Protest art has a long history made by the world's greatest artists. Anti-war imagery like Francisco Goya's "Disasters of War" comes to mind. Nowadays, there are other visual arguments besides armed conflict that need to be made.

Fighting anti-abortion legislation in the art gallery

An exhibit coming to New York's Arsenal Contemporary Jan. 21, rallies for women's right under the show title "Abortion is Normal." Proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood, according to the pop culture site Dazed. And like the male greats of the past, the protest art in this show offers imagery by the leading female artists of our time, such as Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin.

Sad to say, though, their exhibits are hardly the stuff of greatness. (More about them in a moment).

True confession

In the interest of transparency, I rush to say that abortion is not a choice I would make. But that's the point of the female complaint, isn't it? Choice is a matter of personal business, not politicians' business.

State's rights vs. women's rights

ArtNet reports that "Abortion is Normal" is a rallying cry against the growing anti-abortion laws throughout the land, which also takes in access to reproductive care.

Battles against these restrictions are now being waged in art galleries as well as in the courts. To hear Dazed tell it, the Arsenal Contemporary exhibit is "the latest in a multi-series of exhibitions titled 'Abortion is Normal'" which, according to the exhibit press release presents “personal response to abortion and abortion access..."

Is photography more storytelling than painting?

To that point, consider Cindy Sherman's "Untitled" photograph of herself in a very obvious state of pregnancy and very near the end of it.

And you find wondering how a woman approaching the arrival of her baby fits in a show called "Abortion is Normal." Granted Sherman is famed for picturing herself gussied up in costumes to personify different characters. That's just what she does. Why? As her web page www.cindysherman.com explains, she believes "there's nothing more to say through painting," which would be news to the likes of Lucien Freud and Francesco Clemente.

Presumably, a photo of herself taken last year at age 64 about to give birth is the "something more" she found lacking in painting.

Glamorizing wrongheadedness

Dazed notes another exhibit example in the "Abortion is Normal" display, a photograph by Nan Goldin that fit the bill. What you see is a woman passed out on a floor strewn with bottles of prescription drugs in an apparent suicide. This might have been a powerful piece advocating against restricting abortion rights or any other source of psychic pain to women. But it's not. The photograph pictures a well-dressed, even glamorous, female wearing sunglasses.

'Heroin chic'

Aside from the pills in the picture, this image could be an advertisement for high-end sunglasses. In a 2002 interview with The Observer, Goldin faulted herself for using glamorizing images - she termed "heroin chic" - to sell clothes and perfumes. With her "Abortion is Normal" exhibit the photograph looks like Goldin is back to old habits and might fairly be termed suicide chic. Francisco Goya, where are you when we need you?

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