As the Bush years draw to close on what many believe to be one of the worst administrations in American history, Say Good-bye to . . . brings together nine artists who take a critical view of George W. Bush and his inner circle. Working in a variety of media and employing a range of strategies from irreverent satire to straightforward dissent, these artists depict the President, his administration, and their failed policies. Among the subjects addressed in the exhibition are the recklessness of the War in Iraq, the audacity of the Patriot Act, the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and the overall hubris that has been one of the hallmarks of the Bush presidency.
The artists in the exhibition – Josh Azzarella, Enrique Chagoya, Wayne Gonzales, Julie Heffernan, Takashi Horisaki, Carter Kustera, Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, Michael Patterson-Carver, and Marion Wilson – work within a long tradition of art and protest that has parallels in the anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Now as then, an unpopular war and an unpopular government have galvanized artists to give voice to the discontents of their society. Like their artistic forbears, many of these artists work within a conceptual framework, rely heavily on the media for source material, and privilege language in their artwork.
Throughout Say Good-bye to . . ., there is an acute awareness of what has been sacrificed during the past eight years. With a strange mixture of sadness, outrage, and irony, the artists respond to a pervasive sense of loss – loss of life, loss of property, loss of civil liberties, loss of human dignity, and loss of democratic principles. They express this loss in thematic terms and through their approach and process.
Josh Azzarella appropriates iconic media images and digitally erases their most provocative element. In works based on the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs, elimination of the prisoners from the images becomes a metaphor for the stripping away of their rights and their dignity. The abuses of Abu Ghraib are also the subject of Carter Kustera’s disturbing drawing that uses the language and imagery of fashion to critique the commercialization of and inurement to violence in American society. Wayne Gonzales’s haunting painting of flag-draped coffins in the belly of a plane both offers a solemn farewell to soldiers killed in Iraq and throws into relief an image that the government sought to ban from the media.
In Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese’s DVD, The State of Things, democracy literally falls to pieces; a melting block of ice carved into the word “democracy” symbolizes the steady erosion of our civil liberties. Long-time activist Michael Patterson-Carver tackles political and social injustice in his boldly rendered drawings; his smiling phalanx of dissenters protests the loss of constitutional rights and the blatant inequalities of rescue and cleanup efforts in New Orleans. The profound loss experienced by the victims of Katrina is poignantly conveyed in Takashi Horisaki’s ghostly fragments cast from a house destroyed in the Lower Ninth Ward.
The theme of good-bye is reiterated in Marion Wilson’s Last Suppers: Texas. The long list of last meals and the date they were eaten by un-named Texas inmates awaiting execution is both an anonymous memorial and an indictment of Bush’s stand on capital punishment as governor of Texas. Julie Heffernan subtly embeds the boastful, yet empty phrases uttered by President Bush during the early stages of the War in an overripe landscape that is at once enticing and grotesque. Enrique Chagoya is more overt in his criticism of George W. Bush. His trenchant series of drawings, Poor George (based on Philip Guston’s caricatures of Nixon, Poor Richard), are a chilling portrayal of our outgoing President.
The artists in Say Good-bye to . . . use a variety of strategies to convey a pervasive sense of loss. Whether it is the erasure of central images, the deletion of individual names, the crumbling of monumental blocks of ice or the ghost-like remnants of a flooded house, loss is felt physically, spiritually, and metaphorically and becomes a riveting reflection of our troubled times.
Donna Harkavy & Marion Wilson