Budweiser and Coca-Cola, sparklers and flags, picnics with family and friends—it’s like a typical American Independence Day—that the flag is Confederate and buried in a shallow grave. Except.
It’s a futuristic patriotic tradition envisioned by multimedia artist Josh Klein in a three-channel video installation titled ‘Another America is Possible’ in 2017 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Klein’s work seems heartfelt, but questionable. This cinematic vision of Americans harmoniously denying symbols of racism has the dreamlike clarity of pharmaceutical advertising. It’s a hilarious, clean, solved, satire of progressive propaganda and nauseating.
A candor of emotion tempered by an uncertain amount of parody characterizes Klein’s career-long investigation at Whitney University, right down to the neoconservative grandiose title, “A Project for a New American Century.” The 43-year-old New Yorker celebrates contemporary propaganda expressions of advertising, memes and influencers in the same way artist duo Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid did with Cold War-era posters, flags and slogans. . (Their memoir, “lessons of history,sold out the Zimmeri Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey until July 16th. A section featuring works from the 1978 immigration to New York from the Soviet Union will resume in New York in September. )
Propaganda seeks (often maliciously) to entice its audience to a particular belief. Klein, Komar, and Melamid argue that art actually represents a more messy, anxious, and uncertain reality, and therefore a more honest reality. Instead of voicing their positions, they float between sarcasm and honesty. This smell of ambivalence prevents their art from becoming the propaganda it evokes.
Komar and Meramid worked together in the 1960s, operating under Soviet supervision. (When they moved to New York later that decade, they turned their wits against capitalism.) They protested and parodied the dissenters by making art that stymied Soviet propaganda. He was a member of a group of artists called One of their early interventions, from 1972, was a red banner with slogans used to promote the Soviet space program.We were born to make fairy tales come true”
But unlike other state-sanctioned banners, their banners are signed like a painting. Asserting Party policy in a work of art begins to unlock its power. In museums, it is not very clear what the slogan means. Is the artist a provider of fantasy or a revealer of truth? Can you do both at the same time?
This question is particularly prominent in their satire on socialist realism. A textbook form of art as propaganda, the style adorns scenes of everyday workers and party heroes, hoping to inspire people to greatness and quell dissent. In their 1982-1983 painting The Origins of Socialist Realism, a goddess resembling Botticelli’s Venus traces Stalin’s silhouette in lamplight above a stone temple. is depicted. This meeting of historical and mythological figures is presented like an official ideal, not just ridiculing the style’s supposed sincerity. It undermines the claim that art should distill the world into plain truth.
Klein has to walk a more ambiguous line than Komar and Melamid. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan liked to use the Russian adage, “Trust, but verify.” Komar and Melamid he parted ways in 2003, but is still primarily focused on painting and conceptual art rather than new media. Today, as the Cold War-winning nation is polarized by his two political parties, Klein’s “Project for a New American Century” is rife with the cynical and nebulous morality of the internet. I can see it.
Like any obscure political meme, Klein’s work has an aspect to which believing in the message will be wronged while doubting it will bring shame. Klein explores climate change (which incorporates testimonial videos of actors playing disaster survivors), income inequality (3D printing of dismembered wage workers on trolleys and boxes), and police surveillance ( The infamous statue of the Teletubbies in riot gear) seems to support positions such as ) or any other issue dealt with in Whitney’s investigation, he’s really just making art. The call to action seems naive. Artists can portray the fragmented and heavily mediated political climate of the past decade, marred by deceptive video editing, celebrity deepfakes, troll farms, Twitter bots, and other forms of inconsistency. Only.
Nothing is more emotionally complex than Klein’s view of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2015 video “Crying Games” uses outdated face-swapping software to take photos of former President George W. It is pasted on the actors who wear it, muttering and chatting. . “I’m sorry,” says False Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “All those people…”
This work is a black joke. It probably won’t change your mind, and it certainly won’t ruin your life. But then there’s something beautiful about the way the shoddy digital mask malfunctions and peels off, revealing a lookalike of former Vice President Dick Cheney with mucus and tears running down his face. And there is palpable sadness in the emptiness of Klein’s acts of justice, the sucking emptiness at the heart of the video: it is impossible to truly mourn the victims of war.
Propaganda-esque art cannot undo the damage and confusion caused by real propaganda. But Klein’s work, and that of Comard and Melamid as well, aims to create space for ambiguity. Art should not tell us what to think, nor should we want it to.
Josh Klein: A Project for America’s New Century
Until August 13th, Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan. 212-570-3600, Whitney.org.
Komar and Melamid: A Lesson in History
The Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ, reopens September 6. 848-932-7237, zimmerli.rutgers.edu.