ArtistsPeople 04-11-2016

Art doesn't win votes | The absence of culture during the US elections

As the international press wonders which of the candidates running for the US presidency would be better — or rather the lesser of two evils — for the arts, the question of culture remains largely absent from both the candidates’ policies.

According to the 2016 report American Attitude Towards Art, less than half of American teenagers visit a museum at least once a year. In front of such depressing statistics, it doesn’t come as a surprise that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has  ever made a consistent statement on their views on the development and future of culture and arts in the US.
Yet the thematic of the 2016 presidential elections is anything but absent from current artistic production, it has become a total free for all; there’s everything from graffiti to nude statues of the two candidates to portraits of Donald Trump rendered in menstrual blood.
Trump Wall, Section 1 by artists David Gleeson and Mary Mihelic. Courtesy the artists.

Today, Pedro Reyes’ Doomocracy opens at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. For the  six hour-long performance, an “act of political rigor” as defined by the artist, Reyes has constructed a haunted house with 12 rooms, each one staging a different freak scenario: there’s everything from “cheerleaders singing about abortion” to undertakers specializing in producing coffins in the shape of processed-food items. Undoubtedly political, Reyes’ installation, mixing visual art, performance and theatre, creates an immersive commentary on some of the world’s most pressing political issues but fails to decry the specifically American stakes of this election.
And that’s exactly the point: confronted with an election that might bring about disastrous consequences for not only the country, but also the rest of the world, American artists have remained somewhat silent, failing to voice the strong reactions and produce the poignant work that everyone would have expected from them. If both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump largely disregard the arts with their virtually non-existent cultural policies, artists also seem to ignore the issue at hand, whilst those who do address the elections don’t seem to go beyond the merely provocative and profane.
If art has the potential to influence politics, why does it remain mute in front of the world’s most heavily mediatized presidential elections? Why doesn’t it go beyond carefully elaborated stunts or symbolic gestures that just don’t cut the mustard? After all, Donald Trump’s misogynistic remarks and behaviors, his xenophobic retweets and views on immigration are just a few of the issues that go against all that politically engaged artists such as Tania BrugueraLaura Poitras, the Guerrilla Girls or organizations like CAMP —  the Center for Art on Migration Politics stand for.

Via Jeff Koons' official Instagram.
In spite of his thoughts on collecting art and his caustic comments on Andres Serrano’s work — which he described as “gross, degenerate stuff” — Trump’s win could paradoxically mean significant tax breaks for collectors, as the nominee probably wouldn’t be in a hurry  to scrap the now notorious 1301 exchange. Either way, the sole, fragile ties both nominees entertain with the art world are in its upper sphere. Superstar artist like Jeff Koons and powerhouse galleries such as Gagosian Gallery have notoriously supported candidate Hillary Clinton, but their support is limited to producing and selling artworks at astronomical prices, thus excluding the majority of the American population from what is already barely a political discourse.
If Clinton has more explicitly flirted with the fine arts, the campaign Artists For HIllary seems more a one-way show of support from voters than an actual artistic endeavour on the part of the candidate. With the election of the century upon us, it is clear that art still doesn’t win votes.
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