Pushing back at the results of the 2016 U.S, presidential election, artist Annette Lemieux opted to update a work she made in 1995 on view at the Whitney Museum titled “Left Right Left Right” by flipping it on its head. The work comprises 30 photographs of raised fists that she clipped from magazines and newspapers dating back between the ‘50s and the ‘70s. To reflect her feelings about Trump’s triumph, Lemieux had the Whitney Museum re-hang the work already installed in the show -- “Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney Collection” -- upside down.
Adding fuel to the fire
The photographs of protest that Lemieux appropriated from the print media illustrate past news stories of public demonstrations relating to Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Nixon, Jane Fonda, and Miss America. By dislodging these pictures from their place on the wall and tipping them over, the artist points to a country now similarly dislocated. An added effect of the inversion is that it renders even the pictured protests of old more vehement, more bitter.
Is painting dead?
Another artist did something similar nearly one hundred years ago. That’s when Marcel Duchamp hung a men’s urinal upside down in a 1917 #Art show; except his protest seemed to be against art itself. Certainly a urinal ruins art’s image. And as Lemieux does in her work, he used something readymade, except in his case using a found object furthers the break with traditional art-making. Why the break? Duchamp said that painting lost its power because after four centuries, it was all played out. One wonders if Lemieux also feels that way given that she started out with a B.A. in painting from the University of Hartford in Connecticut. But what with the result of the 2016 election; any talk about art seems beside the point.
But talking about art was surely Duchamp’s point. He constantly made this clear by turning his exhibit examples upside down, including flipping over a bike wheel that he stuck to a kitchen stool with a fork. It was as if he couldn’t participate in an art show without mocking it. And the art world wasn’t having it. When he submitted the urinal for exhibit to the Society of Independent Artists, the hanging committee balked, which was unexpected. After all, he was not only a founding member, but the group’s charter also ruled that no work could be rejected as long as artists paid the entry fee of six dollars. He argued that putting the urinal in an art show puts an end to the monetizing of art.
Art and politics unhinged
Lemieux's agenda seems to be about her political grievances. And unlike the exhibit hall that refused to hang Duchamp’s urinal upside down, let alone hang it at all, the Whitney Museum did as she asked and re-hung her work wrong side up, and further backed her up with a statement saying that her gesture shows a commitment to the continuing power of protest.