Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tom Duffy: Man in Nature at ARC Gallery, Chicago

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Humanity’s relationship to nature involves a type of cognitive divorce from nature, which then allows individuals to display what Marx called their capacity for creative production – the ability to directly shape nature to one’s needs and desires (instead of just assuming a predetermined role within nature). In Tom Duffy’s current show at ARC Gallery, he examines two extremes involving “man in nature” in America’s heartland, or, more precisely, he looks at extremes involved in the ability of humanity to extract sustenance and wealth from the land through labor. One extreme presents a rare remnant of the working class in the USA, still existing due to the physical inability to outsource their type of job, while the other extreme is a direct result of outsourcing and a creative attempt to adjust to the new circumstances established through the near-destruction of the working class in America.

One of the more iconic images of the American industrial worker is Lewis Hine’s ‘Steam Fitter’ (1920). Hine has his worker bent over, conforming to the shape and demands of a machine from which he derives his livelihood; yet, the subject also shows an immense amount of masculine will, strength and mastery. The worker thus forms a perfect symbiosis or mutualism with the machine. Whereas Hine had become famous for leading a crusade against child labor through his photos of children working in factories, his photos of adult workers became more ambiguous in their judgment of human labor and exploitation in the industrial process.

{{{Steam Fitter - Lewis Hine}}}

Indeed, Hine’s various photos of working men seemed to impute dignity to the process of industrial toil, as opposed, for instance, to Marx’s belief that the industrial worker was alienated from his very ‘species-being’ through this type of work and thus became a sad object of financial exploitation.   In Hine’s work the men are clearly not objects of pity since the jobs seem suitable to their strength and backgrounds and, consequently, these photos ignite little more than a quiet sympathy for those doing exhausting and tedious work instead of moral outrage. Since industrialization had been legitimated as a necessity, the use of workers in this manner could be tolerated as long as they were perceived as grown men giving outlet to their masculinity and thus securing dignity (and most probably supporting their families).

Hine’s photos reflected the American attitude toward industrial labor at that time and it is useful to begin with this iconic work as a type of normative model or ideal type from which to view Tom Duffy’s photos of the men who work in Indiana’s limestone quarries. Has our conception of the worker changed since Hine? Has it changed since the outsourcing phenomenon of recent years? Which emotions might be elicited now in viewing men at hard work: work requiring, perhaps, little more than physical skill and endurance?

In one of Duffy’s photos we see a man with bulging and rippling muscles, gripping a system of drills, knees bent, body twisted, cigarette stiffly protruding from his mouth. In fact, cigarettes are ubiquitous in these photos of the quarry workers, betraying extra attempts by the quarry workers, perhaps, to handle the physical and emotional stresses of the job. The cigarettes could also serve as sardonic phallic reminders of the fact that this is a place of purely masculine labor, where men can still prove themselves to be men like Hine’s male workers, the cigarettes looking like the penises from stick figures in prehistoric cave paintings.  

Like the worker in Hine’s iconic photo these men are clearly demonstrating and affirming their masculinity through their jobs, as the drilling into the rock contains its own priapic symbolism, but the symbiosis that Hine modeled, and which possibly eased our consciences a bit toward the working class, now seems lost and perhaps no longer necessary with the passage of time and acceptance of so much more than was accepted back in the day. 

To me, for instance, there is no clear masculine and muscular domination of machinery or tools – some tools are so loud they require protective headsets and many of the tools depicted obviously entail physical wear and tear on the body. It is not symbiotic mastery we now see, but benign struggle with the machine. We can be made to realize, perhaps, that these men are not demonstrating the free and creative productivity which Marx believed to be our essence, but toil in the destructive process of cracking and removing tons of limestone blocks from the earth to provide beautiful veneers for various buildings – these are high-end luxury items used for decorative purposes. The Empire State Building and the Pentagon, for instance, are covered with Indiana limestone from this quarry.

In another photo we see a giant limestone slab that has been separated and is falling while nearby workers pensively stare at the result of their work, shoulders slumped in sudden, short-lived relief (kind of the way a boxer will let his shoulders slump immediately after a knock out). Duffy seems to be asking how visible or invisible this labor is to us. It is as if he is saying that the working class still exists, even if we do not read the stories of workers jumping from factory roofs in developing countries. Indeed, we have not completely ended the problem of one segment of a society laboring for the pleasure and luxury of another segment – try as we might there are some working class situations still among us and we have never adequately responded to this situation.  

