The world feels wrong now. So much bloodletting of innocents. Maybe it’s always been that way and we didn’t know it because such news wasn’t always blasted around the clock. But even if bloodletting is in our nature, it doesn’t lessen the wrongness. What to do?
Seeing Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy lead a filibuster to force a vote on stricter gun legislation after the Orlando mass shooting sparked the thought that all of us should do what we can. This means you, artists of the world. Picasso said the purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off our souls. Even cave artists in prehistory knew to picture their challenges to survive. That’s where we are now, isn’t it – challenged to survive all the mess?
Is art a tranquilizer?
In that sense, Matisse, who made it his business to picture cheeriness even through two world wars, was wrong when he called #Art “a palliative, a mental soother.” There’s a place for cheeriness, of course, but it’s unseemly to be mentally soothed when so many innocents are being gunned down. Jack Levine, a Social Realist who protested the lawlessness of those in power in the ‘50s, spoke to this when he said, “You can’t disregard the whole world for some silly paint spots.” He was talking about the Abstract Expressionists in his day, but his admonition applies today. This means you, Damien Hirst and your unaccountably praised polka dot paintings, no matter how much money they make for you. It’s time to prove Freud wrong when he said that the goals of the artist are fame, money and beautiful lovers. We’re better than that, aren’t we?
At least photographer Andres Serrano is doing his part. You may remember his protest art in 1987, a photograph of a crucifix immersed in a jar of his urine called “Piss Christ,” to call into question the commercialization of his religion. Now he’s photographed arranged scenes of man’s inhumanity to man he calls “Torture,“ on view at the Collection Lambert in Avignon July 4.
Is art a pretty picture?
What you’ll see are some 40 French volunteers and previously imprisoned political activists from Northern Ireland hogtied and otherwise persecuted by Serrano playing the persecutor. Also part of his exhibit will be portraits of hooded men – political prisoners sweating out the intense grilling by the British government’s internment program in Northern Ireland in the early ‘70s. This is reminiscent of past imagery by figurative painter Leon Golub who saw his work less as political art and more as “an expression of popular revulsion.”
Revulsion may be a better word than protest. Consider the 1946 lithograph by Rockwell Kent called ‘Heavy Heavy Hangs Over Thy Head” – a description of a rifle fastened to a wall over a sleeping infant. Back then, the world was experiencing Cold War tensions. That was 70 years ago and the world is still feeling those same tensions. Serrano’s revulsions plays hardball, but we need more players, more latter-day Kents, Golubs, and Levines. #Buzz