A Political Art Primer – Part 2

Last week, I blogged about some common terms you may come across when viewing/discussing political art. There where too many to list in a single blog.


ABOVE: Sheppard Fairy, Barack Obama “Hope” poster


Misogyny – The hatred or mistrust of women, most often by men.

Narrative – A fictional or nonfictional account of connected events in a sequence of words or pictures.

Parody – An imitative work created for comic relief or ridicule.

Popular Culture – Cultural activities or commercial products that are geared to the tastes of the general population.

Race – A classification system which organizes people based upon their physical appearance or geographical lineages.

Satire – A genre that criticizes individuals, corporations, governments, or societies with humor, irony or ridicule.

Segregation – The enforced separation of people into racial groups in day to day life.

Social Construct – A social phenomenon or category that is created and developed by society, but does not exist in the world.

Socialism – A socio-economic system where the production and distribution of goods are controlled by the government instead of private enterprise.

Stereotype – An oversimplified assumption about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things.

Sustainable – A system or resource that maintains its own viability and allows for continual reuse, without depletion.

Symbol – A form, sign, or emblem that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea or emotion.

Utopian – An idea or system of political or social perfection.

A Political Art Primer – Part 1

I love art with a message. Here are some basic terms that you might come across when viewing political artworks. Part 2 to come.


ABOVE: Ministry of the Interior building with an iron mural of Ernesto Che Guevara, Havana


Bourgeois – A member of the middle class whose political, economic, and social values are thought to be determined by concern for personal wealth and perceived respectability.

Class – The grouping of people based upon economic, occupational, or social status.

Consumerism – An obsession with manufactured goods and their acquisition.

Cultural Icon – An easily recognizable symbol, object, or person with great cultural significance to a large group of people.

Culture – The customs, arts, and achievements of a nation, people or social group.

Ethnicity – A group of people with a shared culture, religion and/or language.

Feminism – A collection of movements and ideologies that advocate for equal rights between men and women.

Gender – A socially constructed identity that is assigned to a person based upon their sex.

Globalization – The shifting of views, products, and ideas from a local level to an international one.

Hegemony – The political, economical, or ideological influence of one dominant group over another.

Iconoclast – One who attacks, and seeks to overthrow settled beliefs or institutions.

Iconography – Common and/or traditional images with symbolic meanings.

Identity – The conditions and characteristics that determine one’s self.

Identity politics – The social organizing of people based upon the interests and perspectives with which they identify.

Idol – An object of worship.

Institutional critique – An inquiry into the practices of art institutions which often challenges the assumed norms of theory and practice.

The Curious Case of Carl Andre

Among the art worlds biggest mysteries, is the suspicious death of artist Ana Mendieta. Her husband, famed sculptor Carl Andre, has long been suspected of her murder.


ABOVE: Ana Mendieta, Untitled (facial hair transplant, moustache), 1972, performance

On September 8, 1985, Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta died after falling from her 34th floor apartment in New York City. Mendieta was married to minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, and shortly after her death, he was arrested and charged with her murder.

There were no witnesses to the event, but neighbors did hear the two arguing prior to her fall. Most incriminating of all though was Andre’s 911 call:

“My wife is an artist, and I’m an artist, and we had a quarrel about the fact that I was more, eh, exposed to the public than she was. And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.”

Andre’s lawyer argued that Mendieta’s death was an accident, or possible suicide, and after a three year trial, he was acquitted of her murder. This did not sit well with many in the art world, and protests against the artist have continued to this day.

Case in point:

The New York based, Dia Art Foundation recently held a retrospective of Andre’s work. Last May, protesters dumped chicken blood and guts on the sidewalk outside the building. This March, they staged a ‘group cry’ inside the gallery.

Only Carl Andre knows for sure what took place that fateful day in 1985. Here’s hoping it really was a tragic accident.

RIP Ana Mendieta.

A Few of my Favorite Isms

Art history is jam-packed with movements, schools, and isms. While the list continues to grow, here are some of my old faves. More to come.


ABOVE: Giacomo Balla, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912, oil on canvas, 35.8 x 43.3 inches, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo

Ism: Futurism

Country of Origin: Italy

Timeline: An early 20th century movement founded in 1909.

Key Artists: Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, Joseph Stella, Umberto Boccioni

Philosophy: A celebration of technology and urban modernity, Futurism rejected the old for the new, and focused on movement, speed, and violence.

ABOVE: Charles Demuth, Buildings Abstraction, Lancaster, 1931, oil on board, 27.4 x 23.6 inches, Detroit Institute for the Arts, Detroit

Ism: Precisionism

Country of Origin: USA

Timeline: Emerged after WWI, and rose to prominence in the 20’s and 30’s.

Key Artists: Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, Ralston Crawford, Stuart Davis

Philosophy: A wholly American movement with a focus on modernization and industrialization; precisionist works are often geometrical, and sharply defined.

