"Politics of Fear"
Polarization with a punch
by Grant Mandarino
Every so often an art show comes along that perfectly encapsulates the contemporary moment. Politics of Fear, at the Gallery Project downtown until October 17, is just such a show. Speaking directly to an age of prolonged global conflict and increasing polarization, these pieces pack a mighty punch.
Take, for instance, Mario Moore's painting Detroit Crisis. A fight between two African American teenagers has been broken up by friends--and behind this fraught encounter Moore has painted a public school building with a "For Lease" sign in front of it. Nearby is Leon Golub's 1985--S. Africa, a searing comment on the unequal power relations that reigned during the Apartheid era.
Other works are far more open-ended. Diane Thodos' Fear Smear resembles chunky woodblock prints and features a Jabba-the-Hutt-sized man in a suit, seeming to devour the heads of a group of onlookers. I was reminded of the anti-capitalist political posters that appeared during the 1920s in Germany or the 1930s here in the US. Fear Smear vividly demonstrates how social anxieties can be politicized and distorted, a theme that runs through a number of works here.
The most sobering piece by far is Osman Kahn's installation in the gallery's basement. Entitled Noor and based on a computer system devised by the artist, it consists of an empty room whose lights go dark at intervals calculated to reflect each loss of life in the ongoing crisis in Iraq. Standing in this room the viewer is caught between two conflicting desires: to experience the darkness versus hoping the lights will shine on.
My favorite work, however, is Fred Burkhart's series of Ku Klux Klan member portraits. These snapshots sting because they are at once extremely goofy and profoundly unsettling. The sight of a mother with her two young children all proudly displaying the Hitler salute is repellent--not because they appear monstrous, but because they look so thoroughly mundane. It's contradictions such as this that make Politics of Fear such a compelling show. Don't miss it.
[Originally published in October, 2010.]