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For the second installment of Art Voices, our collaborative content project with Red Bull Arts, we’re exploring the theme of New Politics. Contemporary zeitgeist swirls around the how and why of the tumultuous political climate that has taken hold across the world. But as we move through this era, it is important to remember that politics ebbs and flows. This isn’t the first and won’t be the last time that differences fracture nations.

We baking these ideas down into two questions that assess how a diverse, creative field think about contemporary and future political issues. Read on to hear from Elizabeth Dee, Anton Kern, Alan Belcher, Howardena Pindell, Bill Cournoyer, and Max Schulman about New Politics.

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Elizabeth Dee

Elizabeth Dee
Co-Founder

RBA: What do you envision the role of the arts and the art world to be in this turbulent political time?

IND: How do we as individuals combat the inequalities and disparities we see within our field?

In many ways, uncertain political times bring about innovation in art.  Now is the time to question the status quo, the politics of our world and the politics of our field.
There certainly is a lot to talk about and respond to. Particularly the art world’s economic disparity generally, and in relation to gender and racial inequality. We have real issues to face if we want to change things for the better. 
We also have to face now key questions if we want to preserve the best and highest uses of gallery culture. Solutions are needed to build the future collector base. The fairs and galleries must work together on this. 
I do actively question what the larger commercial art world’s goals are now and in the long term. I seek to bring this discussion forward whenever I have the opportunity to be heard.  I find it surprising, still after two decades of being in the art world, that the field is traditionally so conservative-because we are in art, we should be ahead of everything. 
 

Anton Kern

Anton Kern
Founder of Anton Kern Gallery

RBA: What do you envision the role of the arts and the art world to be in this turbulent political time?

IND: How do we as individuals combat the inequalities and disparities we see within our field?

If you meant that, whether art needs to make a political statement, I would say it can and it should, especially, as you put it, "in today's volatile times." That doesn't mean that I like political art. From the perspective of the "future" it is important to look back at art and to be able to put it into the context of when it was made -- its meaning, how views are expressed, not in a demagogic way but freely. But that alone (art as evidence of the spirit of the moment) does not make good art. I expect more.

Alan Belcher

Alan Belcher
Alan Belcher is a contemporary visual artist based in Toronto. He was co-founder and co-director of Gallery Nature Morte with artist Peter Nagy in New York’s East Village from 1982-88.

RBA: What do you envision the role of the arts and the art world to be in this turbulent political time?

Art must boldly forge ahead in this period when the political World spins backwards. Instead of retracting head in sand with a default to face-value art evasive of meaning and in denial of any previous timeline (which unfortunately seems ‘de rigueur’), one would believe creatives and their facilitators would champion content and layering with a healthy embrace of participation in the art historical. The disastrous tailspin into a culture of fake truths and fly-over fact-checking would dictate that creative endeavors should at least be respectful of predecessors and aspire to an adventure of development. Current predominance of pedestrian modes of retro-Figuration and the slap-dash of cut-n-paste collage has stepped the culture into reverse, and has stripped gears.

There must be a resistance and legion to defend against sensational knee-jerk artistic responses to selfish populism and crook politics —sloganeering in oil, acrylic, mirror, or neon which would function ideally and simply enough on the chest of a T-shirt should not be encouraged (or Instagrammed !).

And speaking of Biennials, and their accompanied Instagram-baiting installations; this is the time to seriously celebrate bodies of work in support of dynamic artists, and not default to competitive one-off selfie-settings. With that in mind, the burgeoning notion of reality-show art-prize competitions (usually ageist and with regional quotas) only pits artists against other artists (apples & oranges), and in this age of populism nothing would seem more misguided or inappropriate.

IND: How do we as individuals combat the inequalities and disparities we see within our field?

Let’s talk ageism. A decided short-sighted concentration on those artists referred to as ‘Emerging’ should be called out for what it is —prospecting. For those miners of the minors, that gold is for fools.

A viewer’s verve for discovery can be satisfied by a creative of any generation. The notion that those of youth hold a unique destination is a fallacy. All artists are able to participate in the culture of 'The New' regardless of birth. To continually suck on youth to the extent of systematically putting older blood out to pasture is a vampire activity. To sample green sprouts in hopes of piggy-backing a bus shows a distinct disregard for the life cycle of art —to nurture creative endeavor is a continual investment and responsibility.

And on the other side of the spectrum, those whose choice is to now chase seniors with their looming estates in mind are equally irresponsible and abhorrent in their transparency.

Pindell

Howardena Pindell
Howardena Pindell is an American painter and mixed media artist living and working in New York.

RBA: What do you envision the role of the arts and the art world to be in this turbulent political time?

