Category: Politics

A Victory for Future Art Funding

Big Bird
The LBJ Presidential Library exhibition, On the Air: 50 Years of Public Broadcasting, 2017, in Austin, Texas. On Nov. 7, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and, eventually, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and National Public Radio (NPR).  Characters © 2017 Sesame Workshop LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin 06/24/2017

Elections have consequences, as they say, and 2020 election will be no different. Donald Trump tried to make the world to his artistic tastes. His reach was sweeping in efforts to cut funding for the arts and simultaneously oddly specific. I.e., DC should have no more contemporary architecture (www.npr.org); and duck stamps should feature hunting paraphernalia www.thedailybeast.com. He oversaw the disbanding of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, after a mass resignation of private committee members in response to his comments on right-wing violence in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. And, of course, there would be four years of budgets that included cuts to federal arts programs — National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, even Museum and Library Services.

President-elect Joe Biden’s record is quite different. As The New York Times described him, he’s “No RBG, but a Loyal Promoter of Culture “https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/arts/biden-arts-culture.html. Biden’s attitude, wrote The Times, is “less from a consumer point of view and more about the inspirational value and transformational value of the arts,” quoting Robert L. Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts. “It’s not, ‘Look, I loved this piece, or this song.’ It’s more about the bigger role of the arts in society.” 

National  Endowment for the Arts Recipients; Lia Cook, Dona Look, Adela Akers, John McQueen, James Bassler, Debra Sachs, Thomas Hucker, Norma Minkowitz and Gyöngy Laky
Funding for the Arts in Action: work by nine National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Recipients; Lia Cook, Dona Look, Adela Akers, John McQueen, James Bassler, Debra Sachs, Thomas Hucker, Norma Minkowitz and Gyöngy Laky

Actors’ Equity endorsed Biden’s candidacy. “Vice President Biden understands that the arts are a critical driver of healthy and strong local economies in cities and towns across the country,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity. That could bode well for passage of Americans for the Arts Creative Workplace Proposal — 16 specific actions for the next administration to take in order to put creative workers to work rebuilding, reimagining, unifying, and healing communities in every state and territory, as well as within tribal lands www.americansforthearts.org. Among the suggestions from Proposal: Put artists to work addressing public and mental health in communities; Complete the launch of an ArtistCorps within AmeriCorps; and Direct and incentivize the integration of creative workers and creative organizations at the municipal, county, state, and tribal levels during disaster relief and recovery efforts.

Private efforts will continue to be key to the arts’ support, too, of course. For a comprehensive look at new philanthropic initiatives, including #ArtistSupportPledge and Artists for Artists appeal, read “Funding the Future of the Arts,” by Gareth Harris, November 2, 2020. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/funding-the-future-of-the-arts?

browngrotta arts wants to play its part, too. From now until the end of the year if you make a purchase from us, we’ll contribute 5% of any sales we make to the American for the Arts Action Fund. 


When Words Aren’t Enough: Artists and Politics, Part III

War and violence are often influences for artistic works. In the last of our three columns on Art and Politics we look at three works in which artists have commented on specific conflicts and three that address the futility violence in differing contexts.

Compound, Norma Minkowitz, mixed media, 70” x 54.75” x 1.5”, 2011

Concerns about war animate Compound, a work by Norma Minkowitz a large panel that chronicles a nightmare scenario, the last moments of Osama Bin Laden’s life.  It features a tiny-mesh crocheted surface. It has a powerful push me/pull me effect once the subject matter– which includes stylized soldiers, SEALS parachuting from a helicopter, the compound where Bin Laden was hiding, and the World Trade Center — clarifies itself. This whole is an unforgettable image.

Responding to a call for art for a browngrotta arts’ exhibition entitled Stimulus: art and its inception in 2011, Norma Minkowitz began, as she usually does, to sketch.  “I began in a spontaneous, unplanned manner,” Minkowitz explains, “arranging lines and subtle patterns, until I had a feeling of the direction it would take. Suddenly, I realized that the linear image had become the apparition of an aerial view of the compound where Osama Bin Laden was found, which I had seen in a newspaper article. Compound combines a replica of the space and my vision of the event.

“This is not my usual way of working,” she says. It is more literal because of its historic significance. I enjoyed this different approach and found it quite timely as we remembered the attack on our country on September 11, 2001. I wanted to commemorate courage, justice and the resolve of the USA.”

