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Politics and art: never the twain shall meet?

Posted by Sebastian Smee  November 17, 2010 12:18 PM

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ITALY-ART-VENICE-BIENNALE-STORR_001.jpgMark Bradford, the Los Angeles-based artist who has a superb show opening on Friday at the ICA, somehow manages to combine (mostly) abstract art with strong political content. One of the essayists in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition is Robert Storr (pictured). Writing up my review, I'm put in mind of an answer Storr gave me to a question about the efficacy of political art, and whether we would see much of it in the Venice Biennale he was then in the process of organizing. Here is some of what he said:


"Iíve been interested in political art all my life. Iíve also made it Ė rather badly, but seriously at one point. While I was at the Modern, I collected the Baader Meinhof paintings by Gerhard Richter. Iíve written about lots of political artists and I take it very seriously.


But I think that there are not too many people whose politics are serious who are at the same capable of making good art out of them. I think politics and art and both ill-served by bad political art. Thereís an ocean of it out there, and there has been forever.


Simply looking for political art because the ideas you share politically are present in the art is not the solution.


A curator should be involved in finding the fullest, most complex, most realised statement of anything. And I would rather have comparatively smaller proportions of better political art, than try to make a thematic show that said I am going to answer the woes of the world with a resounding chorus of political art.


One of the artists I admire most, Ad Reinhardt, the American abstract painter, was extremely political as a man, as a citizen, as an illustrator and as a commentator, and his art has no overt politics in it at all.


I do think the politics of our present situation in 2005 and the foreseeable future are extremely dangerous for many people in many places. But I think art should beÖ not humble about politics but aware that itís grasp of politics is fragile, relative to the changes that are actually happening.


I also think that artists as citizens should act politically and not simply make political art as an alibi for not doing so.


When you have a real worldwide crisis in many domains, itís not sufficient to speak just to your professional peers and not find ways to speak to a more general public. Felix Gonzalez Torres is an example of an artist who managed this extraordinarily well. If I were a young artist looking at how to get into this, I would look at Felixís work and learn a lot from it."


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Culture Desk is a blog that serves to highlight both local and national stories of interest in the worlds of art, music, movies, TV, theater and more. Most items are written by writers and editors from The Boston Globe arts and culture staff.

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