The show at Raven Row brings together a broad and nebulous collection of works to describe a largely invisible phenomenon – art’s relationship to politics. This is a show which requires effort to dissect, both conceptually and visually, but the effort does not go unrewarded. The curatorial voice at work is heavy with theory and occasionally the work borders on becoming merely “illustrations” of essentially intellectual or verbal argument (something which interest in “the Archive” has tended to permit) but this is by-and-large the exception rather than the rule.
The show comes into it’s own when the politically and archival interesting premise of the works manages to translate into visual interest. The work of the New York collective Group Material does exactly this: by appropriating (or transcribing as the accompanying writing insists) images from advertising and branding Group Material creates a montage sketching out our aesthetic and social context. A particularly intriguing work is the appropriation of an advertising campaign for DKNY fashion brand featuring a hypothetical first female American president. Another work presents a plastic carrier bag that, against the background of an army helicopter, listed on one side the names of the world capitals for shopping, and on the other, the names of the world capitals for arms trading.
Much of the thinking behind the show seems to draw on the signal contributions of Ad Reinhardt. His abstract and graphical works still appear alive with strategies for visualising the relationship between art and politics (or not as the case may be). The black monochromes appear, in the context of the show, as a straight forward refusal to inflate art into spectacle – a refusal which extends to making them virtually irreproducible by dint of their subtle chromatic shifts. These are supported by the display of small political cartoons which are perhaps the most entertaining and affirming part of the show.
At times the potential potency and importance of political activism is occasionally overshadowed by the flattening nature of archival classification. On the whole though, it is a neatly expressed foray into the communicative possibilities of politically engaged work.
-- Mike Tuck
Images Courtesy Raven Row
Images: Inspection Medical Hermeneutics, Amber Room, 1991, Exhibition view, Raven Row, 2010, Photograph by Marcus J. Leith; Sture Johannesson, Exhibition view, Raven Row, 2010, Courtesy of the artist, Photograph by Marcus J. Leith; Disobedience, an ongoing video archive, Curated by Marco Scotini; designed by Xabier Salaberría, Exhibition view, Raven Row, 2010, Photograph by Marcus J. Leith.