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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."



Kent Monkman, (Canadian, b. 1965). Welcoming The Newcomers, 2019. 132" x 264". Acrylic on Canvas. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Joseph Hartman


As I write, this country has been undergoing a major ordeal on two fronts.  Not only have we had four months of a pandemic making more than two million people sick, and claiming more than 200,000 lives.


On top of that, we have since had four weeks of massive protests against police brutality and in favor of better treatment for African Americans- all around the country -- initially sparked by the murder of an African American man by a white police officer in Minneapolis, a supposedly liberal community.


Tying the two together is the fact that Americans of color have been falling ill & dying of Covid-19 at a far higher rate than Caucasians. 


On the one hand, this is the sad legacy of substandard living conditions in communities where too many people are inadequately educated about diet and/or can't afford proper food and medical care -- hence a superfluity of underlying health issues (diabetes, obesity & hypertension especially) that make people especially vulnerable to the virus. 


And, on the other hand is the equally sad fact that African Americans are far more likely than are Caucasians to be employed at jobs that they cannot afford to relinquish, but that expose them to the virus at a far higher rate than is suffered by Caucasians….


Under these conditions, it may seem frivolous to write about the visual arts, unless we want to write about political art – and praise it for its passionate commitment to the issues.


But merely because art is political doesn't to me anyway necessarily make it good as art, let alone succeed in what it sets out to do.


 And although I am afraid it may make me desperately unpopular, I feel obliged to point out that the biggest single commission of this past art season, sponsored by the city's most venerated museum, and celebrated by the journal of record, may have been intended to be highly noble & political but winds up a bit silly instead. Read More 

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