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ISSUE 118 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/3/2004

Exhibit shows true art of democracy

By Lewis Colburn
Contributing Writers
and Joe Christopherson
Contributing Writers

Friday, December 3, 2004

In the spirit of the election-year fanfare, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) is hosting “"Arts of Democracy: Tools of Persuasion."” The show is part of the museum’'s Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), curated by a panel of local artists. The panel for the MAEP decided to take a hands-off approach to curating the show, allowing anonymous artists to submit anything within the size limitations, essentially opening up the gallery for any artist to share his or her work and political views with the public.

The result is similar to a gigantic political bulletin board. The work covers the four walls of the blank gallery from floor to ceiling, and, where there is no space, overlaps or sits on the floor. Despite the idealistic attempt to open up the gallery walls to the self-proclaimed artist or political activist, the actual art is largely disappointing and the political dialogue is typically one-sided. Still, the work is not lacking in passion or conviction.

After the initial effect of the wall-to-wall presentation, the show offers few examples of genuinely intriguing art. It seems like the opportunity for a politically and artistically diverse exhibit was missed in a fervor of pre-election campaigning. The politics of the various campaigns and the key issues of each of the camps come through as clearly as ever, but sadly with little artistic thought. You can only look at so many digitally altered photos of various political leaders and red, white and blue color schemes without beginning to feel like you are being brainwashed by the mass of clichés and campaign jingles. The blaring slogans and bright colors create an overwhelming visual headache. The only pieces that stand out are the biggest the brightest, and the most recently posted.

The show is not without some interest: one piece shows a presidential beauty queen proposing that that there be the same number of presidential candidates as Miss America candidates; another features a lip-ringed face integrated into a voter encouragement publicity. Several St. Olaf artists, both faculty and students, have contributed to the exhibition. It seems that the work from St. Olaf is of a more contemplative nature than most of the show. Among the pieces are an American flag embroidered purely in black, a pair of wax-covered death masks of the presidential candidates and a gesso-covered drawing which seems to hint at the form of a torn flag. All of these pieces stand in contrast to the direct, unequivocal statements of the text and slogans in the rest of the show.

With the results of the election already decided, the show feels deflated. Still, as a phenomenon, the show is unique in allowing so many artists immediate access to a space like the MIA.

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