Women Warriors, Dona Anderson, mixed media, 2005-2011. Photo by Tom Grotta
Women Warriors, Dona Anderson, mixed media, 2005-2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

The war in Iraq influenced Dona Anderson, as well and resulted in a series of “armor” pieces, including Women Warriors. Anderson’s granddaughter was in the army stationed in Japan while the granddaughter’s husband was in Iraq.  When he came home for a break, he said he did not have any body armor. Anderson was so bothered by this information that she used her art to create some stylized armor for him.

El Salvador, Ed Rossbach, muslin, camouflage netting, sticks, plastic, plastic tape, wire, tied, dyed, linoleum block printed, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta
El Salvador, Ed Rossbach, muslin, camouflage netting, sticks, plastic, plastic tape, wire, tied, dyed, linoleum block printed, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta

A previous conflict in Latin America led to the creation of a textile construction, El Salvador, by Ed Rossbach in 1984.  Here, the artist using very simple materials constructed a powerful anti-war statement. The death squads in El Salvador killed many thousands of people before the civil war ended. Rossbach pushed the bounds of conventional 1950’s design. His art used raw materials — like camo mesh — to create forms that explore context, scale and juxtaposition to create irony

Globalization IV; Collateral Damage, Gyöngy Laky, ash, commercial wood, paint, blue concrete bullets, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta
Globalization IV; Collateral Damage, Gyöngy Laky, ash, commercial wood, paint, blue concrete bullets, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta

Gyongy Laky, a student of Rossbach’s, regularly addresses political issues in her work. Laky is a powerful advocate for the environment as well as a proponent of the hiring of more women at the University of California, Davis where the artist taught for many years. Through Globalization IV Collateral Damage, she speaks with great force and conviction about the utter waste of blood and treasure that is war. Constructed of ash and commercial wood scraps the three letters spell WAR but can also be rearranged to create other vivid elucidations of the subject: MAR, ARM, RAW, and RAM. Bullets for building and red paint are also used in the construction to dramatic effect.

Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice, Judy Mulford, waxed linen, buttons, beads, babies & bullet casings, 23" x 11" x 9.5", 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta
Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice, Judy Mulford, waxed linen, buttons, beads, babies & bullet casings, 23″ x 11″ x 9.5″, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta

In Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice,  Judy Mulford, has created a female figure with bullet casings making up her skirt to illustrate the tragedy for mothers in war zones, whose children are served up as fodder for never-ending conflicts. “My art honors and celebrates the family,” says the artist. “It is autobiographical, personal, graphic and narrative. Each piece I create becomes a container of conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings, one that references my female ancestral beginnings.”

NRA Approved,  James Bassler, woven, stitched and batik dyed; silk and sisal; each 20”h X 12”w X 4”d (as mounted), 3 pieces in one box  with 3 custom stands, 2014.Photo by Tom Grotta
NRA Approved,  James Bassler, woven, stitched and batik dyed; silk and sisal; each 20” x 12”w x 4”d (as mounted), 3 pieces in one box  with 3 custom stands, 2014. Photo by Tom Grotta

James Bassler commented on gun violence in schools in a series of vests that make up NRA Approved. “The cloth I wove, batik dyed and stitched, was inspired by the 19th Century Japanese fireman’s jacket,” he explains. “It was also inspired by our 21st Century public debate about gun violence and what we, as a nation, could do to make our schools safe from the tragic incidents of our times. The NRA has openly suggested that teachers and students wear bullet-proof vests. Often, our young students do wear waterproof aprons when doing creative work. Here, in these woven sculptural forms, I have added camouflage to help conceal children in harm’s way. Camouflage, indeed, has been used throughout.”

Artists can — and do — share their political observations through their work. The rest of us can do the same through our votes. Please do!


When Words Aren’t Enough, Artists and Politics, Part II

Art is not created in a vacuum. Artists have a keen eye that they often cast on current culture. California artists James Bassler and Gyöngy Laky have both been influenced by Donald Trump’s disruptive impact on our political lives, an influence that they have expressed in their art.

JAMES BASSLER
What’s Happening  2016
four-selvaged construction, with shibori star field; warp and weft are a mix of linen, silk, nettles, and cotton, with synthetic dyes. Photo by Tom Grotta.
JAMES BASSLER
What’s Happening  2016
four-selvaged construction, with shibori star field; warp and weft are a mix of linen, silk, nettles, and cotton, with synthetic dyes. Photo by Tom Grotta.

