Artists are often seen — or see themselves — as visionaries, the first to arrive at truths that will someday be commonly held. At times, though, artists are right in step with popular sentiment, or even a little behind. That’s the impression conveyed by such recent local displays of political art as Zenith Gallery’s current “Resist.”
In a way, the show’s actual auteurs are the organizers of and participants in the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington. Their grass-roots movement established many of the themes, and some of the visual motifs, of art “in honor of the latest Resist movements captivating the globe,” as the gallery’s statement declares.
The 50-artist exhibition, organized by Zenith and also on display at most of the area’s Busboys and Poets bookstore-cafes, does address such global issues as climate change, nuclear proliferation and immigration and Islamophobia. Yet most of the artwork responds to the politics and personality of President Trump.
Many entries depict the Women’s March and other protests. Sandy Adams, Diane Dompka and Leonard Jewler document those events in photographs, while Sally Kauffman and Liz Ashe capture their spirit in expressionist paintings of crowds dotted with pink hats. Other broadsides, mostly in the form of cartoons or posters, proudly claim (or reclaim) such charged phrases of the moment as “Nasty Woman” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted.”
Like the Women’s March itself, “Resist” doesn’t exclude men. But there is a special urgency to women’s opposition to Trump, expressed in such pieces as Lea Craigie-Marshall’s sculptural painting “FeMaelstrom.” It depicts the White House on the brink of a whirlpool that spins in a vulva-shaped oceanic anomaly.
Among the numerous sculptures that take the form of items from women’s closets are Billy Forrest’s series of “Trump Pumps,” metallic high heels that might properly be called fierce. One is titled with an unprintable phrase derived from Trump’s infamous boast about how he treats women.
Much gentler are Jenae Michelle’s handbags, embroidered with such phrases as “Empathy Matters” and, of course, “Resist.” But the artist also contributed “Pill Dress,” which combines silk organza with pill bottles, aspirin tablets and lace made of laser-cut paper info-inserts from medication containers.
Another popular theme is Trump’s relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin. Craigie-Marshall’s “Putin’s Most Precious” places Gollum atop Trump nesting dolls, while the Kremlin towers over the White House in Michelle D. Flamer’s quilted “Country of Origin.” Thalia Doukas proposes that her sculpture of “Putin’s Fancy Bear,” assembled from an antique oak chair and other found objects, serves as a “mascot for Vladimir Putin’s official hacking operation.”
The pieces that are not specifically about the current president range from Nancy Nesvet’s large realist painting of polar bears on a shard of melted glacier to Kristine Mays’s wire sculpture of three clenched fists. There are also many pieces about the state of African Americans, from Curtis Woody’s historically oriented quilt paintings to Bulsby Duncan’s up-to-the-minute montages of text and images, which evoke places such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo.
Although many of the hundred-plus entries are made well, the show’s goal is not to showcase aesthetic innovation or formal audacity. The message, not the medium, is clearly paramount.
Dates: Through Sept. 30 at Zenith Gallery and through Oct. 15 at Busboys and Poets locations. A meet-the-artists reception will be Aug. 31 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Busboys and Poets’ Fifth Street location.