Duffy might also be asking: What psychological mechanisms are at play in each of us when we assess who these guys are and what the work might be doing to them?  We assume they are well-paid and happy, and, indeed, I even felt compelled to ask Duffy at the opening, “Are these guys happy?” with Duffy indicating that they were not only happy but proud to be involved in working at the quarry. Duffy spent 5 months with them and told me that one big source of pride comes from the fact that this quarry work has been ‘generational’ with some men following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers.

Along with these images of limestone quarries and their workers, Duffy provides images of various ghost towns he has visited, as well as some American towns in decline, along with scenes from a 3-person family organic farm. The photos of the dying or dead towns serve the function, within the context of this show, of expressing the social pressures which are pushing individuals to reflect on the possibilities for employment now that the industrial sector is shrinking in the USA. 

{{{Photo of a little kid who has, apparently, just slit the throats of several chickens - they are upside down to allow the blood to drain from them...this is a way to ensure the meat is 'kosher'.}}}

This pressure, ironically, has pushed this one family away from the apparent trajectory of history, back to the countryside, exploiting the trend among affluent and educated city-dwellers to prefer the meat of animals which are raised in a more humane and ethical fashion. Duffy’s photos attempt to capture the integrity and joy he found in this family, which goes to extremes to ensure that their livestock are treated as well as possible, even though they are barely eking out a living in the process.

ARC is one of Chicago’s more amazing galleries and has been contributing meaningful art exhibits since its inception in 1973. It is one of the oldest co-op galleries of its kind in the USA and functions as a non-profit, woman artist-run cooperative which provides exhibition opportunities to exceptional artists without discrimination in regard to “…race, age, class, physical/mental ability, sexual, spiritual or political orientation.” Tom Duffy’s show runs there until November 19th.

ARC Gallery:

Tom Duffy: 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cons and Pros - John Harlan Norris at the Memphis College of Art, Memphis USA

{{{Naturalist - click on images to enlarge them}}}

The French have a concept called 'professional deformation' (deformation professionnelle), which is actually a sarcastic play on words based on the concept of professional training (formation professionnelle). In essence, they say that any profession changes a person if he/she works at it long enough, so that, after a while, everyone in that profession seems to look and act like everyone else in that profession.  Every profession ‘deforms’, alters or limits a person’s perspective on the world as well as his/her manner of acting within the world. At the Memphis College of Art, John Harlan Norris seems to play with this concept in his show called Cons and Pros, possibly questioning the overreliance on professional development to the neglect of the development of more humane values in our society. 


In the mid-to-late 19th century, in fact, a type of occupational portraiture was all the rage in America after the invention of the daguerreotype. Blacksmith, carpenter, cooper, drover…folks who had developed specialized skills were eager to be photographed with the tools of their trade. These daguerrotypes show no psychological insight into the sitters since that was not the point – the point was to document this person’s attainment of a niche in the social structure through his/her mastery of a skill set. The facial expressions are nearly the same in numerous cases, sometimes showing over-the-top solemnity, sometimes self-satisfied pride, sometimes just an empty stare into the camera by a person surrounded by the stuff of his/her profession.


Norris seems to use this as his inspiration for a contemporary take on the desire to be defined by one’s profession and how this solemn pride in professional attainment can mask and trap the humane development which becomes lost or unattained through the consequent deformation professionnelle. In Norris’ work the tools of one’s trade and other ‘visual signifiers’ of one’s profession become this mask and it is stifling and suffocating to the wearer as well as monstrous and oppressive to the viewer. What is meant to be impressive to the world now appears to be highly ridiculous. The obsession with mastering one thing, instead of blossoming in a more universalistic manner, makes these subjects grotesque instead of admirable.

This criticism of one-sided professional achievement is, of course, generally silent in a society where professional deformation is the highly lucrative goal. These practical skill sets are what confer status and, often, self-worth and the valuation of an individual within a society. Yet, concomitantly, compassion, insight, altruism, real charity and various other humane predispositions are not only downplayed but viewed contemptuously. The absurd situation where the more inhumanely deformed you become the more prestigious you become now predominates in our technologically developed society.

