On the occasion of World Art Day (April 15, in case you didn’t know either), the Director of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said “Bringing people together, inspiring, soothing and sharing: these are the powers of art, the importance of which has been made emphatically obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic”. Actually, I’m not convinced that art’s importance is now more (or less) obvious now that we’ve traveled 6 months into this pandemic. Personally, I can’t testify to inspiration or soothing at this point in time, but I can document how our daily lives have dramatically changed. So what about the state of current artwork?
In times of crisis, we need culture to make us resilient, to give us hope, to reflect upon our choices. Currently, politicians – always the first to speak – contribute little to our fine art well-being. As for me, I prefer to see messages in aesthetic presentations.
The thesis of this show is a simple, declarative statement. Artists, please show us some examples of what you have been making during the pandemic. The answers, quite obviously, are all over the place. Some artists have taken a very firm political road, some have combined the Covid presence with Black Lives Matter, some are working as they always have and you’d be hard put to see a Covid effect on their work. This invitational is a complete smorgasbord of imagery. Though small, our Gallery sports the beauty of nature vs beer cans in nature. (Welcome to modern life.)
I asked all the artists (from age 9 to 70) to write a statement, which you’ll find next to their work. Perhaps those statements will act as mini-manifestos, or perhaps they will be confusing. Good art needs neither to speed up nor to slow the pulse. It simply needs to make you aware of it. Whatever else that might be said about this pandemic, it is clear that art organizations, artists, venues and audiences are staring down a lot of uncertainty. Galleries have permanently closed; museums worldwide are laying off many of their curators. Theatres and musical venues have gone dark. What I do know, a hopeful sign perhaps, is that every artist I invited jumped at showing work. We have works hanging in the Bisignano Art Gallery from Iowa City, IA, Pittsburg, PA, and various cities in Wisconsin and Iowa. I included various current and former students, even my grandson. The pandemic affects us all, in so many different ways. Some of the works are rather traditional, some are clearly mad at our new reality, some are sarcastic. There is, of course, no overriding aesthetic being demonstrated in the Art during the Pandemic. Art is often defined as an interpretation of reality, and the artists’ realities are all so very disparate. What we know from this show, though, is that creativity abounds. And that will have to be good enough for now.
Unlike past times, there is no opening for this show. No food, no chat between the artists, students, faculty or the community of Dubuque. We’re not organizing group visits nor having an artist’s panel. You either choose to visit the Bisignano physically or you visit our webpage (http://gallery.dbq.edu) for the show (or both). In any case, we thank you for visiting and for being part of this snapshot of our time. Stay safe.
Andrew Ellis Johnson Statement:
Insurrection (above) is named after Insurrecto by Gina Apostol, a novel read and set aside behind the reader’s sterile shoulder. Its story begins under the current presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, a dictator who has encouraged extrajudicial killings. Not surprisingly, this president has been praised by our own president, who seems a kindred bully. With the unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Apostol’s Insurrecto is a feverish narrative about a small Filipino town’s insurrection against American oppressors. Fevers are insurrections of the body against infection and illness. We have illnesses of all kinds—medical, social, and economic. Too many are chronic. Certain fevers need to spread—to burn out ignorance and injustice.