At CUNY, Zoe Beloff Looks at America Through Brechtian Eyes

THE DAILY PIC: A look at the fate of great Marxist artists in Hollywood.


THE DAILY PIC (#1430): One of the great pleasures of being an artist must come at the very beginning of the process, when you find something amazing in the world and decide to point it out to your audience. That’s what Zoe Beloff does in the major exhibition called A World Redrawn: Eisenstein and Brecht in Hollywood, currently filling the entire James Gallery at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

The title doesn’t lie: Beloff’s project is about the amazing fact that, in the 1930s and ’40s, the two great communist artists both found themselves trying to work in the distinctly capitalist movie industry.

Beloff’s exploration of that moment includes a bunch of historical documentation, including today’s Pic: A page from the August 23rd, 1941 Columbus Dispatch that presents the Ohio State Fair as a beam of light in the world’s darkness. The subject struck Brecht as well, and especially the bizarre fact that a family had won the right to live for a week in a model home on the fairgrounds, to be ogled by fairgoers.

Amazingly, Brecht thought he could get away with making a movie about this exposure of capitalist consumers as the very commodities they consume. Needless to say, his film never came anytime to a theater near anyone.

What I find particularly compelling about Beloff’s project is that it seems to reflect – and reflect on – the predicament that many artists, including Beloff, still face today. There’s no doubt that capitalist democracies have tended to give artists more room to move than any other political system, despite the non-completion of the projects by our two communists. (You’ll have to visit Beloff’s show to learn about Eisenstein’s Hollywood fate.) But at the same time, as they take advantage of that freedom, artists inevitably feel (and are) complicit with capitalism’s darker side. All thinking artists are in the same shoes as Brecht and Eisenstein.

Safely sidelined in the white cube of an art gallery, with her art ogled by all comers, Beloff is also a “winner” of that contest at the State Fair.

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