Norris seems to document the Mephistophelean deal everyone is confronted with – cripple your humanity, throw yourself unthinkingly into a profession, master it and gain the world’s riches, power and admiration. (Then, of course, do not be surprised when your only choices for leader of the free world become Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.) Each of these occupational portraits is a type of portrait of a type of Dorian Gray. They reflect the expectations of our society obtained through our educational system, our mass media, our deformed religions and even our intimate relationships. They call for us to reflect, therefore, on how or even whether it is possible for us to retain a type of humanism in a predatory and competitive economic and social system.

Norris’s exhibit runs through November 8, 2016 at the Memphis College of Art in Memphis, Tennessee.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Susan Kraut: In Rooms at Addington Gallery, Chicago

Dordogne Window - click on images to enlarge them

Susan Kraut is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the premier art schools in the United States. Her current exhibit at the Addington Gallery, in Chicago’s historic River North district, runs until the end of October.

At their most basic, these paintings possibly could be interpreted as reflections on the relationship between our outer and inner reality. All of our dealings with aspects of the outer world, perhaps, result in attempts to attain to an equanimity or calmness about what we experience or in action to resolve situations into the less painfully provocative. Thus the order, cleanliness and the furniture geared to maximize comfort and acceptance represent the basic (inner) structures with which we receive information about that which is outside of us. The paintings could, therefore, be visual allegories about the integration of the outside world into our inner reality.

In Brock's Studio II

The outside clearly intrudes on the inside often in these paintings, with the same kind of atmospheric foreboding that was first displayed by Giorgione in his Tempest. One implication might be that we have an inherent striving for comfort which controls our cognitive/emotional functions and our actions are guided to this end. There are, however, paintings in the series in which the outer frenzy overwhelms the tranquility of the room. Complicating this simple model further, moreover, is that the integration of the outside into the inside can be construed as being initiated through an illusory process – we sometimes see outer-world patterns reflected from table tops in Kraut’s work, cluing us into the awareness that, basically, everything is reflection.

In a Swedish Room

In one of Kraut’s few paintings with a human figure, this interpretation of an outer/inner relationship might gain greater substance as we see a man absorbed in his newspaper with his window wide open to the world. The outside has intruded into his peaceful sanctuary mirrored in the fact that he sits in his comfy chair absorbing it all, half a glass of water nearby representing, perhaps, the only ‘reality’ as presented by Schopenhauer – that of our bodily needs, or, perhaps, more optimistically, our need for inner purification and fulfillment.

Chicago Living Room With Paris He Said

Another interpretation could be that the individual room in these paintings becomes the relative permanence against which biological change can be perceived, felt and mourned. This interpretation resonated with me deeply as I recently returned to Chicago, after many years away, and I live in a house where I had interacted with many loved ones who have departed. These rooms in this house may remain for the next 100 years, far after I have departed, and the current emptiness of them reminds me keenly of my sense of loss as well as of how fleeting my own life has been and will be. Kraut’s paintings, for me, represent the same sense of loss so beautifully expressed by the Polish poet Jan Kochanowski (1530 – 1584) when he wrote of his dead, infant daughter: “This house grows empty now you’ve gone…and there is not one among the many who remain with me who can replace your vanished soul, or free us from the misery of your absent song…” (Translation by Jerzy Peterkiewicz and Burns Singer)

New York Dining Room

I think this interpretation holds in that many of the interior scenes in these paintings show places that have been recently vacated, papers lying around, uneaten fruit on tables near half-drunk glasses of water…These images could represent loss or the ephemeral – how we flit about these spaces which will exist after we are gone and how these more permanent spaces magnify and lengthen our grief.

New York Kitchen I

Another focus of this artist is windows, which literally frame the apparently permanent in the outside world but also reveal the permanent as that which changes appearance as lighting and other conditions change, thus revealing that the permanent is merely a concept deduced from reflection (and is, therefore, a reflection of a reflection).

New York Kitchen II

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art obtained a "flipped art" piece?

{{{work by Hugh Scott-Douglas at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art from:}}}

Katya Kazakina of Bloomberg News has exposed something that looks very corrupt about the art world - 'art flipping'.

