Thursday, April 5, 2012
Trayvon and art insiders
(T-shirt designed by Ali Spagnola)
I don’t think art is an effective place for direct political statements. I think political stances are most powerful in art when communicated through metaphor, or at least subtlety. I’m not likely to be moved by a portrait of a woman flexing muscles on top of a pile of robber barons in suits. Although maybe I should try depicting that.
I guess I would point to literalness as the culprit, to spelling out as the culprit. At least in visual art. And I’m speaking for myself, as an art insider who doesn’t need the crutch of obviousness because I speak the language of New York insider art pretty well. Yes, that makes me part of an elite, something I can’t pretend I am not, even though I’d like to just be regular. Regular, but an artist too.
I like Hennessy Youngman’s videos. But I think many art insiders like them in part because he comes off as not an art insider and that’s partly because he’s black. So by association we become regular. Many politically aware artists who are members of the art elite don’t want to be what they are. I get it. It’s full of damn uncomfortable contradictions.
All this to say, I’ve been thinking about wearing the name Trayvon on my back at the opening of Undercover, a group show that I'm in opening next week in Bushwick. But I think it would be a fashion statement; too much about me (and not me); too much about my politics as a definition of me (and not me).
Maybe I’d do it if I could get a large majority of people coming to the opening to wear the name Trayvon somewhere on their outfit or body. Still there’s the whiff of the false, of the cause célèbre publicized to people who already agree. Wearing the name in Walton, New York, a hotbed of poor Republicans: that’s another story.
I’d do it if I were Bruce Springsteen. In fact he did, dedicating his song “American Skin (41 Shots)” to Trayvon at a concert in Jersey this week. But he’s a rock star. I heart Bruce so much.
You think artists are rock stars?