Art v. Politics

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With the media's non-stop coverage of the Presidential campaign reaching the point of oversaturation, it's tempting to recall the timeless statement: "A picture is worth a thousand words." With the headline of today's Art Talk, Art v. Politics, I chose several artworks that deliver serious punches that can be felt years –– and in some cases, centuries –– after originally being made.

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Trump double-sided poster by Robbie Conal
Off-set litho prints
Photograph courtesy of Robbie Conal

Let's check out the first image, a double-portrait of Donald Trump by well-known Los Angeles-based artist, Robbie Conal –– a street artist famous for unique, satirical political posters. I wonder if anyone has had the courage to show these posters to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, so famous for his thin skin. Yeah. Next thing we know, we'll be hearing about a multi-million-dollar suit against the artist.

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(L) Portrait of Seuthes III, about 310-300 BC
National Institute of Archaeology – Sofia, Bulgaria
(R) Donald Trump
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Almost a year ago, responding to the Republican primary debates, I marveled at Donald Trump. He completely dominated the events, over-shouting each and every one of the participants, including moderators. The only person I could think of who might be able to compete with Donald was a man who unfortunately has been dead for 2,000 years, and whose amazing bronze portrait was on display at the Getty Center.

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(L) France-001560-Louis XIV
Photo: Dennis Jarvis
(R) Donald Trump
Photo: Gage Skidmore

A few months ago, The New York Times published an article, "How Will Trump Redecorate the White House?" There was a photograph of the living room in Donald's New York penthouse. Though its décor was obviously inspired by the royal splendor of Versailles, the actual result was closer to the garish interior of a Las Vegas casino. And that's why, on our website, I chose to juxtapose a photo of Donald with a portrait of Louis XIV.

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Andrea Bowers, "The Triumph of Labor," 2016
Marker on cardboard, 108.75" H x 248" W x 6.5" D
Photo courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

A few days ago, during my run-through of various local galleries, I came across a particularly timely exhibition of powerful artworks by well-known Los Angeles artist, Andrea Bowers. Her exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, is Triumph of Labor, and reflects the artist's continued interest in the labor movement. The central piece in the exhibition is a huge 9 x 20 feet drawing executed on a panel made of dozens of disassembled cardboard boxes. This purposefully humble material is juxtaposed with images inspired by 19th century political graphics, advocating for labor solidarity and political activism. Above the heads of this 19th century crowd are banners with words that evoke the campaign of Bernie Sanders: "The land for the people!" "Dignity and a living wage!" "Wage workers of all countries unite!"

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James Ensor, "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889," 1888
Oil on Canvas
Photograph courtesy of J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Last but not least, here is a masterpiece by James Ensor (1860 – 1949), "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889" (1888) ––probably the most famous painting in the collection of the Getty Museum. Standing in front of this painting, created more than 100 years ago, one still hears the noise of its huge crowd and feels shocked by its grotesque figures and faces. The artist is mocking the huge crowd, which includes a number of politicians and religious leaders. But hidden deep in the crowd is a small figure of Christ himself. The question remains, is Christ the subject of celebration? Or mockery? It's up to us to decide. Ensor is obviously referring to the deep cultural, religious, and ethnic issues dividing his country. Sounds uncomfortably familiar, doesn't it?

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James Ensor, "Doctrinal Nourishment," 1889/1895
Etching printed with tone and hand-colored with white gouache
and with red, yellow, and blue chalk and watercolor
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

To learn about Edward's Fine Art of Art Collecting Classes, please visit his website and check out this article in Artillery Magazine.



Benjamin Gottlieb