Saturday, April 4, 2009

"No Them Only Us"

The artwork pictured above, a double-sided print by Mark Titchner, is from the exhibit described below at the Leeds Art Gallery.
Rank: Picturing The Social Order 1615-2009

This fascinating and unusual exhibition, which looks at how artists have pictured the shape of society from Renaissance times to the present, opens its UK tour at Leeds Art Gallery. A society without stratification is barely imaginable, but how do we picture our own system of hierarchies, of difference? British writers, political theorists and artists have used numerous images to picture ‘who we are’: describing us through ‘orders’, ‘estates’, ‘classes’, ‘stations’, ‘degrees’, or ‘ranks’. But only this latter term has kept the same meaning over six centuries. With over 100 exhibits, new work from leading contemporary artists and the presentation of new social research from academics and government agencies.
The words on the painting were suggested by Bill Clinton's acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention.
And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes that blind us. We need each other - all of us - we need each other. We don’t have a person to waste, and yet for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right that what’s really wrong with America is the rest of us - them.

Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor. Them, the homeless. Them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays.

We’ve gotten to where we’ve nearly them'ed ourselves to death. Them, and them, and them.

But, this is America. There is no them. There is only us.

One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Well, we're not there yet, are we?

I was intrigued by the sculpture/painting the moment I read the words. It is a large block with all sides painted, taller and wider than it is thick, like a domino. At first, I thought the words were quite satisfying - if only the world was like that - but, as I thought about them more, I realized that more than one meaning was applicable.

What does it say to you?

The poster below, titled "Pyramid of Capitalist System", was included in the exhibit, also. It is dated 1911, and was published by the Industrial Worker then out of Spokane, Washington, which describes itself as the "Foremost Exponent of Revolutionary Industrial Unionism".

To read the words, click on the picture to enlarge. See what the caption for the church says. Sadly, it's too often true. The whole pyramid looks just about right for today.

A blogger in the UK, Good As Dead doesn't like the exhibit at all.
There is a faint smell of some thing gone off wafting through the cherished halls of the Leeds City Art Gallery. It is the careers of the curators of the latest installment in the continuously disappointing gallery programme. Not that this Blog wishes to make any enemies within the Leeds arts intellgensia (who us?!), but the current show Rank: Picturing The Social Order 1615-2009 is so SHOCKINGLY BAD that the curators should soon be meeting their P45s in a dark Leeds alley.
Whew! The writer should tell us what he/she really thinks.

Another blogger from San Francisco, r+d, panned the show, too, but with less vitriol, saying that it was not an art show, but an educational exhibit, and that there was good art in the mix, but the art was overwhelmed by charts and graphs and educational tools.

A blow-up of the frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes book, Leviathan, was part of the exhibit.

My thought? Ah, what do I know? However, I engaged with the show on quite a high level. It's possible that the educational material overwhelmed the art, but, on the whole, I felt both pleasure and excitement as I walked through the exhibit the first time and again with Erika and Susan on the day of our gathering for lunch at the Tiled Hall Café in the Leeds Art Gallery.

As to "Rank", the subject of the exhibit, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".