The political discourse and drama of the last few months has been –– to put it politely –– unprecedented. Someday, hopefully, we will be able to make sense of it. With so many walls separating and dividing us ideologically, as well as physically, we need more than ever the wisdom and guidance of art to help us understand and evaluate the world we live in.
With that, you can probably guess my reaction to the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Of course, politicians should be afraid of a confrontation with strong, politically charged works of art. While politicians talk and talk, artists create powerful artworks worth a thousand words.
On Sunday, I went to the USC Fisher Museum of Art for the opening of the multi-faceted exhibition showcasing a collaboration between the museum and students of Art Division, a nonprofit organization dedicated to training and supporting underserved youth who are committed to studying the visual arts.
These students have been using the Fisher Museum as their studio space while attending public workshops led by artists and scholars. In this new exhibition, the students’ works are presented alongside artworks from the museum’s permanent collection. The museum’s entrance gallery is jam-packed with emotionally and politically charged works by artists and poets from El Colectivo Artistas Contra la Discriminación (The Artists Collective Against Discrimination).
The subject of several dozen paintings and drawings is the painful and dangerous train journey to the U.S. undertaken by approximately half a million Central American immigrants every year. The exhibition’s title MONTARLaBestia refers specifically to, in the words of museum director Dr. Selma Holo, “the hope, pain, and aspiration that accompanies this monster of transportation”. It is no surprise that many scenes of the dangerous train journey show skulls and skeletons alongside human figures hanging tenuously onto the roofs of boxcars.
While we hear politicians demanding to build more walls, there is a glimmer of hope in the news that at least one US cultural initiative appears to be secure. I’m talking about the State Departments Art in Embassies (AIE) program, which places works by American artists in embassies and ambassadorial homes around the world.
And, speaking of the marriage of art & politics: Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford, recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, has been commissioned to create a series of paintings for the new American embassy in London. His 32 paintings will incorporate the entire text of the US Constitution. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if one of our museums could arrange for these paintings to be seen here in L.A. before they’re sent out to London?
Believe it or not, there is good news coming from Moscow. The Starn brothers (Doug & Mike) have been commissioned by the American embassy in Moscow to create a 90ft-long stained glass wall set to be unveiled outside of the embassy in May.
And, speaking of a picture worth a thousand words –– a friend sent me an image of a Downtown mural by street artist Greg Auerbach. The mural shows Vladimir Putin standing behind a blindfolded Donald Trump. If that doesn’t stop you in your tracks, nothing will.
Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward’s charming Russian accent, click here.