Artwork inspired by politics
With much anticipated pomp and circumstance, the inauguration of Barack Obama promises this nation fresh hope and proof of the landmark changes promised in his campaign. About 2 million people are expected to make the pilgrimage to the capital to hear President-elect Obama recite the classic words. For many, Obama’s speeches represent the fundamental themes of American greatness.
As he explained to ABC news, Obama wishes to “project confidence that if we take the right measures, that we can once again be that country, that beacon for the world.” And the whole country, too, is waiting to see the defining moment of America’s “rebirth” and rise of a modern Geist.
Coinciding with the inauguration, Future Tenant Galleries and guest curator Lauri Mancuso (BFA ’91) are exhibiting Sworn In, a multimedia group show featuring politically-minded works. The exhibit was modeled after the Presidential Art Collection, with works mimicking those in the White House salon. However, unlike the Presidential Art Collection, the gallery had a slouchy air with dimmed lights, free beer, and sinfully casual red walls.
The exhibit opened on Friday, Jan. 16 with amateur video showings, and live music that seemed to be a cross between Meredith Monk and The Cranberries. The works ranged from presidential portraits to ironic presidential pet portrait tapestries. The most notable works included “American Landscape,” an oil on linen by David Mirello, and “Reprobate’s Offering,” an oil on canvas by Darien D’Alfonzo (BFA ‘84).
“American Landscape” has a surreal aesthetic depicting a mythical siren and a flame-breathing unicorn battling in a bleak, Waiting for Godot reminiscent landscape. The metaphors evaded most viewers, yet it was nonetheless inventive and technically masterful.
“Reprobate’s Offering” depicted a man in a bedroom, stepping on glass and placing an empty jar on top of a closet. The painting echoed the style of Diego Rivera, with flat and geometric planes of color. The title suggests that the man in the painting was a reprobate, or Catholic soul pre-ordained to damnation. This nihilistic imagery was the most critical foreshadowing of the years to come.
The exhibit also included works by Edgar Um Bucholtz (BFA ‘92), Sarah Smith (San Francisco, Calif. and Carnegie Mellon alumna, BFA ‘91), Akil Harris, Spoon Popkin, Ben Gersch, Jennifer Lee (BFA ‘00), Suzann Miriello, and John Riegert (BFA ‘92). Overall, the rest of the works seem inconsequential to the inauguration.
While Tuesday’s events grip the nation with unbridled joy and anticipation, this show failed to replicate or subvert the same energy. When one first thinks of “political” art, he or she might envision cynical leftist propaganda exposing the alleged idiocy, injustice, or immoderation of our nation’s leaders. Yet, the art works exhibited did not portray any political agendas or initiatives. Most of the works failed to exploit or appropriate current political ideologies or symbols. While many locals braved the cold to attend the opening, the audience was overwhelmingly apathetic and disinterested. The inauguration itself is a parade of the American ego, a celebration of our very own national identity, but Sworn In failed to embody this spirit.