I’m sitting at a Starbucks on the edge of Beverly Hills, across from Armani Exchange. Next to me two customers discuss their “nail situation” and their colorist–a blond expert–with a gravitas usually reserved for the War Room. After all it is Oscar party weekend. I couldn’t help comparing the magnitude of this battle with the one being fought less than five miles from here, in West Hollywood, where a defunct Big Lots houses “Manifest Equality,” promoting equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
How can they see the Love in our eyes
And still they don’t believe us?
And after all this time
They don’t want to believe us.
And if they don’t believe us now
Will they ever believe us?
- “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” by The Smiths
“Manifest Equality” is an obvious play on “Manifest Destiny,” a term I remembered hearing in high school US History. However, its meaning had long since been lost in the failed hopes of unrequited crushes and extra strength benzoyl peroxide, the blur we called tenth grade. I had to look it up in Wikipedia. Thank g-d for Wikipedia. It describes the belief that the United States is destined to expand its borders across North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
(BTW, according to Wikipedia, “Journalist Manny Destiny, an influential advocate for the Democratic Party, wrote an article in 1839 which, while not using the term ‘Manifest Destiny’, did predict a ‘divine destiny’ for the United States….” Really?!? Manny Destiny? I think someone’s trying to spawn their own urban legend.)
There were a half dozen exceptional standouts: The passion and love captured in Eddie Colla’s mixed media “Just Married.” Molly Crabapple’s burlesque “Portrait of Bambi Galore and her Wife Heidi.” The painstaking craftsmanship of Guillermo Bert’s laser-cut gold leaf “Double Justice.” Sarah Yate’s photo, “boys boys boys,” like a still from a gay “Good Fellas.” Chris Anthony’s eerie print “Skam (Shame).” And the Maoist-inspired “Love Unites” by Shepard Fairey, the embattled artist behind the Obama “HOPE” poster.
There weren’t exactly “hundreds” of artists, as written on the Manifest Equality website, but there was more than 150. And as is usually the case in shows with more than a handful of artists, the work was uneven: A small, sloppy oil painting asking $2K. Unremarkable, awkward photos. There were also highly skillful pieces which rehashed every conceivable cliche for equality and justice: Justice not only blindfolded but bound and gagged. The preamble to the constitution cut to pieces and reassembled such that it appears shattered. That may be a natural consequence of the show being based upon a call for submissions rather than the art being sought out for curation, leading some artists to create work where the viewer is beaten over the head with the message.
The feeling of the exhibit being a hodgepodge cobbled together was also reflected in the pricing, which was all over the place. While about a dozen of the approximately 200 pieces were $10,000+, twice that number were priced at $250 or below. Some work–such as Jesse LeDoux’ gouache and ink series–was bargain basement priced to sell at $250 a pop, and sell they did.
I’m still not certain as to exactly what the Manifest Equality show is. It is designed to promote awareness and, according to their website, the gallery “issues an inspiring, visual call-to-action… motivating public energy toward true reform on a local, state and national level.” Note that this is not a fund raiser for a non-profit organization. Some proceeds are donated to the for-profit grassroots network Courage Campaign, but not a whole lot. As indicated on their pricelist: “The proceeds from the sales of Manifest Equality are divided as such: 50% Artists, 30% Manifest Equality Productions, 20% to Courage Campaign. When the Manifest Equality Budget is met, 50% goes to the artists, 50% to the Courage Campaign.” Believe me, I am ALL for artists making money, and their only keeping 50% of a sale is on the low end commission wise, although becoming more common. I know that “Manifest Equality Productions” (which reminds me a bit of “In God We Trust, Inc.”) has their expenses. But still, I was a bit shocked at only 20% of proceeds being donated.
“Manifest” as an adjective means that something is evident or obvious. Not that it is inevitable. As a verb it means to make evident or to prove. “Manifest Equality” then, means that we are obviously equal… but we need to prove it. And for its faults, that is what this exhibit sets out to do. According to their website, “We believe in FULL & EQUAL RIGHTS for ALL Americans with no exception.” Presumably regardless of the condition of their nails, or the quality of their dye job.
“Manifest Equality” continues at 1341 Vine Street in Los Angeles through March 7th.