THIS IS AMERICA, ART USA TODAY
On November 3rd, Americans go to the polls to elect their new president: either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. A pivotal moment in a politically and socially divided country. Kunsthal KAdE has set out to discover what position artists are adopting enthuse charged times.
In the exhibition This Is America Art USA Today, almost forty American artists bring the United States to The Netherlands in the form of paintings, photography, murals, documentation and installations. Their work addresses current issues like identity, city culture, climate change and ‘Trump’.
Road trip USA
What’s it like to be an artist in the US in these troubled times? In summer 2019, exhibition curator Robbert Roos set off on an American road trip. Driving coast to coast and back again, he talked to artists, curators, and gallery owners. He concludes that ‘Politically and socially, it’s a nation torn apart, with not only fierce opposition between Republicans and Democrats, but city and country seemingly occupying different worlds, racial tensions still undiminished, a Christian right that is actively seeking to reverse progressive legislation, and an apparently ever sharper divide between rich and poor. Artists have always taken up positions in the public discourse.’
A separate section of the exhibition is devoted to the For Freedoms project. Founded in 2016 by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms organizes gatherings and collaborations aimed at propagating four principal freedoms – freedom of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear – and stimulating civic participation. During the mid-term election season of 2018, the platform launched the 50 State Initiative, in which around 200 artist-designed billboards were erected in the 50 states of the Union. This exhibition features several of the full-size billboards plus a wider selection of designs displayed in a more modest format on the wall of the main gallery.
The exhibition includes a broad swathe of artworks that speak to current issues in the United States. Hank Willis Thomas presents a crashed version of the ‘General Lee’ (the orange Dodge Charger from 1970s TV series The Dukes of Hazard) with the Confederate flag prominently displayed on its roof. Dread Scott has created a ‘re-enactment’ of an 1811 slave rebellion, when a group of enslaved people left plantations south-west of New Orleans and set out to found an independent state of their own. And Catherine Opie has produced a series of political collage-animations addressing current issues surrounding nationality, democracy, and identity.
Paintings by artists like Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Travis Somerville focus on religious fanaticism, Trump, and the racist culture of the southern states. Jeffrey Gibson, Edgar Heap of Birds and Julie Buffalohead address the position of Native Americans. Kota Ezawa has created an animation concerning the decision of black American Football players to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem. A group of artists from El Paso in Texas and its sister city of Juarez in Mexico show what life is like in their border region, including the impact of the steel wall that slices right through the traditionally close communities. Guerrilla Girls and Avram Finkelstein (Gran Fury) maintain the campaigns they launched in the 1980s to improve the position of women and the LGBTQ community. Justin Brice Guariglia uses illuminated messages on highway signs to warn about the consequences of climate change.
The United States is a faraway country, but developments there can directly affect what happens in the Netherlands. So, KAdEStudio is giving visitors their chance to vote. The exhibition is accompanied by a book containing Robbert Roos’s account of his road trip, extracts of his interviews with artists, curators and gallerists, and a host of visuals.
The exhibition This Is America, Art USA Today runs from September 26th until November 3rd.