Art Insider June 2: Artists and curators take up social justice, fundraise for BLM

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Sometimes it feels like art can’t make concrete change during social unrest. But this week I’m featuring stories of artists, galleries, and curators who are finding unique ways to collect donations from the art community. 

Can art make a difference right now?

Molly Surazhsky photographed in front of The Broad. Image courtesy of Molly Surazhsky

As I pondered this question in preparation to draft this post, I asked a few artists how art can make a difference — or if they think that art is less relevant than larger efforts to mobilize change. 

Since stay-at-home orders began, artist Molly Surazhsky has been making masks for health workers. She’s also been focusing on activism in light of racial injustices in America. She’s been photographing herself, along with artist Courtney Coles, wearing masks that read “Redistribute Wealth” in front of wealthy art institutions.  

“I urge community members within the arts to take pause from art and lifestyle posts on social media, and redirect our attention to ways in which we can help — whether that is by sharing the art of Black artists, donation, signing petitions, and vowing to do our part in fighting systematic racism by educating others,” Surazhsky says.

Painter Calida Rawles told me, “To quote Nina Simone, ‘an artist's duty is to reflect the time.’ In today's climate, it's necessary for each of us to do our part in the ongoing fight for social justice.” 

Hammer curator rallies funds on Instagram

Installation view of
Lauren Halsey: we still here, there. March 4 – September 3, 2018 at MOCA Grand Avenue. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo by Zak Kelley.

It started with an Instagram post from Hammer curator Erin Christovale: “ART WORLD. Calling on my dealers, collectors, board members, and gallerists in my circle….if I’ve ever introduced you to a new artist, if you’ve ever enjoyed one of my talks... PLEASE CONSIDER MATCHING DONATION to @mnfreedomfund.” 

This call to action prompted the community to match her $50 donation for the Minnesota Freedom Fund. In just a matter of days, she has rallied the local art community and raised at least $8K. 

For each donation, Christovale thanks the donor on Instagram, and includes an image of an artwork by an artist of color. The campaign has been inspiring to watch on multiple levels: Not only the outpouring of community support but also the stellar imagined exhibition that Christovale is posting, one artwork at a time, on her Instagram. 

Artworks by Cauleen Smith, David Hammons, Allison Saar, Sonja Clark, Howardena Pindell, and Lauren Halsey are all curated together, creating a massive group show that champions the collective creativity of the black community. 

Artists give away creations in exchange for donations

Calida Rawles,
Lost in the Shuffle, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires.

Artist Diedrick Brackens posted on social media, “Where to begin...we are all feeling it, helplessness in the face of tragedy.” The post matched two identical posts on the accounts of artist Calida Rawles and the gallery Various Small Fires. The gallery is offering printed posters by the two artists in exchange for a donation of $100 or more. Proceeds will go to organizations such as the Minnesota Freedom Fund, the Equal Justice Fund Initiative, and Black Lives Matter. 

Calida Rawles is a painter who depicts languid black bodies floating in rippling pools of water. (Her artwork was notably featured on the cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book The Water Dancer. ) Diedrick Brackens creates detailed multi-layer weavings that are also figurative and recall narratives of the American South and rebirth.  

Before the poster campaign was announced, Rawles posted an image of her artwork Lost in the Shuffle (2019), which pictures two black men with exhausted expressions floating in water with their arms raised. “I’ve been feeling like this painting the last few days,” Rawles captioned. “Lost in the names, emotions, and all.”

Rawles emailed me about the project: “My art speaks to the joys and pains of being Black in America. As such, I partnered with Diedrick Brackens, to infuse art into the conversation with the hope of supporting those who are doing the important work of standing on the frontline. And clearly, Black Lives Matter.”

The two artists have collaborated to create positive change out of despair, using their own artwork as a powerful catalyst.

Drive-by-art is becoming the new normal

Paintings by Chet Glaze hang on the fence around Silverlake Reservoir for
Drive-by-Art . Photo: Lindsay Preston Zappas.

Two Saturdays ago, I spent the afternoon driving around Los Angeles in search of artworks installed outside. 

One organized exhibition — called Drive-By-Art — took place over  the past two weekends in Los Angeles. A hundred artists participated by displaying art in front of their homes or on public fences. I talked to one artist, Chet Glaze, who was sitting next to his series of paintings hung on the fence around the Silverlake Reservoir. He told me that he “felt like a carpet salesman.” He confessed that one jogger tripped while doing a double-take to look at the paintings.

This trend toward art shows that can be safely viewed from cars is becoming more common as museums are still closed, and galleries start to open by appointment only. I talked to KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis about my experience of trying to find drive-by art, and how it compares to seeing art in a gallery or museum. 

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