Weisman Art Museum Visit
I visited "Hindsight is always 20/20" and "What do you say, America?"; a pair of politically minded exhibitions currently showing at the Weisman.
"Hindsight" features a series of prints by R. Luke Dubois; which take us through generations of presidential State of the Union addresses. The pieces are organized at about eye-level, and spaced evenly around the gallery in a chronological order. I found it quite powerful to look at the latest three (George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush) since I could connect with the vocabulary immediately. The pieces were made to look like a combination of a word frequency chart (where more common words are larger) and a Snellen eye chart. The images were graphic, black and white, and very eye catching, since we are trained to analyze these sorts of "eye charts" from a very early age.
By using this format, DuBois is able to convey all of his meaning almost immediately, since he is using a visual language which is so familiar it is practically naturalized. Viewing each print was like quickly skimming over a block of text; it was immediately apparent what was important and what was not; he made the information in the speeches accessible and concise. The prints reminded me a bit of Allison Smith's politically-based works. While DuBois is presenting a good picture of what past generations worried about, Smith does the same for a contemporary generation with her muster events. As in DuBois' prints,Smith's musters draw out noticeable patterns of behavior. What do the majority of people in a given generation worry about, how do they deal with these worries? Both artists confront these issues.
The single piece in "Hindsight" that really caught my attention was the interactive computer installation called "Foresight." Gallery visitors were encouraged to type in whatever term they felt would be an important topic in the 2009 State of the Union Address. When I visited, the top term was "Change" followed by "economy" "energy" "hope" "liberty" and "health care". The piece was quite powerful since those words have almost been etched into the national consciousness as a result of the election. It gave an additional sense of weight to the other pieces in the exhibition since it became apparent that the terms which may just be "words" to a contemporary viewer probably held just as much weight as the word "Change" does today.
The second installation "What do you say America" featured World War posters from the Weisman's collection. The posters were grouped haphazardly into groups according to subject matter such as: "women's roles", "conservation" "national identity" "work" "war bonds" "careless talk kills" and "anti-fascist". The images were from a variety of artists and publishers, some from the United States government and others from well known artists like Norman Rockwell.
The piece that caught my attention in this exhibit was Rockwell's piece, "Save Freedom of Speech". Inspired by Roosevelt's famous "Four Freedoms Speech" (fittingly a State of the Union Address), Rockwell created a series of paintings illustrating the four freedoms. These were published by the Saturday Evening Post along with related essays.
I thought it was interesting how war propaganda was at that time such a standard of communication that it became the medium through which non-governmental bodies expressed themselves. In many ways, Rockwell created other sorts of propaganda (for the American "family", "values" etc.), but this was the first time I'd seen one of his works that was overtly political. Our war is not "advertised" in this way; and our war is actually kept a bit "hush hush". I can't imagine a propaganda poster for the war in Iraq; people don't even want to talk about it, much less paper the streets with images of soldiers. The sort of optimism and nationalism found in the posters at the Weisman is nearly absent in our contemporary view of war. I found this contrast quite thought provoking.
I would certainly recommend the exhibition to friends; the "What do you say America?" section was very eye-catching and thought provoking, while "Hindsight" was an interesting way to access the past. Since politics are a huge part of everyone's lives (especially in recent months), this exhibition is a great way to confront and ponder some of the bigger issues in our lives without feeling like you have to get in a sparring match with someone.