If I understand all of this correctly, it seems that some art gallery owners and buyers, along with critics and auction houses, were selecting unknown, young artists and deliberately inflating their reputations so that the value of the artists' work would continually increase every few years when the works of the artist were resold (flipped). 

An initial buyer would purchase for, say, $10,000, flip the work three years later for, say, $50,000 to another flipper, who would then flip up to $100,000 or $300,000 or whatever to an 'end buyer' (perhaps a museum possibly suckered into the scheme). 

All the pieces being flipped were apparently works of abstraction (because, apparently, it is easier to impute great significance to a piece most people would not easily understand or which has no meaning in the first place) and the artists were all very young (they did not have established reputations and so new and exalted reputations could, apparently, be created for them - this apparent scheme would not have worked with 40 or 50 year old artists).

Please read Katya's amazing detective work here:

Now, the apparent scheme seems to be over and the bubble has burst; but, dear Chicagoans, which was one of the major museums to possibly get suckered into this apparent scheme - or at least to display art which, drawing conclusions from the Bloomberg News article, seems to be among recently 'flipped' art?

Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

I am not 100% certain that this museum purchased the piece. On a museum blog an image of a work by Hugh Scott-Douglas is shown with this caption: "Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Marshall Field’s by exchange, 2015.5"  Unfortunately, I am not sure what "gift by exchange" means.

Hugh Scott-Douglas is mentioned in Kasakina's article as being one of the artists whose work was being 'flipped', so even if the museum did not pay for this work, should members of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art be concerned about the aesthetic value of a piece that was, apparently, possibly meant purely to be a financial commodity by art flippers? 

So I guess some big questions would be: Would this artist be so well-known without all the recent art-flipping? A recent work of his had been previously sold for $100,000 and it was resold at auction for a $70,000 loss at $30,000 (due to the bubble bursting on the art flipping process). But, would this artist's work even fetch $30,000 now had it not been for the fame he acquired by having his art flipped in the first place? Can anyone ever see this artist's work outside of the fact that he was a (perhaps unwilling) beneficiary of flipping?

Should the folks who buy memberships be asking how much Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art possibly gave away for what might be called art of questionable merit, that seemed to have its price artificially inflated by apparent corrupters of real or legitimate art?

Should members of this museum be asking the extent to which Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art might be complicit in what truly does look like a very shady scheme which has suddenly gone south?

Personally, I think these are quite legitimate questions.

Maybe Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art can help us poor, unenlightened proletarian viewers by establishing a section dedicated to 'flipped art' as opposed to 'unflipped art' so we can see whether there is any difference.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Steve Moseley - Patience Bottles; Curated by Leonard Cicero at INTUIT (Chicago)

Bourbon is a type of whiskey originating from the American South (made from corn), deriving its name from the Bourbon dynasty in Europe. Steve Moseley has been taking empty Bourbon bottles and creating little religious and socio-political dioramas inside of them. 

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Here we see a child confronting an evangelical minister with the question of whether cavemen had souls or not. Moseley seems interested in presenting the drama of a child asking a type of question she is not supposed to ask, since either a "yes" or"no" from the minister would undermine the entire belief system he has been promoting (If cavemen did have souls, why send Jesus to earth? If they didn't, why would God sacrifice zillions of pre-Christian people to oblivion?).

Actually (exercising my pedanticism here), as a guy who has studied the evolution of religious thought, the religion of hunter-gatherers was 'shamanism', which was not a religion of 'self-development'. It was a religion involving specialized holy men/women who could connect to the spirit realm to gain very practical help for hunting and gathering societies (the curing of illnesses, success in hunting, pain-free birth for the women of the group etc.). The concept of the soul and spiritual development only happens when cities begin to arise and ethics gets tied up with religion. Hunter-gatherers believed/believe their spirits survive death, but they do not believe in souls that will be judged. But, pedanticism aside, Moseley's little drama works fine as a little peek into the religious life of the deep South.

Here is Jesus playing basketball against some demons.

Moseley can be satirizing the extent to which our concept of spiritual development is tied up with notions of competition. If we want to gain salvation we must literally "beat" the devil.

Here Moseley pokes fun at the out-dated values concerning women found in the Bible as Adam tries to hand Eve some dish-washing powder.

