We’re seeing this poster all over the internet, attributed as an “actual poster issued by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the mid-1950s, at the height of the Red Scare.” Just yesterday the venerable non-profit Artists Space, the Occupy Wall Street Arts & Labor working group, and a few ArtInfo editors shared it on Facebook. Thing is, the poster is a total fabrication—it was never a McCarthy-era poster. It’s a Tumblr-era meme.
The quotation itself has previously circulated as a quote by Queen Victoria, but that’s not right either. It’s actually an out-of-context paraphrase of a letter King Leopold of Belgium wrote to Queen Victoria in 1845. You want to believe it’s a McCarthy poster though, and so did many thousands on Facebook and Tumblr. The slideshow above is a tribute to dangerous artists (add your own in the comments). As the artist Jack Goldstein once wrote, “Dangerous objects are glamorous places to be.”