Trump does not appear to be interested in culture, which is helpful as we can hopefully avoid his targeting us with his hatred, dishonesty  and confusion . We can be more supportive of one another and try not to allow this current political climate get us down. We have our vote to speak for all of us in the arts. The  fear is that our vote will not count because of dishonesty, gerrymandering, "faulty" voting equipment and hacking. We must keep working in spite of the turmoil. It seems like there is something "new" everyday to be concerned about. I try to keep informed by going to the democracynow.org website to get a progressive  and truthful  analysis of the current news. I look for commentary by Noam Chomsky on Democracynow.org. They have transcripts of interviews. I also listen to MSNBC and CNN  on cable while I am working.I  encourage contacting your congressperson and expressing your concerns.

IND: How do we as individuals combat the inequalities and disparities we see within our field?

Stay alert to what is going on and encourage museums, galleries and art publications to be more diverse. People of color have been left out for so long especially First Nation artists. Although it appears to be improving, it could be more diverse.

Schulman

Max Schulman
Executive Director of Printed Matter, Inc.

RBA: What do you envision the role of the arts and the art world to be in this turbulent political time?

I feel it is critical that we in the various art worlds have a firm understanding that the current turbulent political times did not start with—nor will they end with—the Trump administration. Until the systemic roots of the daily political outrages are confronted and challenged, we can't expect to effect meaningful change. While I welcome the heightened political consciousness inspired by these outrages, I am worried that many in the art communities get their information and find solace in the seemingly sympathetic mainstream liberal media—which I see to be a part of the architecture of hierarchy, privilege and oppression, and which must be likewise critiqued and confronted. Because the arts are intrinsically situated in the realm of communication, it is in a unique position—indeed, I feel is obliged—to take this challenge on.

IND: How do we as individuals combat the inequalities and disparities we see within our field?

Of course the inequalities and disparities we see within our field are reflections of our society at large, and it is not as individuals, but rather through education and collective action that we can hope to combat them. I think it is critical to understand that discrimination and exclusion based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual identity, and other marginalized social groups are intrinsically intertwined with historic and ongoing class conflict and struggle. The Art World (capitalized and singular) is a multi-billion dollar industry that is essentially aligned with institutional capitalist power. While there is no social space that is purely outside of the prevailing power configurations, and that it is essential to recognize our participation—and even complicity—in empire, the refusal of the legitimacy of the status quo (cultural and political) is a start towards creating spaces from which to act and to work toward change.

Bill Cournoyer

Bill Cournoyer
Advisor & Curator, who is also the founder of the art advisory firm and private exhibition space The Meeting.

RBA: What do you envision the role of the arts and the art world to be in this turbulent political time?

In October 2016, I launched The Meeting’s private exhibition program in my West Village apartment.  The first exhibition was titled Mean Machine: Up Jumped the Devil in response to the political events of that year, as well as my personal recollection of the politics of the 80’s. Each of the works included text and could be read as protest signs for various systems.  It was a reaction to current events.

The art world has a responsibility to reflect contemporary society in these “turbulent political times” in an intelligent and meaningful way. In order for a society to evolve and promote the well-being of all of its members each of us needs to do its part, including the art world.  I am happy to say that the level of political oriented work and exhibitions has increased in the last 3 years.  As well as political organizing within the community which I can’t remember being at these levels since the 80’s.    

IND: How do we as individuals combat the inequalities and disparities we see within our field?

I remember the opening week in Chelsea in 2017.  There were multiple exhibitions of African American artists in established galleries that evening.  I sadly never remembered that happening before in New York.  It was a good example that things were changing, albeit late, and that a few individuals with power were beginning to respond to inequalities within the art world.  But it may be idealistic to think that change starts from the top without a level playing field.  Individuals can contribute to making a difference. I’m reminded of the act of coming out which is inherently a political one.  Each time you express your beliefs or moral standards about inequality to those in positions of power may be the impetus for change.  

I’m especially encouraged about the next generation of artists, curators and dealers, for example, who have a broader and fairer sense of how the future can be for all of us like never before.

Sanford Biggers

Sanford Biggers
Sanford Biggers is a visual artist, teacher, and musician

RBA: What do you envision the role of the arts and the art world to be in this turbulent political time?

While most forms of mass media seek to simplify or reduce topical issues into binaries that are easier to digest, defend or oppose, visual art has the unique ability to use sophisticated visual, conceptual, historical and even social devices that I believe more adequately address the complexities and nuances of past and current times or turbulence. This act of creative commentary is one of the most poignant and potentially disruptive roles of art.

IND: How do we as individuals combat the inequalities and disparities we see within our field?

By getting involved on any level you can! For all of our digital bluster, most folks would rather talk or post than actually DO something. Hire qualified individuals from groups that are typically marginalized and don't be lazy and assume "they don't exist". Do the work and find the right channels; I guarantee they actually do exist.

Don't just exhibit or buy the work of any currently trending demographic, discover where their themes of interest intersect with yours and educate yourself on who their creative mentors and predecessors are.
Donate to causes your favorite artists and/or institutions contribute their time and resources to.

When viewing art, talk to those around you who you don't already know. Don't move into a "new" neighborhood and impose your predilections, take your viewpoint and expertise and consciously join the existing community that you just moved into. Communicate with people outside of your circle IRL!
Don't believe the binary.