Galleries

An Art-fueled Rebuttal to the Tea Party

by Howard Hurst on November 14, 2011

Bob and Roberta Smith, "Join the Art Party" (2011), Enamel on found suitcase (all images via pierogi2000.com)

Over the last month, similar to a rhino with a weird skin disease, I have been totally infected with the Occupy Wall Street bug. Unable to shake it, and incurably itchy, I can’t seem but to blunder hopelessly forward. I’m afraid this all means that you are being subjected to at least one more faux activist art post. Here is my solemn promise to make this the last for a while. Next week I’ll review a show of awesome pastel drawings of apples. Ok, probably not, point being, as I have said before, the art world seems abuzz with discussions of an OWS nature. Whether or not these sentiments are serious, or not is something else entirely.

This sort of spirit soaked the walls of the Boiler Room space owned by Pierogi Gallery last Friday. The project The Art Party (Gotham Golem) by Bob and Roberta Smith might have been planned in the past, yet it jabs a ramshackle kick straight into the miasma of current water cooler art talk.

The exhibition is a collection of odd objects painted with off kilter and hopeful messages. The style is equal parts cheerful graphic language and subversive nincompoopery. The press release talks about the Tea Party:

The Art Party is a response to the Tea Party. Inspired in part by the 1930s WPA Program where artists like Lee Krasner, Dorothea Lang, Ben Shahn and Jackson Pollock were central to an imaginative cultural investment and were put to work to inspire America. They “ … didn’t restart the economy by any shape or means, but they did provide a narrative of hope and showed that art provides something worth living for.” (Smith) Rather than cutting social programs The Art Party advocate creative cultural solutions to rebuild America. The Art Party seeks to provide a creative yet critical discourse of hope in response to the Tea Party’s discourse of austerity and despair.

Art Party seems like a sort of kind hearted, art-fueled rebuttal.

The idea, I guess, is to wrestle back control of the grass roots from a right whirling so far out of tilt that even Fox News can’t manage the spin. The message seems to encapsulate a kind of “give me the keys” approach to the cultural field. Slogans like “Free MoMA” and “Artists, Poets, dancers, architects built America and they will rebuild America with Art at its center” and “human beings throw away their greatest artistic achievement in the trash everyday” are inspiring and annoying in turn.

Installation view of Art Party at Pierogi's The Boiler.

It is easy to imagine the collected pizza boxes, bottles, suitcases and car parts on display jumping off the wall in a Toy Story-esque march of the inanimate. The whole experience is silly, but that’s part of the fun. Like a kitten hopped up on catnip, these signs bumble across the landscape. Their exuberance is part of their power. I think at the end of the day, it’s important to know that you can be totally fucking kidding and absolutely serious at the same time, especially when it comes to politics.

Bob and Roberta Smith, "Free MoMA" (2011) (click to enlarge)

That’s not to say the work on display is flippant, just full of whimsy. My first impression was that the installation immediately reminded me of ESPO, an artist who is famous for his mural-sized love notes to no one. They have received so much attention in part because they fill us with hope and laughter. To fashion a political message with the same tone seems like a genuine accomplishment. The result is a modest exhibition that serves as food for thought. In a world where such fare is often unpalatable, at the very least Art Party is easily digested; a pleasurable respite from the all too serious drivel common to political debates of all kinds.

Bob and Roberta Smith’s The Art Party (Gotham Golem) continues at Pierogi’s The Boiler (191 N14th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) until December 2.

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