Throughout time and space artists have represented the political and social issues of their moment. After the reign of controversial 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Akhenaten, successors destroyed and defaced the art and architecture created by the monotheistic ruler who sought to quickly revolutionize Egyptian artistic style and religion. Picasso’s famed Guernica depicts the gruesome aftermath of the 1937 Italian and German bombing of that small Basque village during the Spanish Civil War. As visual “texts,” works of art provide insights into political change, human conflict and the social challenges of the past.
Today is no different. Contemporary American artists wrestle with the same issues that churn 24 hours a day through political airwaves and provoke debates on sidewalks, in coffee houses and at local markets. Few such political issues are truly new, yet their tone is invariably urgent. We are continually frustrated by the tensions between freedom of speech and democratic rights, on the one hand, and arguments for government censorship and complex military strategies intended to protect and defend. Evidence of these vital tensions, manifested in contemporary art, permeates this exhibition.
Those tensions are evident in our culture, too. We have begun to accept gay rights and same-sex marriage, but we are still struggling to end racial and gender discrimination. We return again and again to the question of when life begins and who has the authority to decide. Many are distressed by immigration trends made apparently more threatening when juxtaposed with unemployment, closed businesses, outsourcing and the expansion of foreign economies. Likewise, American energy consumption allows unparalleled comfort and unlimited transportation, yet it feeds market volatility and endangers the environment. The economic system itself raises ethical questions that are engaged by many of our foremost artists. We may witness them asking: Are we “too big to fail?”
The artists presented here challenge our assumptions in ways that make us more thoughtful as citizens as we prepare to head to the polls this November. They demand a critical awareness of complexities that are too easily blended and blurred.
This exhibition asks viewers to ponder the left, examine the right and comprehend shifting centers for the multiple pressing concerns of our time.