Something momentous has hit a couple of celebrated exhibit halls suggesting that the days of “art for art's sake” (a 19th-century credo) are finally over. Once the rallying cry of painters and sculptors – in the belief that their work had little to do with matters of the world - they have changed their minds. Now their focus is on codes of conduct in Washington, on ethical behavior. Now their focus is on politics.

Game changer

This new impulse showed up in a pair of key shows in different parts of the world at the same time - the Louvre in Paris and the Armory Show in New York.

It's as if artists woke up and smelled the stench of corruption and re-tooled their creative process. Subject-matter in the Armory Show, reportedly the city's largest exhibitor of contemporary work, could pass for picture-book illustrations of the daily news - from school shootings to sexual assaults.

News as art

No longer the easy-to-sell stuff of art fair commonly found in timeshare condos, current exhibit examples seem bent on affairs of state. Example: a life-size mock-up of the White House press briefing room to memorialize the laughable daily appearances of former Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Trump also takes up a lot of the imagery, but the oil industry takes hits, too, which is what the recent occurrence at the Louvre was all about.

Flood warning

To impel the Louvre to reject sponsorship from oil companies and raise awareness of climate change, a performance art was enacted by several activists prostrating themselves on the museum floor directly below Theodore Gericault's “Raft of the Medusa,” the gritty painting of dead and dying sailors adrift after losing their ship.

It's as if the performing were saying that their world is also at sea. One of the activists, Clemence Dubois, told the press, “It's urgent that the world breaks its ties with the fossil fuel industry because they are corrupting our politicians...he Louvre t(needs) to take its responsibility as one of the biggest cultural institutions in the world seriously.”

Painting passe

One may wonder now if the craze for Impressionism that drive so many museums to mount exhibit ad nauseum of Monet, et al, is over and the art world finally has moved on from the French style that turned a blind eye to Napoleon for leading his people into murderous losses in the Franco-Prussian war.

The Impressionists prettified views of Parisian boulevards ignoring the fact that Napoleon purposely widened those streets to quickly dispatch troops if there were an uprising.

Blind eye

How the Impressionists could have rendered these streets so blithely is a question for the ages. Monet took ran off to London and painted parks. So it's good to see contemporary artists paying attention to their world, not unlike the Social Realism during the Great Depression who conveyed their circumstance on canvas. As the famed Social Realist Jack Levine famously put it: “You can't disregardful the whole world for domes silly paint spots.”

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