Artists Aren’t Afraid to Get Political at Art Basel Miami Beach
Some works are brand-new responses to the election.
Upon arriving at Art Basel Miami Beach, visitors waiting on line for the 11:00 a.m. preview were greeted with a giant electric sign by Sam Durant, hanging on the outside wall at the booth of bi-coastal gallery Blum & Poe.
The sign reads “End White Supremacy,” and sets a tone for an unmistakable theme of political-minded works, some of them straight out of the studio in response to the US presidential election.
At Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, you can’t miss a work by Andrea Bowers that the artist created after the emergence of the Access Hollywood hot mic recording of then-candidate Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.
“Don’t touch me,” reads the sign, with electric lights inside cardboard letters in reference to the typical material for signs at protest marches.
Vielmetter’s whole booth is topical, with Karl Haendel’s large drawing of Hillary Clinton as well as Pope.L’s painting Gold People Dance Contest 1931, ominously referring, Vielmetter pointed out, to the year of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.
Referring to protest, like Bowers, but in a lighter vein, is English artist David Shrigley, at New York’s Anton Kern Gallery, with a luscious gouache work depicting a smokestack belching smoke in a curious shade of green, suggesting toxic waste. Across the bottom of the work appears the message “protest against it.”
With Trump’s stated conviction that climate change is a hoax cooked up by the Chinese, and his promise to loosen environmental regulations, we’re sure to see more opportunities to take Shrigley’s advice.
Other artists take up the subject of the Black Lives Matter movement, in a sense. Derrick Adams, at Chicago’s Rhona Hoffman, offers several paintings of carefree African Americans lounging in swimming pools, among the many sites where racists have traditionally tried to deny them access. One swimmer sports a revealing American flag bathing suit, the Stars and Stripes plastered across his posterior. It’s a celebration of leisure, amid everyday struggles.
Sanford Biggers, showing with New York’s Marianne Boesky, contributes a striking video and sculpture confronting the subject of gun violence against black Americans. Biggers shoots holes in African figural sculptures, which become stand-ins for victims of police violence, and casts the results in bronze, also showing video of the sculptures being shot up.
Kerry James Marshall at David Zwirner’s booth offers a more understated commentary, focused, like Adams’s paintings, on leisure, with a black couple lounging in the grass. The artist’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is drawing rave reviews, and it’s easy to see why.
Henry Taylor’s painting tackles the subject of artist David Hammons selling snowballs in one of his most iconic performances, also with Blum & Poe. As gallerist Jeff Poe pointed out to me, the work is reminiscent of paintings by Outsider artists, though Taylor graduated from CalArts. But the dreamlike imagery supports the association, with Santa Claus and a hyena making the scene along with the boundary-breaking artist.
A much-needed call for reconciliation comes via Sterling Ruby at Sprüth Magers (London, Berlin, and Los Angeles); here, a stuffed fabric peace sign in black and white which he created in response to the election suggests peace between opposing forces.
Hitting directly on the nose is a large painting by David Wojnarowicz at new York’s P.P.O.W., that shows the White House next to the Acropolis, suggesting the limited lifespan of democracies, and the Titanic headed toward an iceberg, paired in the booth along with an image of the iconic American buffalo headed over a cliff.
“America was already headed over a cliff in the 1980s,” gallery co-owner Wendy Olsoff quipped, “and only more so today.”
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