American politics elicit a range of emotions; outrage, indignation, humor, apathy, disappointment. The pervasive nature of our interconnected culture makes it all but impossible to avoid; one cannot escape but feel something. Those feelings in turn are what inspire “REACT,” an exhibition curated by The Peanut Gallery. The show displays a collection of artists, capturing sentiments of social commentary in a variety of mediums.
By nature of the protest movement the new administration has ignited, much of the work deals with our current political climate; but REACT has deeper roots. The late Ernest Withers, best known for documenting the Civil Rights Movement, is present in his I Am A Man photo. The image shows black sanitation workers on strike and demanding dignity; the demonstration was the last Martin Luther King attended before his assassination at the Loraine Motel, one week later. Mirroring this, Pete Voelker’s photographs of activism show the march of progress continues, one step at a time. Black and white pictures render imagery of characters from mixed backgrounds calling for greater justice.
Carlos Aires, a Spanish artist, presents a series of two dollar bills contrasted against the former first family. It establishes a positive image, yet one unfulfilled. Two symbols of American values, that of the Obamas in a graceful dance, and the signing of the declaration of independence. It speaks to the inherent contradictions of America’s values; Jefferson’s words “all men are created equal,” and Jefferson’s actions, an infamous slave owner. The rise of the first black president, followed by one perceived to be an unapologetic racist. Other works touch on racial themes. Paintings by Mary Mihelic, Running Girls, convey an abstract rendition of painted escape, galvanized by the children kidnapped by Boko Haram. The lone work of Street Art in the exhibit is an image constructed by popular L.A. artist Thrashbird. His work shows two refugee children, innocent and unencumbered, while a third is black and white. The art is appropriated from a weathered photo of a refugee camp. Thrashbird’s piece calls to mind the system blocking refugees from entering the country.
Not all the works presented confront the concrete political, addressing questions of society at large. Eugenio Morino’s In God We Trust series, depicts a series of sculpted golden hands, welded together in prayer, holding dollar bills in the symbols of religion and life. The cross, the star of David, a heart, a skull. In God We Trust, playing off the words embedded on every bill, speaks to the way in which we hold money above all else in life. Across the room, another showcase displays a pair of rose-tinted sunglasses in front of a champagne bottle, erupting like a nuclear explosion. These two works develops a dialogue on the ways in which capitalism excuses the excess of the rich, without seeing the poor through the same lens of empathy.
Among the all the thought-provoking works included, the one that arrested my attention was t.Rutt’s Open Carry: The Right to Bear Art. 3 art brushes, mounted like guns. A story follows this piece, hailing from the campaign trail. t.Rutt, an artist collective composed of Mary Mihelic and David Gleeson, were outraged by the crude nature of the man-who-would-be president, and decided to take action. They bought one of his campaign buses (up for sale as, sunrise-surprise 45 didn’t pay all his bills) and turned it into a movable work of art. t.Rutt took this bus and redesigned it with ironic logos, such as “Make Fruit Punch Great Again” to mock the mockery the reality star has made of the presidential office. Within the bus, they created new art, such as Open Carry. Upon arriving at the Republican National Convention, the artists found that they could not take the art brush arms into the facility, despite the fact several thousand open carry permits allowed for actually weapons to be proudly displayed. This paradox of politics is what gives the art its punch. The work speaks to a broader message of what signals we send to people, when guns are more welcome than civic statements.
REACT is The Peanut Gallery’s first exhibit, and curator Jackie Dreier did a masterful job at pulling together an eclectic mix of mediums to convey a message. Photography, street-art, sculpture, video, painting; all are brought together as a challenge to tyranny and a symbolic force of unity in our disjointed modern times. REACT is not simply a demonstration, but instead a banner for a broader truth. A forum for the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech, the undeniable core values that genuinely make America great.
REACT will be on display from April 7-17th at 240 East 4th St. at 212 Arts. The Peanut Gallery can be contacted through their website for more information on future exhibitions.