Occupy Greenwich, Jonathan Horowitz’s current exhibition at the Brant Foundation in Connecticut, delves into the gnarly path of politics—or being political per se—from its pun-intended title to its promotional poster espousing we all “Go Vegan!” Billed as an era-specific retrospective, the exhibition largely unfolds into the various bodies of works the artist has created since Obama entered the White House, and Horowitz swiftly maneuvers around issues that may or may not intersect in any public debate or referendum—from gay rights to environmentalism to U.S. presidential politics. With signature deadpan humor, Horowitz flips the coin on topics typically deemed solemn or serious, while at other times he offers more earnest attention to subjects considered faddish.
During the walkthrough before the exhibition’s unveiling, Horowitz’s calmness only emphasized the sharpness of his humor. His audience—mostly composed of members of the press—giggled at the incisive sarcasm that bore Anthony (2016), a gigantically blown-up print of the infamous image of naked Anthony Weiner at the House Members Gym, or We the People are People Too (2008), a shelf full of plastic novelty figurines the artist remembers from the ’70s. Testing the audience’s limits for empathy, these cutely kitsch collectibles commemorate the likes of drunk drivers, Sarah Palin, and terrorists—all bearing their unique version of the trademark “so-and-so…is a person too” quote. Enlarged into an almost life-sized doll is Hillary Clinton (Hillary Clinton Is a Person Too, 2008). This statue, along with the immersive 2008 work, November 4, 2008, cannot be viewed without considering the current presidential primary campaign in United States.
Jonathan Horowitz, Installation view of Hillary Clinton Is a Person Too, 2008
All images: Photos: Tom Powel Imaging, Inc. Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT
Blurring the line between artistic commentary and political reportage, the installation presents two flat screens reporting 19 hours of 2008 election coverage from the clashing perspectives of Fox News and CNN. The screens are flanked by perfectly hung C-print portraits of all the American presidents except Obama, whose visage leans on the wall awaiting his victory. Reds, whites, and blues frame the installation in the form of netted balloons on the ceiling and wall-to-wall carpeting. A portrait of Clinton—I, Hillary (2016)—resides in a separate room, speaking to the presumptive nominee’s notorious ambition and public persona—and conceivably foreshadowing the outcome of the current election cycle, just as November 4, 2008 once presaged Obama’s presidency.
Horowitz’s bold introduction of his candidate for presidency—particularly considering the range of vocal criticism Clinton receives within left wing groups, which include many artists—aligns with his handling of other themes around the exhibition. The New York-born and raised artist’s strengths come from the uncompromisingly offbeat methods he employs: particularly humor and his poker-faced use of mimicry—you can never be certain whether the artist is advocating for the subjects he depicts, like Hillary Clinton, or simply describing them as contemporary phenomena. While risking coming off as frivolous, Horowitz draws out the absurdity beneath some of the last decade’s most compelling issues (the current presidential race certainly makes his task a bit easier), and problematizes the hierarchy of values and ideologies that we expect artists should have and be inspired by.
Jonathan Horowitz, Go Vegan! (200 Celebrity Vegeterians Downloaded from the Internet), 2002-2010
Politics, for Horowitz, tread beyond our governing bodies and personalities, and onto the personal choices we make as citizens of the world. The artist’s long-term interest in environmental issues, particularly in vegetarianism, diverges somewhat from the overt socio-political tone of the majority of the exhibition, though he treats the subject seriously, albeit with his signature pop cultural and consumerist lens. Installed along a staircase we find an installation of photos downloaded from the internet, representing two hundred famous vegetarians throughout history. The artist makes an uncompromising call for dairy- and meat-free lifestyle, and his collection of portraits, including Karl Marx, Natalie Portman, and Franz Kafka, suggests distinctive alternatives for social and political engagement. As Horowitz underlined during his talk, a topic deemed too trivial to make art about here emerges in high pitch (guests were served vegan food at the opening reception), initiating arguments about the subjects often underestimated in the arts. Akin to his approach to heavy politics, he merges solemnity with levity, as evidenced by his bringing together weighty thinkers and entertainment figures under one umbrella.
Jonathan Horowitz, Occupy Greenwich, Installation view with Crucifix for Two, 2010
Indeed, through droll acts of appropriation across his oeuvre, the artist merges his activism with irony. Crucifix for Two (2010), two cedar crosses joined as one, pays subtle homage to the twinned clocks in Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Perfect Lovers, yet does not skip the spot-on opportunity to satirize the unsettled encounter between religion and gay rights. Tennyson, Jasper & Bob (2013) builds on the allegorizing of Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed, believed to embody the bed he shared with his lover and peer Jasper Johns, who in response created his drawing titled Tennyson. Horowitz reimagines this history, repurposing its myths and facts adding “Bob” and “Jasper” to where the pillows would be, scrutinizing the familiar convention of the public’s interference into the private and vice versa.
Horowitz speaks instrumentally through his work—be it in the language of art history itself or the visual surplus generated by media and technology today—mimicking the characters, imagery, and circumstances he celebrates, or critiques. Remodeling such excess, the artist holds towards his audience a mirror elaboratley framed by sharp wit and poignant determinism.
Jonathan Horowitz, Occupy Greenwich, Installation view with Tennyson, Jasper & Bob, 2013
Osman Can Yerebakan is a writer and curator based in New York.
(Image at top: Jonathan Horowitz, November 4, 2008, 2008. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging, Inc. Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT)
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