Art of Politics 

Two exhibits explore presidential election

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click to enlarge Your Land/My Land by Jonathan Horowitz
  • Your Land/My Land by Jonathan Horowitz

Observing and participating in a presidential election is one of the most communal experiences in American society, but it can also be one of the most divisive. This year’s presidential race has Americans especially divided because two of its central issues that hit close to home for average citizens—economic policy and disparity of wealth—have been addressed very differently by each candidate.

The art world commonly appears removed from the political process, sometimes more closely associated with “blue state” elites, but the art market has been subject to changes that mirror the crisis of capitalism in general. New York artist Jonathan Horowitz has re-imagined the gallery space as an interactive visual metaphor of the “red state/blue state” territoriality of national politics.

Your Land/My Land, similar to Horowitz’ installations during the 2008 presidential election, is occurring simultaneously in galleries from Los Angeles to New York City. The area in the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art devoted to the installation is separated by red and blue area rugs, reflecting the political differences. In the center, back-to-back television monitors are hung—one screening Fox News, the other MSNBC. The words to the Woody Guthrie song “This Land Is Your Land” will adorn the walls.

At the show’s opening, President Obama’s portrait will be hung between the two sides. A portrait of Mitt Romney is resting on the floor, poised to take Obama’s place suspended from the ceiling if the Republican candidate is elected. It’s an unconventional use of a gallery space, but Horowitz hopes the public interaction will become a kind of organic work of art in its own right.

In a way, it makes the gallery a space of public opinion. The election results will play out across the screens in art galleries as well as on other televisions across America, but what does this re-contextualization of the race do to our perception of it? Does it render the political event as theater, or itself like a work of performance art? It will be fascinating to see the discussions that ensue.

UMOCA will be open for extended hours on Election Night, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, from 7 p.m. until late. (Brian Staker)

Utah Museum of Contemporary Art
20 S. West Temple
Through Nov. 24

With the unique perspectives of 16 artists comes stark diversity—and when those artists are given a provocative subject for an exhibition, the resulting work should be broad while capturing a common core principle. E Pluribus Unum, now showing at Tippetts Exhibit Gallery at Utah State University, comes from the motto that translates as “Out of the many, come one,” and one goal of this show is that the range of art produced by the participants will resonate as one united voice—that many can assert personal individuality, while still contributing harmoniously to a collective whole.

A telling piece is by Daniel T. Barney and Randal Marsh, “Untitled (Poll, 2012).” A polling booth stands against a wall with a curtain behind, and an image of one candidate to either side. Beneath each portrait is a mock ballot. The viewer reads nonsensical categories on which each candidate should be judged: “Basic Attributes”—including dexterity and fatigue—“Lifting and Moving” and “(Dis)Advantages” are weighed heavily. The final category is “Skills,” with insignificant qualifiers such as “gardening.”

This farce is a loaded demonstration of how generally uniformed or misinformed the public can be about its candidates, or focused on insignificant details. A sense of blind partisan loyalty seems more plausible than real partisan difference and disunion.

From conceptual artist Namon Bills comes the installation piece “False Dichotomy.” With torch raised, Lady Liberty lights the path of freedom to the “huddled masses” of history. This sculptural 2-D collaged replica of the Statue of Liberty with a chess set sets the stage for social, political and economic conceptual interpretation from a mapping of visual signifiers, revealing polemics of today’s “masses.” The history of the statue is juxtaposed with the techno-data smattered across it, a duality between the traditional meaning of the statue and America as a globalized society and economy; the game of chess alludes to competing political parties with myriad differences that accompany them.

Yet the entirety of the exhibit is balanced, many personal and impassioned individuals uniting harmoniously with a lesson for a more cohesive national perspective. (Ehren Clark)

Tippetts Exhibit Gallery, Chase Fine Arts Center
Utah State University
4030 Old Main Hill, Logan
Through Nov. 9

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