This bottle is labeled: If you vote for Trump you will receive no absolution (forgiveness).

Here the Pope is asking Jesus to wear nicer clothes.

So why create these scenes in Bourbon bottles? Well, Moseley is from the South and he could be equating the absurdity in the bottles to the potency of this very Southern liquor. This is part of the culture of the deep, white South and it is absorbed as easily as Bourbon. The scenes definitely are surrogates for the Bourbon.

What is interesting to me is that wine is very symbolic in the Christian religious tradition. When one drinks wine, one becomes becomes more tolerant, loving, social, forgiving; wine was the blood of God that changed us for the better. Jesus was the true vine and one drank wine to remember Him. Bourbon, on the other hand, with its ties to Southern culture and history, seems to be a corrupter of God's true word. It seems to indicate that man cannot live on an alcoholic beverage alone - along with the intoxication one must have a sound intellectual and moral basis in place, or one might be drunk enough to vote for an utter buffoon like Trump, and rightly lose all possibilities for forgiveness.

Close-up of Adam/Eve in the garden

Adam and Eve after eating from the apple:

Your basic evangelical snake-handler:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

FEEDBACKLOOP - Sandro Kopp at Five Eleven in Chelsea, USA

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In the photorealist tradition painters deliberately began with a photograph as an acknowledgment that the technology of the camera had given us a new layer of reality as legitimate as the traditional layer of reality found through direct individual visual perception. To embrace the photograph as a starting point for a painting was to embrace a mediation of vision meant to enhance a simultaneous awareness of the permanent and transient in the perceivable world; no medium did this as well as photography. The painter renounced a need for a direct encounter with the world because advances in technology did the job better.

Sandro Kopp adds a wrinkle to all of this by painting portraits based on the digital images of people in his Skype conversations. Indeed, one of the series of portraits in the show is of Chuck Close, one of America’s most renowned photorealist painters (probably no coincidence). So we get a realistic painting of a digital image which is meant to be entirely private in nature, therefore departing from the photorealist tradition of using a medium in which the image is, by nature, meant to be shared. 

Yet, we still get a mediation, but it is a mediation of the process of direct interpersonal communication itself. Instead of a direct encounter with Chuck Close, the artist gets a direct encounter with digital images and audio transmissions from Chuck Close. Is this better than Chuck Close himself? How does Skype change interpersonal communication? Does it limit it, enhance it or reveal exactly what interpersonal communication is or can be by trying to replicate it?

The show is called ‘FEEDBACKLOOP’ and a feedback loop is, basically, when you do something, see the result and then your next response is more exaggerated (positively or negatively) as a consequence. So Kopp paints a realistic image of another person during a Skype conversation, then he takes that painting and runs it through a cam again to himself (with a deliberately bad wifi source) and paints another image incorporating the digital distortions. He does this until ultimately the subject becomes completely obscured through large blocks of color due to repetitive distortion – thus the feedback loop is negative in nature, causing a less and less clear image of the subject.

The final abstract image of blots of color for each (famous) person in the series can represent a sort of primordial electronic soup out of which the individual personality/identity arises or can sink back into oblivion. It is a reminder that the digital transmission of these pixels is somehow also transmitting engagement - recognizable humanity with its warmth, passion, sarcasm, envy, empathy, companionship…so then what, if anything, is missing?  Should we be concerned about this form of communication? Inherent in Kopp’s endeavor is a caveat, perhaps, that Skype-like communications may begin to take the place of the real thing and one, consequently, recalls Joyce’s Bloom, who had begun to neglect his own wife Molly in favor of an anonymous erotic correspondence through a personals section in his local newspaper.

Bloom had begun to derive more gratification from the non-physical fantasy life of an anonymous correspondence than from actual physical contact with his own wife. On one level Kopp, who lives in a secluded area of the Scottish highlands and needs Skype to keep in touch with his far flung companions, may be sounding an alarm that Skype seems to be bringing this type of fantasy world or fantasy comfort to its greatest fruition. In Bill Arning’s essay for the show’s booklet, Arning points out, after all, that the porn industry is driving a lot of this Skype-like technology. It could be that Skype is using the real, visceral human to provide, at its best, a cheap form of psychological comfort that nowhere near approximates the range and depth or the effort involved in real, meaningful interpersonal engagement. Perhaps Kopp is saying, “If you are separated from your family, feel the separation, do not avoid that experience through an illusory sense of propinquity through Skype.” Or in general, if you have taken action in the world that involves your separation from meaningful others, embrace the isolation and opportunities of that, which may change you far more than hour-long Skype conversations with those you left.

