USA: art and political dissent. Exhibition in Harvard

Richard Serra, Stop Bush, on Abu Ghraib

From the Boston Globe in the USA:


Raising a fist in political ‘Dissent!’

By Ken Johnson, Globe Staff

January 17, 2007

During the last presidential campaign, Richard Serra, the sculptor known for his enormous, rusted-steel abstractions, created a work of vehement political partisanship.

Using a thick black crayon, he drew a ragged, expressionistic silhouette of a hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner and emphatically scrawled above the scarecrow-like figure’s shoulders “Stop Bush.”

Serra made the image available as a free download on a political website and he also had it distributed as a poster, which is the first thing you see as you approach “Dissent!,” an enthralling show of politically adversarial prints at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum. (In the Fogg’s version, the letters U and H have been erased so it spells a more general imperative: “Stop B S.”)

Organized by Susan Dackerman, curator of prints at the Fogg, and drawn largely from the museum’s own collection, the exhibition makes a case for the print as an ideal form for disseminating antiestablishment opinion.

Prints are cheap to produce and easy to distribute, and as the show demonstrates through works dating from the 16th to the 21st century, artists have been using them with oppositional intent for a long time.

While the bulk of the show focuses on works from the past 50 years, a variety of early pieces provide historical perspective.

A woodcut by an unknown artist from 1520 depicts the pope as a wolf threatening Christian sheep.

Examples of Francisco Goya‘s nightmarish, antichurch and anti-aristocracy series of etchings “Los Caprichos” are on display, as well as beautifully drawn political cartoons by the Englishman James Gillray and the Frenchman Honoré Daumier.

Manet, repression of the Paris Commune, 1871

A lithograph by Edouard Manet shows soldiers firing on Paris Communards.

Picasso‘s famous pair of etchings “Dream and Lie of Franco, ” parts I and II, makes a surrealistic mockery of the Spanish dictator.

Jumping to the ’60s, a screen-printed Cubist-style poster by Ben Shahn urges a ban on hydrogen bomb testing.

A silkscreen by Andy Warhol reproduces a photograph of an Alabama race riot.

Percussive montages of text, magazine photographs, and neon-bright colors by Sister Corita celebrate such avatars of progressive politics as Martin Luther King Jr., the Berrigan brothers, and Eugene McCarthy.

If you were around in the ’60s and ’70s, the exhibition will bring back memories of a time of tremendous political excitement and social disequilibrium.

In this context, a poster reproducing Jasper Johns‘s painting of an orange, green, and black American flag, sold to support a 1969 anti-Vietnam War event, has an iconic, mysteriously funereal resonance.

And an eerie, pro-McGovern poster by Warhol that portrays Richard Nixon with a demonic green face perfectly captures the feeling a lot of countercultural people had about the 37th president.

Sociologist C. Wright Mills: here.

Nancy Cunard and Surrealism: here.

Photographer Lee Miller: here.

Art, money, and elitism: here.

Though he passed away last April, I feel compelled to note the death of the American surrealist artist, historian, author, poet, and activist, Franklin Rosemont (Oct. 2, 1943 – April 12, 2009): here.

The exhibition currently on view at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery is indeed an ambitious one. Entitled “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940,” it presents the work of dozens of American artists, both immigrant and native-born, who were radicalized in this period of the Depression, revolutionary struggle, the rise of fascism and the looming threat of world war: here.

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6 thoughts on “USA: art and political dissent. Exhibition in Harvard

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