. 7, 2011, 5:02 pm
jcaljcal says:
perhaps you would be more comfortable with a showing of your WORK at Bronx State Hospital.
Dec. 8, 2011, 5:54 pm
Max from Northside O says:
It was their screwup, they agreed to have the show and changed their minds. Why does the artist have to pay the price, and why are they trying to make her look bad? Lots of people don't celebrate christmas. This would have been for us.
Dec. 10, 2011, 6:17 pm
Lillian from Manhattan says:
Sounds like not only was this a poorly conceived show, but also that the rules changed in the middle, and that at no time was it made clear that there was such a narrow focus on exactly what specific themes the art was to depict, or that the exhibit would represent such a limited view of what the holidays are about. Maligning the artist, who was the victim of this unfairness, makes this even more outrageous.
Dec. 10, 2011, 11:51 pm
Mike Cockrill from Park Slope says:
We can have a debate about the art. We can argue if we think it belongs in a particular space, at a particular time, but for the curator of the space to slander the artist personally as he did with his quote calling Judith Z Miller "a sick disturbed woman" is actually the most outrageous thing I've ever heard a curator say about an artist HE INVITED to exhibit in his space. As a long time Brooklyn artist, who has on more than a few occasions defended the rights of art and artists I find it to be the worst kind of attack when you shift the debate away from the art and attack the artist personally. Artists are bringing ideas to us. We may not like the ideas. We can have that discussion and perhaps learn something in the process. But we should not attack free and open thinkers for offering new or alternative ideas to us.
Dec. 13, 2011, 9:27 am
Jane from Park slope says:
After treating me to her imperial airs for 10 years, this woman ended our friendship and still owes me over $400. I think her work is totally bogus.
Aug. 30, 2016, 5:35 pm

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