From Coast to Coast, Here’s How Artists Are Mobilizing Before the Midterm Elections

From poster-making parties to canvassing neighborhood, the art world is taking on the midterm elections in cities around the country.

Trevor Paglen's "Nov. 6, 2018" billboard in Hartford, CT. Photo via Instagram courtesy For Freedoms.

Ahead of the midterm elections, the art world—an historically politically minded assortment of institutions and individuals—has made a strong push in its showing of support for social activism and consciousness-raising.

In the two years since Donald Trump’s election to the White House, the art news cycle has become increasingly dominated by stories that involve politics, from the ramifications of new tax laws and tariffs that have a ripple-effect on the secondary market and international dealings to the phenomenon of social-media based movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter being channeled into visual and performance-based artworks.

Although, in the past, political art has been a reactive endeavor, there is currently a groundswell of artistic activity taking place in the run-up to next Tuesday’s nationwide elections, which are widely seen as a referendum on Trump’s leadership—with Democrats hoping to at least gain a majority in the House of Representatives and become a check on the president. New York mainstay Jeffrey Deitch has donated his gallery space as a ground zero for a week-long “Protest Factory” for community members to engage with artists in advance of the elections. As the art dealer told artnet News, most of the people—artists and art lovers alike—who are attending these events have strong political beliefs and were already planning to vote, “but we hope to set an example for how other communities can mobilize.”

Here are just some of events and activities happening from New York to Los Angeles ahead of the midterms.



For Freedoms: 50 State Initiative
Various Locations

Carrie Mae Weems, With Democracy in the Balance There Is Only One Choice (2018). Courtesy of For Freedoms.

One of the most notable engaged-art organizations to have emerged in recent years is For Freedoms, co-founded by the artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman. In early October, the group unveiled the more than 300 artists participating in its nationwide “50 State Initiative” billboard project, which have cropped up along highways and in barren parking lots with striking messages meant to encourage not just simple awareness but action. Just this week, For Freedoms released a set of images (free to download) that inject contemporary characters and attitudes into Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedom” illustrations, featuring the actors Rosario Dawson and Jesse Williams; CNN contributor Van Jones; and artists like Michele Pred.

Check the website for details about billboards throughout the country; on view through November 24


Art as Witness: Political Graphics 2016–2018
The School of Visual Arts, NYC

Nancy Burson. Courtesy of School of Visual Arts.

More than 200 illustrations, cartoons, and animations by 50 artists including Roz Chast, Art Spiegelman, and Milton Glaser are on display in this wide survey. A chronology of recent news stories unfolds across the artworks, pulled from prominent and niche media outlets alike; some of the works are blistering satires, others are more subdued thoughts on using this high-profile art form to satirize, comment on, and understand the current political climate.

On view through November 3; SVA’s Chelsea Gallery is located at 601 West 26th Street, 15th floor


Ajay Kurian: Nine Flags
47 Canal

Installation view of “Ajay Kurian: Nine Flags” at 47 Canal, New York, 2018
Image courtesy of the artist and 47 Canal, New York. Photo: Joerg Lohse

The artist Ajay Kurian has a surprise two-week show at the Chinatown gallery 47 Canal, which opened on the eve of the midterm elections. The series of nine wall-mounted sculptures are based on the American flag, but Kurian has taken this most iconic American image of all—the star spangled banner—and turned it into what looks like an alternatively charred, lizard-like, and decaying apocalyptic relic.

On view through November 9; 47 Canal is located at 291 Grand Street


Michele Pred: Vote Feminist
Nancy Hoffman Gallery

For Freedom's interpretation of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech, featuring artist Michelle Pred (standing). Photo courtesy of For Freedoms.

For Freedom’s interpretation of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech, featuring artist Michelle Pred (standing). Photo courtesy of For Freedoms.

Michele Pred’s solo show at Nancy Hoffman Gallery is filled with politically-emblazoned accessories, manipulated bulletproof vests, riot shields, and more, all bearing messages advocating for women’s rights and peace.

On view through November 24; Nancy Hoffman Gallery is located at 520 West 27 Street


Cristin Tierney Gallery

Installation view of “Neil Goldberg: VOTE IN THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS”, 2018. Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York. Photo by John Muggenborg.

Longtime New York resident Neil Goldberg is making the personal political in his new show at Cristin Tierney. The works on display are based on his index-card-based system for tracking his creative ideas and work flow, and the artist will stage interactive performances with viewers each weekend during the show’s run—except this Saturday, when he’ll be canvassing local neighborhoods to get out the vote.

On view through December 15; Cristin Tierney Gallery is located at 540 West 28th Street


Defining the Art of Change in the Age of Trump
The Center for Contemporary Political Art in Washington, DC

Installation view, opening reception, 2018 Center for Contemporary Political Art.

The recently opened Center for Contemporary Political Art is just a short walk from the White House, and it’s now finishing up the run of its first open-call exhibition, “Defining.” The CCPA is part political think-tank, part art gallery, and features work from artists across all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

On view through November 14; The Center for Contemporary Political Art is located at Mather Studio, 916 G Street NW


Plastic Jesus: VOTE
Melrose Avenue and N Stanley Ave, Los Angeles

Plastic Jesus, VOTE (2018). Courtesy of the artist via Instagram.

