Monday, October 13, 2008

Art of Democracy

(c) Fernando Botero, Abu Ghraib 72, 2005
Collection of American University Museum, Washington DC

According to Peter Selz, art historian and author of Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond, "Not since the 1930s, facing the Great Depression and the impending danger of a Fascist New World Order, and the 60s with a previous illegal and immoral war, has there been such a great outpouring of political art. At the present, a great many artists, working in media, old and new, have again picked up their brushes, cameras or computers to protest against a foul war, destruction of the environment, obscene fiscal gains and abnegation of constitutional rights to express their rage and speak to the public."

Artists across the country, animated by response to events of the last seven years and mobilized over the past two years by Art Hazelwood, a San Francisco-based printmaker, and Stephen A. Fredericks, president of the New York, Society of Etchers have organized a series of forty exhibitions entitled Art of Democracy. The exhibitions, spanning the United States from Washington State to New Hampshire, including Puerto Rico, will analyze what went wrong within this millennium with an America that was admired not so long ago.

I'm sorry that I did not get to this sooner. As one who remembers the 60's all too well and the eloquent poster art of the time, I've been disappointed in whatever political art work I have seen. It has often been a carbon copy of earlier work, altered for today's consumer culture- recycling the images solely for profit without the original content and without acknowledging the original artist. However, the fact that this art is mostly to be found in galleries and university museums is a telling comment on how the times have changed. In the 60's, posters were all over the place - up on walls, in the free newspapers, even on t-shirts! I know that having an image of Angela Davis on a t-shirt is hardly an appropriate piece of political commentary on the Black Panther party and the political struggles of the time but at least the images were visible. The dialogue was - however juvenile at times - open, engaged and passionate. But then, the 60's, for all it's flaws, was a time of optimism and hope.

What I do find interesting is that none of these shows have been reviewed on our paper. I guess "educating the public" is de rigeur when it's a critique of a glass-blowing hack like Chiluly or the latest fashion show but not when it's difficult art about a painful subject. Check out their website for a list of related shows and events.

Meridian Gallery: September 4- November 4, 2008
Image from the website

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