On Wednesday (2/23) the Smithsonian Institution officially began construction on a new museum dedicated to African-American culture and heritage (the National Museum of African American History and Culture), a project that is slated to open in 2015.
About damn time!
This new museum could finally shed light on the marginalized and difficult history of African Americans in the United States. I say ‘could’ because the Smithsonian is notorious for not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ of their federal funding. Unfortunately, they are not afraid of compromising their mission when the purse strings are shaken. The 2010 Hide/Seek exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, for example, came under fire by Republican members of Congress due to David Wojnarowicz’s work, A Fire In My Belly (1987), that featured a crucifix with ants crawling over the body of Christ. The work was made in response to the agony and suffering of Wojnarwicz’s partner who was dying of AIDS. The ensuing controversy snowballed into a fight over the ‘proper’ uses of federal funding (whether or not tax payer money should be used to ‘assault’ religion, according to the complainers) which led to Wojnarowicz’s video being pulled from the exhibit.
In addition, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art offers a shockingly exclusive view of American art as the province of white men.
I do sincerely hope that the new African-American Museum will not shy away from the difficult histories that need to be told, and that they won’t be bullied into self-censorship.
Unfortunately, the building looks too much like a parking deck for my taste.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement began Saturday September 17th with about 5,000 protesters (read more here). As of now there is an ongoing contingent of protesters that continue to occupy the plaza and parks in the surrounding area and are gunning for the long haul. While I do support the protest as a substantial first step for us to wake up to our situation, my biggest problem is with the media blackout. The U.S media has completely blocked out this protest and is making it quite evident whose side they are on, nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds them- which is exactly the problem. We have the right to protest but the convenient loophole is to just ignore it and it will go away. But this shouldn’t go away, if significant change is to happen, then the people must unite- they have to demand it. The wealth disparity and the people’s lack of power is not new, but that does not mean it should continue.
So today I thought I’d connect the Wall Street protest to various artworks that deal with the persistent wealth gap and with the desire to revolutionize our position.
Niki de Saint Phalle, Tirs 1960s; mixed media
1968 Poster from the Paris Protests
Victor Burgin, Possession, 1976
Erwin Wurm, Fat Convertable, 2005; mixed media
The art: Asger Jorn, Paris by Night, 1959
The news: “Police Scramble to Fight Flash-mob Mayhem,” Ashley Fantz, CNN
In what could be a scene from a dystopian futuristic film like Mad Max flash-mobs are erupting all over the world. The police seem to be powerless to control the mobs due to lack of technological expertise. Young people are organizing via social networking sites in order to meet up, loot, and/or assault pedestrians .These flash-mobs are symptomatic of an underlying sense of powerlessness endemic to youth today. The only way to feel power is to undermine capitalism’s societal norm with the anonymity provided by mob behavior. How else can young people attract national attention? It seems that the youth cannot but be negatively portrayed in the media and this is the result. These acts are subversive outcries in the battle of disparity waging everywhere.
Asger Jorn’s ( Danish, 1914-1973) Paris by Night, is a Detournement that subverts the capitalistic art object by defacing the type of cliche painting commonly sold to tourists on the streets of Paris. Jorn and the Situationists were using art as a means of rebellion from the invasion of American-style Capitalism in the Post-war period. This work depicts a kind of graffiti scrawl over the painting in shapes that resemble a mushroom cloud in the upper left over the city of Paris and a chaotic overflow of smoke in the foreground. The figure leisurely watches Paris burn from the safety of his balcony even as it sneaks up behind him. We cannot look at the collapsing of the world markets without seeing how it is affecting us right now. One of those ways is how youth has come to feel powerless as jobs become scarcer, corporations get tax payer bail outs, school seems pointless as higher education is skyrocketing in cost without concrete benefits- the future is bleak.