Arts and Crafts Utopia

How we live, and how we might live.

Month: March 2015

New York Observer review of Left Front

3_geller_untitledfactory_c1930s-p19daoitk31golaags5rbsoAnother very thoughtful take on The Left Front courtesy of David Ebony, writing for the New York Observer. I’m really gratified that Mr. Ebony grasped an important (though not overt) motivation for curating the show in the first place: using the 1930s as a lens through which to consider the relationship between art and politics today:

In the context of today’s relentlessly market-driven art world, with its emphasis on individualistic expression, and success gauged in terms of auction results, the concept of “culture workers” seems a bit like a fantasy that took place in a remote time and place.

This is a crucial point to make about the activist art of the 1930s. I’ve been asked by visitors and journalists whether I think The Left Front is a “dark” or “pessimistic” exhibition. It certainly features art with bleak subject matter: breadlines, police brutality, exploited workers, and the twin evils of industrialized capitalism and fascism. Yet there is a less obvious optimism in the artworks: namely, the profound and deep-seated optimism about the power of art itself. The power of art to change hearts and minds, and the power of artists as “culture workers” linking arms with the organized working class. As Ebony writes:

In one sense, “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ ” is a study of idealism, an examination of a less cynical time, when artists believed that they could actually change the world, or at least contribute to progressive causes in meaningful ways. Theirs was a grass-roots effort, in which artists bravely ran against the grain of the status quo. Whether or not they were successful is practically irrelevant, as their noble aims remain poignant and prescient.

Today, as union members make up less than 10 percent of the U.S. workforce, and economic disparity gets more extreme by the day, it might be the time for artists and the intelligentsia to take another look at America’s “socialist moment” that is so thoughtfully and skillfully illuminated in this show.

Guernica essay on The Left Front

John Reed - Ten Days that Shook the WorldRoslyn Bernstein of Guernica (the masthead: “a magazine of art & politics”) has offered a thoughtful and ruminative take on The Left Front. She was kind enough to spend time with me and my co-curator, Jill Bugajski, in the Grey Gallery, asking us questions as we gave her an unofficial tour of the exhibition. The interview happened soon after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, so the resonance of recent events with The Left Front (which features a strong dose of controversial political and social satire) was on our minds.  As the first paragraph suggests, the exhibition also had a personal resonance for Roslyn:

My association with the left goes back to my high school years in Long Beach, NY. It was there, in a friend’s basement, that I first read issues of the Communist Party newspaper, The Daily Worker. Several of my friends’ parents had been thrown out of the New York City school system during the McCarthy years and they had gone into hiding in this small beach town, 45 minutes outside the city. Occasionally, I saw flyers and posters in the basement, too, demanding better working conditions and higher wages for the proletariat; they were left over from rallies in Union Square and from secret meetings in Greenwich Village.

Read the rest of her essay here.