“I was in shock. Hope was extinguished. A dawning of total dread and disappointment descended.”
These were the words used by Los Angeles based artist Laurie Lipton, to describe her sentiments as she began an almost 5’ x 9’ drawing the day after the 2016 presidential election. Her medium of choice was graphite on paper, and the piece took over six months to complete.
The finished work is monumental and depicts an intricate factory scene pushing out an endless supply of smiley faces. Newly elected Trump’s head rests centerstage to a multitude of microphones, as familiar Facebook “Like” symbols hover nearby.
The new presidential era brought instant turmoil for the art world as news of his plan to defund the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) were released, even before his official inauguration. Fear of losing crucial government support disheartened many as the budget cuts of a new administration loomed in the future. We asked ourselves, what may lie ahead for our profession as our country seemed to be denouncing the importance of the arts by dismantling these important institutions—thus diminishing its visibility.
“I didn’t want to create a political cartoon. I wanted to capture the essence of the Trump Phenomenon: the crassness, the media involvement, the social networking bots… all of it,” the artist said.
As she recalled her experience leading up to the election Laurie noted that when she questioned opinions and news sources, people “un-friended” or blocked her.
“I wondered, who was in charge of what we were reading online?” she asked.
In the time since, not much has changed with some friends and even families at odds with each other. The internet seems to be in a constant state of division, the left pitted fiercely against the right. Daily debates are centered on all-too familiar hot-button issues, such as immigration, women’s rights, and the most poignant as of late—gun control. My own Facebook has since become a constant feedback circle of pointed memes, politically charged tweets and the constant stream of questionable news sources.
It’s a new era for “truth,” and fact-bending. Fake news has awakened the masses to modern day witch hunts via the world wide web.
Thinking about this radically new landscape, lines from an almost century’s old poem came to mind for myself, and many others— “Turning and turning in the widening gyre… A gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun … Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming” is described by Reporter Nick Tabor as “the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English.” Even before the 2016 election, it had been referenced ad nauseam, which perhaps what makes it the perfect metaphor for the seemingly constant state of political turmoil that has encircled the ever-evolving American media.
As an artist and curator, my trade is defined as visual in nature. My role in the fight to defend the viability of the arts has manifested in an awareness of all the politically minded works being created in response to the choices of this new administration. It is by creating a platform for that work, I hope to contribute to the conversation and potentially inspire action for change.
As Ms. Lipton acutely observed, forty-six percent of the American population didn’t bother to vote on election day. Some people even came to believe that both candidates were equally as bad. In her words “The contest [was] between one of the most qualified politicians in Washington” and in her opinion “the most unqualified buffoon…Trump became President of the United States of America and the joke was on us.” Her work “POST TRUTH” will make its first public showing in the upcoming exhibition “Slouching Toward Sunshine” on Friday, March 9th from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at Commune, in the heart of the NEON arts district.
The show, produced by the Rutter Family Art Foundation was organized by myself in collaboration with Hampton Boyer and Doddie Braza of, Thank You Gallery. Inspired by the William Butler Yeats’s famous work “The Second Coming” the curators hope to illustrate the cyclical nature of history with works inspired by the tumultuous political climate of the past two years and a brief history of protest in the United States.
The idea of sunshine perhaps best represents the irony of Yeats’s often misinterpreted prose. With each new election cycle, we head into a new era, and changes will be made on both sides of the aisle, his “rough beast” will always await, whether we choose to—”keep on the sunny side”.
Slouching Toward Sunshine will run until Sunday, April 15th. Works featured will include video, performance, painting, drawing, and selection from the Protest Banner Lending Library in Chicago, contributed by its curator, Aram Han Sifuentes.
Additional programming includes: a “Third Thursday” by artist Christy Roberts Berkowitz, at the Chrysler Museum of Art Glass Studio on March 15th, a banner making workshop, and panel discussion on “The emerging role of social media in response to an evolving sexual landscape”, moderated by the host of WHRV’s “Another View”, Barbara Hamm Lee on Sunday, March 25th; and a dinner at Commune with the Pittsburg based group “Conflict Kitchen” on Saturday April 14th.