With the Bush administration relapsing into the shadows, and the Obama inauguration promising a return to sanity, American voters may be tempted to dismiss the debacle as an unfortunate mistake that — ahem — "no one could have imagined." That would be wrong: military adventurism and expansionism have been part of American culture since Lincoln lost his Congressional seat over his principled opposition to Polk's Mexican-American War, and arguably even before that. And the financial meltdown is largely self-inflicted. Bushism was less an anomaly than the monster from our collective id.
But the reign of error did reinvigorate the idea of political art. Several local shows affiliated with the Art of Democracy, a national protest art consortium, already have been noted here. The Red Door Collective, a new Oakland nonprofit, has mounted an exhibition by 23 artists entitled Art & the Body Politick. Curated by RDGC's Jais Booth, Lisa Rasmussen and Lauren Odell Usher, it addresses a host of themes from the familiar militarism, racism, and imperialism to the exciting new Bailout Recession.
Jesus Barraza's "If Capitalism Can Cross Borders, So Can We!" stands up for those who seek work by following the money and jobs. Jais Booth's "Patriarchy II – Terror" is a powerful expressionist evocation of panic. Guy Colwell's "Breadline" depicts social differences based on skin color and money. Kevin Evans' "Enlist" is a bizarrely funny recruiting poster for Orwell's IngSoc with the slogan, "Eliminate Thought Crime." Heidi Forsell's "Oh Grandma" is a portrait of her relative merged with text of her "real American" political sentiments. Doug Minkler's "Bankers Trust" portrays a fanged skull with computer-screen eyes. Claude Moller's "Socialism for the Rich," with Stalin and a bemedaled Bush reviewing a May Day tank procession, compares the $700 billion Wall Street bailout with the comparative pittance spent on homelessness. Gary-Paul Prince's "Machine-gun Jesus" replaces the deadly cross with a firearm. Favianna Rodriguez's "Make Out Not War" updates the '60s mantra with a puckering Salma Hayek. Lauren Odell Usher's "Men in Ties Rule the World," confirms the stupidity of sartorially restricted blood flow. And Mary Hull Webster's "Blue Sky with Bombs" juxtaposes filmstrip-like images with a pastel background to subvert the "means justify ends" rationales for mass violence. Art & the Body Politick runs through January 31 at The Red Door Gallery and Collective (416 26th St., Oakland). Inauguration celebration on Jan. 20 from 6-10 p.m. RedDoorGalleryandCollective.blogspot.com or 510-292-7061.
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