Plastic Jesus, aka the Banksy of the West Coast, has left his mordant mark on the exterior wall of a shoe store in Los Angeles. In the stenciled graphic, the line of hypebeasts waiting for the latest sneaker snakes around the block, while tumbleweeds are practically blowing through the open doors of a polling station.

Located at Melrose Avenue and North Stanley Avenue in Los Angeles


Untitled (Questions) by Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Questions) (1990). Photo: Elon Schoenholz, courtesy of MOCA.

A bold message has reappeared on the 30-foot-long wall outside MOCA’s Geffen Center in Los Angeles, where it will stay until at least November 2020. Untitled (Questions) was originally created in 1989, and, as the artist recently said, “It’s both tragic and disappointing that this work, 30 years later, might still have some resonance.”

On view through November 2020; Museum of Contemporary Art LA, 152 North Central Avenue, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles



Swing Left kicked off its “Last Weekend” pre-election push for volunteering and activism stretching across the country. The New York event will feature New York the politicians Corey Johnson and Michael Blake, plus the actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Piper Perabo, and Cecily Strong along with music from Sara Bareilles, the Resistance Revival Chorus, and a DJ set by Mia Moretti.

In Los Angeles, MOCA hosted the Vote for Your Lives Rally, with a special appearance by a billboard designed by Jenny Holzer and transformed into a bus. Afterward, Swing Left’s West Coast edition took place at the Palace Theater; the evening’s call sheet features Rufus & Martha Wainwright, Moby, the Bird and the Bee with Dave Grohl, two of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Chloe X Halle; the actors Adam Scott and Minnie Driver; plus Baratunde Thurston, Sasheer Zamata, and Tim Heidecker.


Art World Swings Left
Canvassing event at various locations 

“Impeachment Parade” protest on October 28, 2018 in New York City. Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images.

A whole slew of creatives are recruiting volunteers to take part in daylong, full-court press canvassing in New York and New Jersey. In tandem with Downtown for Democracy, galleries Bortolami, CANADA, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Greene Naftali, and Karma are participating in the event, along with the artists Carol Bove and Gordon Terry, and the fashion designer Rachel Comey. Volunteers will board buses from the gallery and head out for nearby swing districts to knock on doors and spread the word.

Monday, November 5, varying times; Greene Naftali is located at 508 W 26th Street


Michele Pred’s We Vote Parade
Washington Square Park 

Unrelated protesters in Washington Square Park. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

Artist Michele Pred is hosting a parade around Washington Square Park this Saturday. Before the event, Pred’s daughter will be corralling kids for a poster-making event, and the parade will culminate at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Chelsea, where Pred has a solo show currently on view.

Saturday, November 3, 1 p.m.(parade starts at 2:30); reception at 520 West 27th Street, 3:30–6 p.m.; Washington Square Park, New York



Protest Factory
Jeffrey Deitch 

A weeklong laboratory for community strategizing, political sign-making, and protest art with artists including Marilyn Minter, Cecily Brown, Katherine Bernhardt, Amy Sillman, and Sam Moyer. Over the course of the week, multiple events are taking place at Jeffrey Deitch’s gallery, which is hosting the project in conjunction with Downtown for Democracy. On the opening night, photographer Ryan McGinley took Polaroid snaps while Richard Hell, Barbara Kruger, and Richard Prince had original T-shirts on hand. Other notable guests include Alison Gingeras and the filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi in discussion about Pelosi’s new HBO film Outside the Bubble, plus Nan Goldin and the journalist Chris Glazek in conversation with Frieze Magazine‘s Andrew Durbin. The full roster of events is available online.

Various times, ongoing through November 6; Jeffrey Deitch is located at 18 Wooster Street


Propositional Attitudes: Election Extravaganza
LACE, Los Angeles

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. Courtesy of LACE.

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions is hosting an afternoon event based on the forthcoming midterms and the recently published anthology of performance-based artworks Propositional Attitudes: What Do We Do Now? Curated by the book’s editors John Burtle and Elana Mann, the public is invited to “blow off pre-election steam,” watch performances outlined in the book, and perhaps even meet the famed political icon Pigasus—presumably a descendant of the original—who was nominated for the U.S. presidency in 1968 by the rabble-rousing Youth International Party.

Sunday, November 4, 4-6 p.m.; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 6522 Hollywood Blvd. 


Optics: Visual Culture and Electoral Politics
The ICP Museum

Amy Khoshbin’s You Never Know performance at signs and symbols gallery. Courtesy of the artist.

The International Center of Photography is hosting a special election-themed public program featuring writer Jillian Steinhauer with artist Daniel Bejar in discussion about how visual media and images shape and affect the way viewers engage with and interpret politics. Artist Amy Khoshbin (who is running for City Council in 2021) will perform her work You Never Know that combines traditional political stump-speechery with rap. The night will end with an election-results watch party with a cash bar and DJ.

Tuesday, November 6, 7–10 p.m.; ICP Museum is located at 250 Bowery


Blue Wave/Red Tide Election Night Party
100 Days Action, San Francisco

Logo courtesy of 100 Days Action.

The Bay Area artist collective 100 Days Action’s mission statement is “Un-Fuck the Future,” and after hosting multiple events leading up to the midterms, the group is throwing an election night shindig with food and drinks for local artists and activists.

Tuesday, November 6, 6–10 p.m.; California College of the Arts Hubbell Street Galleries, 141 Hubbell Street, San Francisco

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