Artists Carry the Political Torch

Scott Froschauer in "State of the Union" at Brainworks Gallery opening February 12th
Scott Froschauer in “State of the Union” at Brainworks Gallery opening February 12th. Photo Courtesy Scott Froschauer

Artists Carry the Political Torch

By Dani Dodge


While President-elect Donald Trump awaits his chance to step up to the podium, take the oath of office, and lead the free world, artists and curators in L.A. and across the nation are reacting the best way they know how: making art and organizing exhibitions.

Sure, a presidential election season would typically summon forth a breath of patriotism and a spate of red, white and blue shows. But 2017 is different. Politically themed shows are peppering Los Angeles.

“I believe there was a sense of urgency around this election for many reasons and historically, art has always been a vehicle to reflect on and communicate sociopolitical issues,” said Erin Christovale, the newly appointed curator at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG).

The show at LAMAG, “S/ELECTION: Democracy, Citizenship, Freedom,” which closes Jan. 8, was one of the first politically themed shows to hit Los Angeles post election. It includes 31 artists who address citizenship and democracy in America.

“The impetus for the exhibition to have a political context was decided before I arrived, and then I took a more pointed approach in thinking of citizenship and democracy being the nexus of the conversation,” Christovale said. “I wanted to hone in on political issues that are pertinent to Los Angeles, and I believe there are many Angelenos that have a contentious and/or wavering relationship with citizenship.”

Other shows that have opened or will open soon include “State of the Union” at Brainworks Gallery, “Dear President” at South Bay Contemporary, “All Women are Dangerous” at Building Bridges Art Exchange, “FUtopia” at BLAM and “With Liberty and Justice for Some” at Walter Maciel Gallery. New York also is seeing a proliferation of politically based shows including “WE NEED TO TALK … Artists and the public respond to the present conditions in America” at Petzel Gallery and “Unnatural Selection” at Kimmel Galleries.

FUtopia at BLAM Los Angeles
FUtopia at BLAM Los Angeles opening February 4th. Photo Credit Kio Griffith

The election has spurred some artists to create political work for the first time, such as Janice Grinsell, who is part of the group show “New Year, New Art,” opening Jan. 7 at the Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum.

“In the wee hours after the election I created my first political piece of art, ‘Divided We Stand,’” Grinsell explained. “It started with a pastel drawing of a woman projecting the despair brought on by the sea of red that quickly and most unexpectedly washed over the map. The work represented the pounding of my heart as the realization of loss, on countless levels, overwhelmed each and every wave of hope for some semblance of justice.”

Janice Grinsell in “New Year, New Art” opening Jan. 7 at the Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum
Janice Grinsell in “New Year, New Art” opening Jan. 7 at the Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum. Photo Courtesy Janice Grinsell

Artist Emily Wiseman will use her month-long residency at Shoebox Projects to address political issues, using men’s suits as global symbols of structure, power and wealth. Twenty-five suits will be edited down to the crotch section and framed like portraits. At the opening on Feb. 11, the zippers will open to reveal what is behind them.

“This election cycle has been a huge deviation from anything that has occurred before and is not our finest hour,” Wiseman said. “It would be pretty hard not to be influenced by it.”

Emily Wiseman "POWERFUL" at Shoebox Projects opening February 12th 3-5pm
Emily Wiseman “POWERFUL” at Shoebox Projects opening February 12th 3-5pm. Photo Credit Emily Wiseman

So in one show after another, political art is the theme of the season.

“Seems a sign of the times,” said Peggy Sivert Zask, president of the board of directors at South Bay Contemporary in San Pedro, where “Dear President” opens Jan. 14.

“We started planning this show at the beginning of the primaries in early 2016,” Zask said. “So many serious issues have come up that we knew this would be a key moment in history for political art.”

In the exhibition, art will be displayed along with the artists’ letters to the president. The artwork and letters will be combined into a catalog that will be mailed to Washington, D.C., to the President, other representatives and the press.

Zask hopes the show will continue a dialogue about the issues that have come to the forefront with this election: “We want people to realize how the politics can become intertwined with art, and we hope to have an impact on Washington’s agenda with our catalog and letters to the president going out to the White House and Congress.”

Kathy Gallegos of Avenue 50 Studio said, “The takeaway is that artists are speaking up and challenging the status quo, and that artists need to be the voice of those too intimidated or unable to speak up.”

Some art shows focused on politics:


S/Election: Democracy, Citizenship, Freedom
LA Municipal Art Gallery- Barnsdall Art Park
4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027
Through Jan. 8

Change is Gonna Come
Avenue 50 Studio
131 N. Ave. 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042
Through Jan. 21

Susan Amorde “Speaking Out” at Shoebox Projects
Shoebox Projects
660 S. Ave. 21 #3, Los Angeles, CA 90031
Reception Jan. 7, 3-5 p.m.

All Women Are Dangerous
Building Bridges Art Exchange
2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404
Opening Jan. 7, 6-10 p.m.

With Liberty and Justice for Some
Walter Maciel Gallery
2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Opening Jan. 7, 6-8 p.m.

New Year, New Art
Neutra Institute Gallery & Museum
2379 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90039
Opening Jan. 7, 6-10 p.m.

Nasty Women Artists Exhibition
Picture Perfect Gallery
622 W. Lancaster Blvd. Lancaster, CA 93534
Opening Jan. 13, 3-9 p.m.

Dear President
SBC at the LOFT
401 S. Mesa St., Third Floor, San Pedro, CA 90731
Opening Jan. 14, 4-7 p.m.

BLAM Los Angeles
1950 S. Santa Fe Ave. #207, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Opening Feb. 4, 2-5 p.m.

State of the Union
Brainworks Gallery
Opening Feb. 4, 5-8 p.m.

Emily Wiseman – POWERFUL at Shoebox Projects
Shoebox Projects
660 S. Ave. 21 #3, Los Angeles, CA 90031
Reception Feb. 12, 3-5 p.m.

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