A Few More Points on What Makes for Good Political Art
A while back I was quoted as saying that I thought we'll see more political art in the galleries this season. What I hadn't said in that interview was how that prospect makes me anxious. (I won't retype my entire argument again [you can read an earlier rant here], but, in a nutshell, if, as Charlie Finch tells us, "most art sucks" then, IMO, most political art only aspires to sucking.) So I was thrilled and relieved to read a review by Joao Ribas of an exhibition of new work by Adam McEwan currently up at Nicole Klagsbrun's that inspired this brilliant reasoning:
In contemporary art, casuistry is often taken for conviction, and a general evasiveness in regards to politics pervades. Even as artists face the moral responsibility of addressing barbarity, a lot of art concerned with the vicissitudes of geopolitics today merely flirts with the intellectual cachet of being "political." That's now virtually synonymous with being "serious."If there were one simple thing that could vastly improve most "political" art it is that idea of expressing a universal critique, applicable across history as well as to current events, without ever having to say so. That in and of itself is not enough to make it good art, but at least it will work toward preventing it from being disposable. To make good art, I think Joao indicates the right approach as well: "resonant, uneasy, and incisive" (with a huge ol' emphasis on incisive). I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this exhibition yet, so I'll take Joao's word for it that it does this, but as the article indicates, one measure for whether politicized work is good art, or merely an illustration of a talking point, is "Does it ask more questions than it tries to answer?" Any political art with more answers than questions is suspect, IMHO.
Mr. McEwen's take on the scourge of war lays bare the callous indifference with which it's calculated. It's a political show as much about World War II and modernism as about Iraq and Halliburton — without ever having to say so.
It also confronts how art and politics still struggle to be reconciled. Mr. McEwen's response is to treat both the literal and the literary with equal suspicion. In doing so, he points to the kind of politicized art — resonant, uneasy, and incisive — that ought to be more commonplace on all sides of the political spectrum.