Gallery Fritz, Santa Fe
October 26-November 26, 2018
The Audacity of Art: Art for the Midterm Elections plays on a phrase that President Barack Obama used in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and the title of his second book, The Audacity of Hope. This exhibition offers a measure of hope and a solid demonstration of resistance to the rampant racism, nationalism, and general fearmongering that comprise our country’s politics today.
The show opens with a metaphorical bang in the form of Victoria Carlson’s Messages in a Bottle, a hardly subtle image of a Molotov cocktail with #METOO inscribed on its label. For those of us who can’t take home a wall piece, the gallery was selling Bottle in small format on paper. Carlson has worked in film as a scene painter, and her art has a cinematic immediacy that goes beyond content with its emotional impact.
Terri Rolland’s grouping of clay-based paintings are equally visually powerful. I have long found her work compelling for its references toward and away from the flatness and function of painting, as well as for the textures and color palette she chooses to work in. The viewer doesn’t have to read the wall text to appreciate these works aesthetically, but reading the text changes the whole game. This is one of the few instances where an artist’s or curator’s statement about a work is not merely extraneous artspeak but a work of art on its own. To wit, from the first paragraph by Rolland:
As patriarchal culture treats women, so too it treats indigenous people, immigrants, people of color, queer and trans people, children, the forest, the oceans and rivers, the animal kingdom, the land and the soil, the air we breathe, the body, the spirit.
The next piece that particularly caught my eye, again for its powerful pictorial qualities, is Ben Steele’s #FOLLOW. This painting is a takeoff on a propaganda poster exalting Lenin. Steele has replaced the figure of Lenin with that of Trump, an American flag unfurling behind him, and the Russian text with “#FOLLOW,” referencing the latter’s penchant for tweeting, as well as the meta-concept of blindly trailing a leader into one’s own oblivion.
I found a quiet treasure of gems shining in the work of modern_goat, a mixed-media artist who uses found objects and the medium of collage to great effect. A Privilege to Serve You is a visual reference to women of the ’50s and early ’60s, whose social role was to serve as housewives and mothers. The artist also takes a jab at all of the white women who support Trump, by presenting them as dysfunctional anachronisms from a time when women’s purpose was to serve men. And her Let Them [Eat Cake] serves as a rather appropriate homage to Cheeto dust.
The Audacity of Art exhibited work by several other artists who deserve mention, yet space prohibits a complete list. For me, standouts included Frank Buffalo Hyde, Dorielle Caimi, the video team of Susanna Carlisle and Bruce Hamilton, Alicia Ross, and Karen Hampton, whose Lesson, a stitched sampler of a flag, reads “culture is the greatest defense against slavery.” My god, I hope that’s true!
To those of you who voted, I salute you.