In early 2016. James Bassler, was invited to participate in the 10th Shibori International Conference, to be held in Oaxaca, Mexico that November. Each entry was to utilize some resist-dyeing technique. “I chose to attempt a field of stars in the American flag,” Bassler writes. “I also chose to weave the flag using the pre-Columbian four-selvage construction. The process is slow, but allows for design changes as the weaving proceeds.” He began in the early months of 2016, coinciding with the political preparations of electing a new president. “Those events,” he recalls, “in particular the dominance of Donald Trump, began to affect my design decisions in making the flag. The red and white stripes in my weaving began to incorporate definite agitation, the same agitation I felt watching the presidential debates. The more extreme the rhetoric, the more extreme the stripes.” The flag was completed and sent off, first to LongHouse, East Hampton for a summer exhibition, then to Oaxaca, Mexico by mid-October. The work was returned from Mexico in March of 2017. In early Spring, it was selected to be in an exhibition in Portland, Oregon. There, “as a result of the presidential election,” Bassler says, “the instructions to the exhibition staff were to hang the flag upside down.”

JAMES BASSLER
Donald and His Hapsburg Empire  2016
wedge weave construction; indigo-dyed linen warp; linen, handspun silk from Mexico, spun duck feathers from Mexico, commercial silk weft. Photo by Tom Grotta.
JAMES BASSLER
Donald and His Hapsburg Empire  2016
wedge weave construction; indigo-dyed linen warp; linen, handspun silk from Mexico, spun duck feathers from Mexico, commercial silk weft. Photo by Tom Grotta.

The same exhibition in Oaxaca in January 2016 inspired Donald and his Habsburg Empire. In this piece, Bassler tried to capture both the historical and the contemporary attitude of arrogance and entitlement that has existed throughout history. Historically, the Habsburgs, the ruling family of Austria, 1276-1918 and of Spain,1516-1700, gave the world elitism through birthright, with no regard to proven achievement. “Today in the United States,” he says, “the Kardashian and the Donald Trump model has made the acquisition of vast sums of money and profit an alarming societal objective, an elitism that values profits over people.” The concept was to have contemporary artists explore the use of spun feathers, relating back to their usage in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The invitation was accompanied by many visuals, including images of ceremonial textiles, from those distant centuries, housed in museums throughout the world. “In all honesty, it was a bit daunting to accept the invitation,” Bassler says. “As the only North American in the exhibition, what might I do?  After reviewing all of the material, I couldn’t help but notice that on many of the ancient textiles the feathers were used to promote the double-headed eagle of the Habsburg Empire, a reminder to those subjugated as to who was in charge.  With that in mind and the fact that the feathers came from Canadian ducks, it was a logical step to create the double-headed ducks. The Donald Trump arrogance factor developed as the presidential debates materialized,” he observes.

Donald Trump’s candidacy concerned Gyöngy Laky as a citizen and an artist. “When it became clear that Donald Trump was the Republican candidate” she remembers, “I cringed and told my husband I worried he could win the election and he did. I have been horrified by his demeanor, corruption and abuse of power.”  She was particularly disturbed by his comment shortly before the Iowa caucus, when he bragged that he could commit a crime and it would not deter his supporters. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” he said. “It’s, like, incredible.”  Laky’s best friend lived two blocks from Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. “This man is joking about killing her or someone else,” she thought. The work that resulted was direct; with a wide-ranging message. “I knew I would have to make an art piece to address who he is… a racist, a sexist, a criminal, a liar, a tax cheat, an incessant golfer on our dime, a man who seems to enjoy making fun of and hurting people and destroying our institutions, someone who does not believe in science, someone who populates our government with incompetent people, someone who supports white supremacists… someone who said proudly that he could commit a crime killing a person without remorse or guilt nor suffering consequence.” The result was Fifth Avenue, 12/23/16 , made in 2019 out of an AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and a golf ball.

GYÖNGY LAKY
Fifth Avenue 1/23/16, 2019 
AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and golf ball. Photo by Gyöngy Laky
GYÖNGY LAKY
Fifth Avenue 1/23/16, 2019 
AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and golf ball. Photo by Gyöngy Laky

Art can help us to understand how to proceed and inspire us to join the fray, observes Laky, quoting Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”  Laky also cites a sequel to last year’s Emmy-nominated short,  A Message From the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a new film, Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair, both illustrated by Molly Crabapple, which urges us to look forward with hope. “In Message II, Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Gael Garcia Bernal, Nnimmo Bassey and Emma Thompson, call upon us to be hopeful, be strong, be active and take part.”

Looking forward, “I’m counting on our younger ones, joined by my generation who remember the 1960s, to turn us around,” says Laky. “With the many difficulties we face fumbling and scrambling toward the possibly most consequential election of our lifetimes, we’re called upon to lift our spirits and gather our strength, awakening our activist souls.”