Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art of Protest: A Review

One time at UofL we had a show that I am pretty sure was simply called "Dissent". It was a good show. Tons of political works wheatpasted to the walls. They even had some stuff by Shepard Fairey in the show.

Well tonight, I thought that I would be treated to a similar experience at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School. The Divinity School had an opening reception tonight for a show titled "Art of Protest". I didn't know what the Divinity School even was, but I just assumed that was the name of their art building. It isn't. It is a school for religion, and houses their religion grad program. What this has to do with art I do not know, especially the art of protest.

Thank goodness it wasn't in the school's art department. The exhibit could have been called "Art of Art" because while some of the work was politically charged, a lot of people's art is, but I wouldn't call it "protest art".

Many works, such as the George Bush portrait made out of matches and matchbooks, would have fit in great during the 2004 election, while others seemed like fine pieces of art, but hardly seemed to protest anything. Some dealt with race relations, some dealt with consumerism, some dealt with the way/the things we eat, but I never really got the Protest vibe.

These were just the way these people feel about the subjects. That's what most artists do. Externalize the internal. I guess when I hear "Protest" I think sit-ins, fliers, t-shirts, and giant signs, maybe a folk singer. It's as if the curator(s) of the show had lumped protest work with general artistic emotion. That is to say that any work that strayed away from technical skill to that place of conceptual thought, was considered protest.*

I am not critiquing the artists in the show at all though. Every artist there brought their "A" game. Everyone's work looked very solid technically as well as conceptually, and the works ranged from very traditional paintings, drawings, a few video works, amazing print work by Sue Coe, as well as some work that incorporated found objects.

I think that the best way to remedy the lack of a "protest vibe" would have been to include an artist statement, or a short description of the particular piece. When Bob Dylan started singing protest songs, he used powerful imagery, but it was catchy enough and easy enough to read that you got the message. With these works the meaning behind them often seemed so esoteric, that it was impossible for me to decode what exactly the artist was protesting. Was the explosive vest made from crayola crayons a statement about child soldiers? Was it a comment on the loss of innocence in war-torn Countries? I don't know.

Its a really nice show, but if you go, don't go in thinking "art school protest show". The work is quality, but the organization of the show under the banner of "Protest" was just bad marketing.

*I guess thinking, could be a form of protest(1984?), but that means every art show would be a protest art show, so as deep as that may be getting, I don't think that's where they were going with that.

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