Josh Kline’s New Work Envisions a Coming American Civil War—to Be Followed by a Socialist Utopia

The show opens a new space for London's Modern Art gallery.

A still from Josh Kline's video Another America is Possible (2017). Courtesy of the artist.
A still from Josh Kline's video Another America is Possible (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

A racially diverse group picnics in a sunny park, where they torch a Confederate flag on a bonfire, signaling an end to a long history of racial terror in the US. The image stands out in Another America is Possible (2017), a short video by New York artist Josh Kline that forms part of his show “Civil War,” the inaugural exhibition at the new space of London’s Modern Art gallery.

In the New York artist’s imagined future, the divisions at the heart of US society have finally burst into a full-on Civil War, Part II. Yet in the wake of this reckoning, he imagines the potential for a Shangri-La of racial harmony, universal basic income, and quality health care as a Constitutional right.

If this seems rather cheerful, the central sculptural element of “Civil War” lingers on the much bleaker likely outcome of future conflict: mounds of cast sculptures of children’s toys, colored gray like dust-covered rubble, commingled with chunks of concrete sprouting pieces of rebar.

The sad jumble alludes to the potential—maybe even the likelihood—of mutual destruction. The remains of the imagined battle, and the belongings of the American people, are piled up like so many corpses.

Josh Kline's exhibition "Civil War." Courtesy of the artist.

Josh Kline’s exhibition “Civil War.” Courtesy of the artist.

The projected second American Civil War, says Kline in a statement, would likely be “incomprehensibly vicious,” since its combatants won’t be separated by a Mason-Dixon Line.

The installation and film alike grow out of a larger cycle by Kline riffing on the future. Last summer, his “Unemployment” (seen at New York’s 47 Canal gallery in New York) looked ahead to 2030, its grim, spare installation alluding to the dystopian consequences of automation putting millions out of work.

“Subtle, ‘Unemployment’ was not, but it did strike a nerve,” Alex Greenberger wrote for ARTnews, reviewing that show.

“Civil War” builds on that bleak vision—with the obvious political reference being the brutalizing Trump-era politics rending the nation. “There’s no reason to believe that Trump is the end of this,” Kline warns in an email to artnet News.

All the same, one of the fascinating things about Kline, whose work has become a staple of forward-looking art shows like the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial and the recent DIS-curated Berlin Biennale, is how he nods towards some utopian possibility in tension with his bleaker premonitions.

In “Unemployment,” this came in the form of a series of promos for a world delivered from poverty by a universal basic income. In “Civil War,” it is that cheery Confederate flag burning, imagining a day when today’s bitter debates over racist symbols can could be ended, at last, without resistance.

“The future hasn’t happened yet,” he writes. “It can still be shaped in the present.”

Josh Kline, “Civil War,” will be at Modern Art, 50-58 Vyner Street, London, E2 9DQ, from October 4–November 13.


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