ABOVE: George Bellows, Stag at Sharkey’s, 1909, oil on canvas, 36.2 x 48.3 inches, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland

Ism: Social Realism

Country of Origin: International

Timeline: Influenced by European artists of the late 1800’s, it emerged in the early 1900’s, and continued through the first half of the 20th Century.

Key Artists: Diego Rivera, Edward Hopper, George Bellows, Otto Dix

Philosophy: Comprised of many different styles, Social Realism explored the living conditions of the working poor, while criticizing the social structures that maintained it.

Jean-Michel Basquiat at the AGO

This year, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s blockbuster exhibition is Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time. I braved the cold and saw it last weekend. It was worth the trip.



ABOVE: Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Death of Michael Stewart, 1983, acrylic and marker on wood,  25 x 30.5 inches, Collection of Nina Clemente.

BELOW: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Obnoxious Liberals, 1982, acrylic, oil stick and spray paint on canvas, 68 x 102 inches, The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection

Last Saturday was a typical winter’s day in Toronto; the weather was total shit. To escape the February blahs, I decided to take in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s (AGO) latest show Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time. As it turned out, half the city was of the same mindset; the place was packed. Over-crowding aside, I’m glad I went.

A great deal of effort went into this exhibition (the AGO consulted with several members from Toronto’s black community) and it shows. The curation is informative but subtle, and it adds to the overall experience without detracting from the art on display.

As for the art, it is often confrontational, and it addresses key issues such as racism, authority and class struggle. Basquiat’s works are political, emotional and experiential, and there’s a ton of integrity within them. I say this because, even if his style isn’t to your taste, there is a lot to take away from this show. If his style is to your taste (it is to mine), then you’ll take away even more.

Basquiat: Now’s the Time is at the AGO until May 10, 2015. I suggest you go.

Douglas Does Toronto

I recently visited the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and the Royal Ontario Museum to see their Douglas Coupland exhibitions. Here is a quick review.


ABOVE: Douglas Coupland, Permanent Press Landscape, 2011, acrylic on canvas, collection of Miriam Shiell Fine Art, as seen at the Museum on Contemporary Canadian Art

BELOW: Douglas Coupland, Slogans for the 21st Century, 2011-2014, prints on watercolour paper laminated onto aluminum, Courtesy of the Artist and Daniel Faria Gallery, as seen at the Royal Ontario Museum

If you live in Toronto, chances are you’ve come across the name Douglas Coupland in your travels. That’s because his art is everywhere this winter. Over the past two weekends, I took in two of his shows, one at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the other at the Royal Ontario Museum. Here’s what I thought:

Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art – price $0 (I made a $5 donation)

Make no mistake, this is a distinctly Canadian show. Even more so, it’s distinctly rural. That’s okay. In fact, it’s pretty cool. From modern takes on old Canadian masters, to large scale installations, this was by far my favorite of the two venues.

Royal Ontario Museum – price $16 (I paid an extra $7 to see the Wildlife Photography Exhibition)

Unlike its sister show, the art here is more international – and urban – in scope. I liked a lot of what I saw, but I liked it more as a complement to the MOCCA show than I did as a stand alone exhibition.


Owing to a drastic shift in themes, it actually makes sense to put the work in two venues. Just make sure you visit both. To see only one, is to miss out on the bigger picture.

Links for Artists

Ah, the internet. It can be a time suck, but if used properly, it can be really informative too. For all you artists out there, here are some useful links.


I found these useful. Hopefully, you will too:

Advice for Artists Seeking Representation

Top 10 Reasons Why Artists Fail with Social Media

Dos and Don’ts for Artist Websites

Five Tips for Getting into Juried Art Shows

How to Sell Your Art

33 Artists in 3 Acts (a review)

I love art, and I try to read every book I can find about it. A few year’s ago, I read 7 Days in the Art World. This past weekend, I finished 33 Artists in 3 Acts. Here is a short review.


Sarah Thornton obviously has many connections in the art world, and owing to this, her latest offering 33 Artists in 3 Acts contains a who’s who of contemporary art – this is a very good thing.

As the title suggests, the book is broken into three cinematic acts: politics, kinship and craft. Throughout these acts, Thornton spends time with some of the planet’s most important living artists, and along the way, provides an inside glimpse into the artistic mind as it grapples with, and attempts to find its way in an extremely fickle art world.

Irrespective of fame, the time the author spends with each artist is recounted in a very casual and humanistic manner. No where is this more apparent than in the kinship section where Thornton hangs out with the family of artist couple Carroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons. Few art books address the family dynamic.

Make no mistake, Thornton is by no means a push over. Although most of the artists come across as likable, at times they seem overly full of themselves, or even arrogant. Be that as it may, this writer doesn’t lead by the hand, and the reader is left to formulate their own opinions.

If you liked 7 Days in the Art World, you’re gonna love 33 Artists in 3 Acts. If you’ve yet to read either, I highly suggest that you do.