State of the Union
By Nich Sousanis
thedetroiter.com, July 2007
For their current exhibition, the Gallery Project collaborators and friends have trained their thematic sites on the very “State of the Union.” The artists’ version of the leader of this country’s annual address serves as a reminder that this country is a union of separate interests, people, and places. Something that when chanting “USA,” it seems we tend to forget the whole “United” thing. The forging and preservation of any union means a constant and active dialogue to which artists make a vital contribution.
There’s plenty of strong and evocative work, demonstrating well that the participating artists are quite passionate about their subject matter. Quite rightly so, the work tends to be dominated what passes for leadership in this country, the ongoing war, our dependence on oil, and the environment. At a time when the major media outlets are so passive, the role of artists to question, to rabble rouse, is all the more essential.
With so many different sorts of works on hand it’s hard to pick out only a few to mention. Some particulars: Peter Williams’ curious, plastic, human-like caricatures, entitled “Green Zone,” a reference to the area walled off housing the US occupation in Baghdad. The work both serves as commentary on the state of affairs in Iraq and fits quite well within the former Detroit painter’s oeuvre. On the more “outsiderish” end of the painting spectrum, Maurice Greenia, Jr. and Rocco DePietro tackle the subjects of politics and war. Julie Renfro’s ornate objects are compelling in their beauty. In “Once Upon a Time,” she’s placed within a box with a porthole window an image of the earth and stars hanging about it inside. The delicate nature of the imagery speaks quietly and profoundly about the preciousness of this planet.
Gloria Pritschet delivers a number of compelling and lingering images that engage our pathos through a variety of media: one is a photograph with a grieving figure reflected in the names of the Vietnam War Memorial, another is a printout ceiling high several rows wide listing all the soldiers killed in Iraq with holes burned through it, and a third is a montage of photos stuck against a flag image documenting the severely underreported protest movement. The timelessness of these images and the fact that they document cycles we’ve seen again and again speak volumes without additional narrative.
The activist spirit of this show is taken up strongly by two artists: among other pieces, Frank Pahl shares a trademark animated musical machine that plays his own version of the National Anthem – corporatized. Jack Summers incorporates collage and design with great insight and skills all towards demonstrating the “Emperor’s lack of clothes.” Both artists provoke a sad knowing laugh with their works.
Though I may well be wrong, I’m troubled a bit with the tendency in political shows toward “Bush Bashing” and the like. It’s not that I disagree with such things. Not in the least. I have no trouble saying in print, this man is a terrible leader and has brought much harm to this nation and to the people of the world with his actions. But while many of the works are fun and certainly clever to those who already agree with the point of view being expressed, I’m not convinced they offer the power to alter people’s perspective in a whole way that art could truly achieve. It’s a lot to ask, yes, but artists can be forerunners enabling us all to look at our world differently. To this end, I mention Emily Linn’s collaborative installation addressing broken glass, of which a subset is on view in this exhibition (see our previous review of the work here). Though perhaps not a great fit in this show, it definitely achieves such a transformation of perspective. Having experienced this work, I can’t help but take more notice of the broken glass on my streets and look at these glittering piles in quite new ways.
As has been the case since its inception, Gallery Project deserves great credit for all that they have done and continue to do with each exhibition in bringing people together from diverse parts. It’s a sort of union, if you will. On the flip side, it would still serve them well to exercise stronger curatorial control not necessarily on account of quality, but in terms of the curator’s role in focusing attention, sharpening the viewer’s gaze and mind on whatever it is that’s being examined. This dynamic between wide open expression and tightening the reigns of curatorial leadership is meta-level commentary on the overall theme of the show, and why we must all always be so vigilant in maintaining the integrity of this union.
At this time of year when we celebrate the fact that we’re free to create, to question our leaders, Gallery Project makes an important commitment to the State of this Union in putting this show on. This is a time in history when we dare not keep quiet.