In its biggest exhibition to date, for OF THE PEOPLE, Contemporary Wing brings together internationally-recognized talents whose works have shaped and influenced democracy over the past four years. From the rapid populist changes in the Middle East’s Arab Spring to the Citizen’s United decision of the Supreme Court that allows unlimited political contributions by corporations and so-called plutocrats here at home, democracy is a central topic of our time. Contemporary Wing’s election exhibition showcases the role that art plays in shaping democratic ideals in a very direct and immediate way. Jumping off from the catalyzing effect of Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope,” “Change,” and “Progress” works on the 2008 election, Fairey and other eminent political artists were invited to ‘speak to power’ in Washington about democratic ideals. In OF THE PEOPLE, Shepard Fairey, the Guerrilla Girls (feminist artists who, since 1985, have commented on the role of women in politics and art), and the Bruce High Quality Foundation (whose well-honed commentary on politics and culture in America debuted at the Whitney Biennial) represent the American scene. Egyptian street artists largely credited with garnering public support and helping mobilize masses for the Arab Spring, artists El Teneen (meaning ‘dragon’) and Kareem Gouda, also known as “Dokhan” (meaning ‘smoke’), as well as critically-acclaimed artist and film maker Ralf Schmerberg, approach central democratic issues internationally. Berlin-based Schmerberg’s film,“PROBLEMA,” which, of all the art in the exhibition is the most universal in reach, itself practices a form of democracy as it tackles the most compelling issues facing the world today. Finally, no treatment of political art today would be complete without acknowledging the recent passing of African American printmaker and sculptor, Elizabeth Catlett, whose famous images Sharecropper and Malcolm X Speaks for Us in the 1960s and 70s, among numerous others, underlie the history of a nation currently deciding whether to re-elect its first African American president. A special memorial section of the show is reserved for Catlett’s works.
This dynamic, thought-provoking exhibition offers exceptional works from Shepard Fairey and Eqyptian artists El Teneen and Dokhan, a new, special print edition from the Guerrilla Girls, beautiful examples of Catlett’s print work, and the fascinating film-installation screenings, “I Like America and America Likes Me,” by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, and “PROBLEMA,” from Ralf Schmerberg.