An overreliance of this type of communication could be just another way to keep us inside, keep us too emotionally safe, too shielded from a sense of loss and longing, unengaged and cyber-bound instead of actively exploring and changing the world through direct experience and the risks of life. More than anything, perhaps Kopp warns us that Skype-like communication exists to save us from the isolation which we may very much need to develop any complexity, humanity or depth in our lives.

Along with Kopp’s paintings one hears a soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner of Kopp engaged in painting. Hearing Kopp’s brushstrokes or other sounds of the painting process is comparable to seeing the pixels on the canvases - these are the individual audio-atomic elements that go into the deception of art as readily as the pixels go into the deception of Skype. Architect Alberto E. Alfonso has also configured the show with each lamella painting pivoting toward the viewer who moves through the loop of the space.

Sandro Kopp
12 December 2015 – 06 February 2016
511 W. 27th Street
New York, NY 10010

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Democracy - What's right? What's left? Phoenix Gallery, Chelsea

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As the de facto (although unsolicited) policeman of the world, the government of the USA likes to promote its values and encourage democracy.  Yet, is the USA, itself, even a democracy? Frankly, no. For proof we can simply look at the House of Representatives (the part of the US Congress that is supposed to represent the people while the Senate represents individual states).  80% of these Congressmen are white (only 62% of Americans are white); 80% are male (only 49% of the USA is male). White men, by the way, only constitute 31% of the US population. 92% of the entire Congress is Christian (72% of Americans are Christian) and 40% of House representatives are lawyers (as opposed to 6% in the entire USA). Therefore, if you are a white, male, Christian lawyer, your Congressman will return your email or phone call. You are the guy whose experience is represented in the USA.

This system producing white, male, Christian lawyers, who control the government of the people, is partly the result of the fact that the number of Congressmen is set at 435. So as the population rises, each Congressman represents more people. Right now each Congressman represents about 700,000 people. The cities of Detroit, Seattle and Denver, for example, have fewer than 700,000 people – so this is not real representation. When one representative covers so many voters, the representatives of the dominant culture will find it easier to dominate the Congress. If you take any random chunk of 700,000 people in America, with America being 62% white, a simple majority of voters will probably be white and elect white people. The existence of minority folks in Congress may only be due to the fact that America is a very racially divided country with African American, Latino and Asian folks often segregated into their own large areas of cities.

So ironically, it is probably urban racism that even allows for any representation of people of color in Congress. That we have white, male, Christian lawyers running things also has to do with the need for money to become a Congressman. The corrupt career politician who represents me in Queens, New York City (he is a white, male, Christian, but is a non-lawyer) seems to generate about $2 million every two years for his election campaign. He is so powerful, however, that nobody ever dares run against him. Yep, I am lucky enough to have a Prince or Duke representing me, apparently. No need for competition. So if nobody ever runs against him, where does the $2 million from his corporate sponsors go? Welcome to America, the land of opportunity.

I mention all this because I saw an amazing show curated by Gutfreund Cornett Art, which is “a curatorial partnership which specializes in creating exhibitions in venues around the U.S. on themes of ‘art as activism’ to stimulate dialog, raise consciousness and create social change.” The show I saw at the Phoenix Gallery at the 548 W. 28th street building in Chelsea was called “What’s Right, What’s Left: Democracy in America” and was juried by Dr. Kathy Battista. It contained pieces in the gallery by 21 different artists along with a slideshow feature of several more amazing works that could not be fit into the gallery. Since I cannot touch on all the great pieces in this show, the link to the online catalogue is below. Click on the link and scroll down until you see ‘catalogue’. You should take a look at everything.

