Don’t boycott, make protest art!

Dozens of artists and curators have announced that they will not work on January 20th in protest of Trump’s inauguration (This post has the most detailed roundup of which artists and institutions are participating). While organizing behind a cause and a unified message are important developments, it’s disappointing that this group hasn’t chosen a more effective tactic than a boycott. Rather than staging a do-nothing boycott these artists could make art.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to imagine some of the artists using their usual medium to make a convincing protest. Could Richard Serra make protest art that is specifically targeting Trump and his policies? Many of his works are disorienting in the way that a Trump presidency will be, but his art seems too abstract and non-figurative to clearly communicate an anti-Trump message (although I’d love to see him try).

Many contemporary artists, however, seem well-suited to design some great Trump protest art. This is especially the case with Barbara Kruger, who has previously made compelling anti-Trump art, but has signed up with the boycott and will not do anything on inauguration day. Her art is overt, typically with clearly worded messaging, and nearly always political. Why wouldn’t Kruger use the inauguration as an opportunity to make more anti-Trump art?

I don’t know if she’s offered an explanation, but I’m going to suggest one that might apply to Kruger and others who have made protest art in the past. Right now Kruger has large scale exhibitions in the Hirshhorn and National Gallery – possibly more art per square foot on the mall than any other artist in DC. These installations earned her and her gallery representation hundreds of thousands. Protest art, on the other hand, is not affiliated with any institution and would not pay much, if anything.

There’s also a risk in staging more protest art. Given how many museums rely on government funding, protest art that challenges the administration could be a liability for Kruger and other artists, as institutions would be less likely to work with her. Kruger has established herself as a blue chip artist so it may be easier to play it safe than risk her reputation and future shows by being prominently anti-Trump.

Maybe its just an issue of following the herd and Kruger has added her name as a sign of solidarity. Hopefully she will create more protest art, even if she does nothing on inauguration day.

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