New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called it obscene and illegal, corporate trademark attorneys bristle over it, and renowned artist Lynda Benglis has dubbed it “Press Art.” In April 1999, the United States Supreme Court weighed in, issuing an affirmation that upheld the basic premise of annoy.com: indecent communications intended to annoy are protected by the First Amendment of America’s constitution. Clinton Fein insists that the fundamental right to annoy, even if indecently, is one of the most effective tools we have to counter apathy and challenge complacency, and annoy.com proved the ultimate test.
Originally spawned in a digital realm at the dawn of Internet commercialization, annoy.com brazenly trashed the distinction between content and conduct by challenging the constitutionality of an insidious provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that criminalized any “indecent” computer communications intended to “annoy” another person. The provision in question made criminal, constitutionally protected communications among adults, including public officials.
In 1997, the launch of annoy.com mocked the oppressive attempts to limit electronic expression by linking provocative imagery to a suite of proprietary web tools designed to inspire and facilitate a dialogue that continues to test the limits and definitions of “decency” and “annoyance” today. With freedom of expression in one of the most exciting and promising mediums since the turn of the century at stake, Clinton Fein challenged Bill Clinton and his administration that ratified the Communications Decency Act by filing a lawsuit against Attorney General Janet Reno, which would wind itself all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
The images in this exhibition are the direct manifestation of that challenge, extracted from their interactive context, adjusted and translated into a static medium using a Color Cruse Camera process to create archival quality, state-of-the art color photographic Type C Prints. The images selected for the exhibition represent a snapshot of the events, people and brands that are rooted in annoy.com’s already formidable history.
Contemporary art gets no more incendiary than the C-prints on political and social topics…
Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
He’s made Mickey Mouse a homosexual martyr, strapped Dick Cheney to General Electric’s electric chair, slapped the pope onto a perforated condom wrapper and transformed Lady Liberty into a rifle-wielding madwoman.
Tanya Pamploni, The San Francisco Examiner
The more umbrageous among us may not click past Annoy’s home page, primed as it is for publicity with repeat-looped images of a wide range of uncovered private parts and brazen racial epithets. That would be a shame. The interesting thing about Annoy.com is that many will find it more amusing and enlightening than irritating.
The site is worthy of exploration for its irreverent use of interactivity, and there are also other kinds of provocative material here — in particular, cogent essays on media and social issues that are as edgy as anything on the Internet.
The Atlantic Monthly
On January 30, 1997, Clinton Fein launched annoy.com, simultaneously filing a federal court action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the provisions of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 that criminalized any “indecent” computer communication intended to “annoy” another person.
Much of the content on annoy.com was deliberately provocative and very often, somewhat crass, mocking the pretensions and piety of politicians and media alike.
The CDA’s assault on the First Amendment could not be countered with subtleties. So began a prolonged court battle against Janet Reno and the Clinton Administration that was finally determined by the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
Fein became the first South African born activist to challenge the United States government before the Supreme Court.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Artforum, New York’s prestigious art magazine, pulled an advertisement for an Annoy.com exhibition.
The advertisement consisted of an image displaying a purse-lipped Rudy Giuliani sitting naked in a urine-filled glass box, referencing the technique used by artist Damien Hirst and part of an exhibit, Sensation, that resulted in the former mayor withholding funding from the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Artforum would later give conflicting reasons for the decision that day veering between operational and ideological justifications.