Among the pieces actually at Phoenix, Nic Abramson and Justyne Fischer deal with the chronic police abuse to which African Americans in the USA have been subjected and which has caused numerous protests recently around the country. Abramson wants to focus on what “Black Lives Matter” means to most people and perhaps what it should mean. It is not a matter of just stopping the police from routinely shooting black men under various pretexts, it should mean a reorientation in which the inequality embedded into the system, causing huge prison populations of black men and continued black poverty, is eliminated.  I am convinced that racism comes from the top down, and when you have a Congress dominated by white males, police abuse against black folks will definitely follow.  Fischer focuses more precisely on the case of Eric Garner, the black man who was killed by several police (all exonerated of his murder) because he was selling cigarettes publicly in NY City.  She has created a social memorial to highlight the tragic absurdity of this man’s death, a death made possible by a miasma of racism that permeates American cities.

Ransom Ashley and Victoria Helena Mihatovic both focus on the Occupy movement, Ashley showing one of the reasons New York City’s billionaire mayor was so eager to break up this peaceful gathering at a public park: the man holds a sign advocating love and not greed. Mihatovic presents a spent canister of tear gas that was shot at the protesters in Oakland in a display case usually used to display autographed baseballs – perhaps equating  America’s past-time to a prevalent American apathy while challenging this apathy at the same time with a symbol of violence against questioning youth in the USA.

Michael D’Antuono’s piece highlights the fact that the National Rifle Association is able to ensure that Congress takes action in opposition to the will of 90% of the American people. Cat Del Buono highlights the callousness of the media and male politicians toward issues of rape and reproductive rights. Lindsay Garcia references the Hudson River School and Robert Smithson to focus on how politics in America has led to environmental devastation. Monika Malewska presents disturbing images of prisoners (alleged terrorists I am guessing) in stress postures to illustrate how horrific situations can be justified through appeals to ‘democracy’ and how images can desensitize us to the true horror behind them as they are presented  by dominant news outlets. Gina Randazzo highlights the fact that women only hold 19.4% of the seats in Congress and focuses on the apparent lies that are told to young women in the USA about equality of opportunity.

Sinan Revell’s series DoppelgANGER involves two views of the artist representing how we become divided from each other through economics and social class in the USA. Kate Negri presents two of the white, male, Christian lawyers who run the USA engaged in a passionate kiss on a pedestal. The pedestal represents the separation of the politicians from the people while the kiss might represent the need for politicians to ‘kiss and make up’. Eike Waltz shows the symbols of the two American political parties copulating, indicating that they are, basically, in complicity with each other in the debasement of true democracy. Dan Tague’s piece implies that virtually every politician can be bought and that it is money and not the will of the people that drives our law-makers.  Laura Sussman-Randall uses charcoal, pastel and carbon to create a torn American flag, the coarse materials adding a sense of anger over ‘greed, obstructionism and prejudice’. The torn flag represents how torn apart we, as a country, are.

Emily Greenberg deals with the issue of government surveillance through a simple old fashioned telephone (which was much safer than the internet or our cell phones). You pick up the phone and hear how easily the government can collect data on you and violate your privacy so readily through your cell and laptop. In a similar vein, Nick Hugh Schmidt actually just leaves his smartphone in the gallery for anyone to access. The horror we feel at the thought of doing this with our own phones highlights just how much and how deeply our privacy can be violated by our government. Shreepad Joglekar created a video involving a man carrying another through a desert to highlight the difficulties that even legal immigrants face in the USA. 

Shawna Gibbs uses an image from a gay pride parade in San Francisco from 2003 to demonstrate the progress that has been made in regard to gay rights through hard lobbying efforts over a very long period of time. Ruthann Godollei focuses on our new reliance on drone strikes, which has become quite popular for our Nobel Prize winning president, and Godellei mentions in her statement that to the folks who operate drones, ‘perhaps everyone looks like the enemy.’ Gracie Guerro-Bustini pays homage to the 19 Democratic Congressmen who protested the abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli soldiers in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. Finally, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch used tampon applicators to create a model of an AK-47 rifle (feminine protection – get it?) to protest the proliferation of weapons and to “Stop the FLOW of violence!”

Again, I cannot do justice to all the amazing works in this show with one review (as much as I want to) so please check out the catalogue by clicking the link below (it has the works from the gallery as well as the slideshow works – some really amazing pieces). Kudos to Gutfreund and Cornett for putting all this together.

To contact Gutfreund and Cornett to purchase works or for any type of collaboration: