"many Americans don't have interest in free speech"

We don't want to speak out and we don't want to listen in.

Hlynur Hallsson arrived this summer in Marfa, Tex., with plans, as he put it, to stimulate discussion.

[The first exhibit which the artist assembled at the very respectable Chinati Foundation] — a compilation of other artists' work — did not stir much reaction. His second, four graffiti-style sentences scrawled on a wall, created an uproar.

"The real axis of evil are Israel, USA and the UK," Mr. Hallsson, an artist from Iceland, wrote in English and Spanish. "Ariel Sharon is the top terrorist. George W. Bush is an idiot. And Iceland is banana republic number one."

Hallsson is an attractive young conceptual artist [too bad only the NYTimes hard copy includes pictures] with growing visibility in Iceland and elsewhere in Europe.
He said the first three statements did not reflect his opinions but were taken from comments he had heard in Europe or had seen in the European press. He said the fourth, about Iceland, came from a quotation in an article in The New York Times about plans to build a huge power plant in his home country.

Mr. Hallsson said that he realized the statements were provocative, but that he hoped they would lead to discussion about how the rest of the world sometimes views the United States.

The town went nuts! The Foundation's survival instincts led to the covering of the windows and the artist's proposal for a second part of the exhibit.
"The Axis of Evil is North Korea, Iraq and Iran," he wrote this time, painting over the original statements. "Osama bin Laden is the top terrorist. George W. Bush is a good leader. And Iceland is not a banana republic."

He said of the change, "I just wrote what people want to read."
There was virtually no discussion this time; almost no one came. The Mayor said few locals went because they considered the change patronizing.
Mr. Hallsson left on Tuesday to return to Iceland. His departure was planned before the controversy, and he said he wished he could have stayed "for further discussion."

He also said he was startled that people were so quick to try to clamp down on controversial speech.

"I think quite many Americans don't have interest in free speech," Mr. Hallsson said. "The majority, I don't know. My experience was, quite many people would be happy to give that one away."