Political Art

While I’m wondering what my new Weblog will be about, apparently the art world is wondering once more what art can, should or must be about. At least the protagonists of political art seem quite busy discussing political art as a phenomenon and as a trend. Of course a little bit of PR is place in times when (East German) painting is enjoying a revival as big and certainly as annoying as 80’s fashion and music (and despite the political emphasis of documenta 11).

Shortly before Christmas Kunstwerke/Berlin had organized a symposium “Re-politicization – The Return of the Political in Society and Culture”. I missed it. Between January 14 and 20 a conference along with workshops under the title “Klartext” will take place at Künstlerhaus Bethanien and Volksbühne (both Berlin). I will try not to miss it.

Last Fall I saw the “Shrinking Cities” Show at Kunstwerke (well designed and presented, very extensive, much information) and I saw a Show about Cyprus, “Out of the Shadows”, at the Witte de With in Rotterdam (reminded me of a mediocre student’s paper, presented with more space and more expensive equipment than what a student would ever get his hands on. The entertaining part was that I lost orientation after leaving the building and going back in order to see the second floor of the show – for five minutes my girlfriend and I were convinced that they actually did an exact copy of the first floor before we found out that we had ended up on the same floor as before. For a while I thought I had seen something as revolutionary as Duchamp’s fountain: a duplicate of a boring political art show – not even the great art clown Maurizio Cattelan I would expect to come up with a thing like that – of course the actual organizers, Catherine David and Peter Friedl, are not exactly famous for their clownery and it seems quite idiotic that we could believe in a duplicate for one second).

A friend of mine runs an association in the Netherlands that aims to get young people interested in politics. He was terribly excited about working with artists and using art in his projects.

There have always been good contacts between politicians (especially social democrats) and artists. Helmut Schmitt had a bunch of them over for coffee while being on the phone taking decisions concerning the storming of a hijacked Lufthansa plane in Mogadishu during Deutscher Herbst in the late 70s. A day later the RAF terrorists imprisoned in Stammheim killed themselves.

Later this month the much discussed show “Regarding Terror: The RAF. Exhibition” will open at Kunstwerke (partly financed through an Ebay auction with art donated by international artists).

To me this love affair between art and politics seems pretty desperate. Like both partners are looking for something that they don’t have themselves and (unreasonably) expect to get from the other one. The funny thing is that they both believe to have similar shortcomings and hence both hope to get a very similar kind of support from the other one.

Artists think they appear more serious and intellectual when the do political work – politicians hope for the same thing when they show themselves with artists. Both, politicians and artists feel that they are not as much in touch with society as they should be (both are probably right about that) and they seem to believe that by hanging out with each other or seeking proximity they can achieve greater relevance. I don’t want to reduce their motovion to a purely propagandistic one. I believe entering each others territory makes both, politicians and artist, feel more real.

To be fair one has to say that artists are more interested in entering political territory than in hanging out with actual politicians. Besides the awful lack of style and sex appeal of most politicians the biggest threat of showing oneself with a professional politicians is probably the risk of losing all credibility as a political artist.