Category: Year in review

Enter 2012

The Road: the author walking in the sand dunes of Carmel, California, Sept. 21, 2011. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

The Road: the author walking in the sand dunes of Carmel, California, Sept. 21, 2011. Photo by Jeannine Thorpe. ©

American columnist and author William Vaughn once wrote, “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” I do not count myself amongst those who always expect the worst, but this year even the Associated Press titled its New Year’s celebration coverage, “Bid Adieu to a Tough Year.” As for 2012, well, hang on to your seats… it is going to be a bumpy ride. Call me a gloomy Gus, but, watching Lady Gaga and Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg lead a crowd in a countdown for the dropping of the famed Times Square crystal ball did not exactly fill me with unbridled optimism.

Hours before the “Fame Monster” led the glitzy escapist exercise in Times Square, President Obama signed a colossal $662 billion “defense” bill that contains the so-called National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows for the arrest and indefinite detention of U.S. citizens – all without charges, legal representation, or even a trial. National Lawyers Guild president David Gespass, called the NDAA an “enormous attack on the U.S. and our heritage” and a “significant step” towards fascism. Happy New Year. While we ponder our collective future, here’s a look at a dozen selected Art For A Change web log posts from the year in passing:

1) The Broad Boondoggle (Jan. 8 )
“On January 6, 2011, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad unveiled the architectural plans for his new downtown L.A. art museum – which will of course be named, ‘The Broad.'”

2) My Tribute to Ronald Reagan (Feb. 8 )
As my beloved country undergoes another bout of historical amnesia that is every bit as debilitating as the Alzheimer’s disease our acclaimed 40th President was known to have suffered from, a comforting blanket of forgetfulness descends upon the land.

3) Download Egypt Freedom Poster (Feb. 10)
Inspired by the heroic Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy against the 30-year old U.S. backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, I created a digital artwork titled ‘Freedom‘, so named because the word appears in my graphic in Arabic, Spanish, and English. My creation is dedicated to the people of Egypt, with hopes that their democratic aspirations will soon be realized.

4) Sotheby’s Orgy Of The Rich Disrupted (Feb. 16)
“Just as Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art was taking bids on yet another oh-so-expensive Warhol silk-screen, chaos broke-out in the auction hall as a dozen art activists set off alarms, shouted, screamed, and threw counterfeit money into the air.”

5) LA Punk ’79: The Lost Linoleum Print – Pat Bag (March 26)
“In early 1979 I carved a linoleum block portrait of Pat Bag, the enchantingly sinister-looking bass player for The Bags, one of the first and most notorious late 70s punk rock bands in Los Angeles.”

6) Obama and the Budget of Sparta (April 13)
On April 8, 2011, President Obama largely capitulated to his Republican opponents on a “compromise” budget deal that will cut an additional $38.5 billion from his 2011 austerity budget.

7) An end to oil company sponsorship of the arts (April 20)
“In marking the one year anniversary of the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I signed a letter of protest along with 165 other arts professionals and activists that appeared in the Guardian on April 20, 2011. Titled Tate should end its relationship with BP, the letter calls on the Tate Gallery of London ‘to demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable future by ending its sponsorship relationship with BP.'”

8 ) Paul Fuhrmann’s “War Profiteer” (June 12)
“The type of artist portrayed in Paul Fuhrmann’s War Profiteer is with us today, though perhaps in far larger numbers and with a greater capacity for self-delusion. Metaphorically speaking, the most notable aspect of today’s art scene, from top to bottom, is the fashionable wearing of rose colored glasses. Fuhrmann’s admonition to the artist is more pertinent than ever.”

9) An Exorcism at Tate Modern (July 20)
“On July 5, 2011, I received word from Reverend Billy and & The Church of Earthalujah that he was taking his flock to London in order to ‘lay hands on the Tate Modern, and cast out the evil demon of BP’s oil sponsorship.'”

10) Standing on the shoulders of giants. My obituaries for Gilbert “Magú” Luján, Lucian Freud, and Gil Scott Heron.

11) The Firing of Zahi Hawass (July 31)
“On July 17, 2011, the world’s best known Egyptologist, Zahi Hawass, was fired from his position as Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities.”

12) Nagasaki Nightmare (Aug. 6)
Regarding the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan.

2010: Another year passes

Photo of this writer from his "Journalism in Wonderland" post of March 12, 2010.

Photo of this writer from his "Journalism in Wonderland" post of March 12, 2010.

It is not just another year that passes, but an entire decade. And what can be said of the past ten years, aside from the fact that it has been an extraordinarily bleak period. A stolen election, 9/11, an “endless war on terror”; promises of “hope and change” morphing into predator drone attacks, escalating war, rising unemployment, and tax cuts for billionaires.

I am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, The Hollow Men, where the modernist poet penned, “We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men (….) This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.”

While the circumstances I mention portend what can only be described as the New Dark Ages, I am simply sketching the outlines of empire in decline; a long drawn out process that is never a pretty sight. All that notwithstanding, a few good things were accomplished in the world of art, where despite the level of folly, a semblance of sanity might be said to prevail – well, almost. The following even dozen articles offer insight into some of the noteworthy events of 2010.

The Good Soldier Schweik (Feb. 4)
My review of a rare presentation of Robert Kurka’s antiwar opera, The Good Soldier Schweik, performed on Jan. 23, 2010, at Barnum Hall in Santa Monica, California on Jan. 30, 2010.

Obama Reduces Arts Funding (Feb. 12)
This article details the cuts made to the arts by President Obama in his 2011 budget. Budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were slashed by Mr. Obama, all while he increased military spending.

Millard Sheets: The Early Years (Feb 24)
My review of Millard Sheets: The Early Years (1926-1944), an important exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art that ran from Feb. 14 to May 30, 2010. Sheets was one of the leading California exponents of the social realist “American Scene.”

Journalism in Wonderland (March 12)
“The Los Angeles Times abandoned all pretense of being a serious newspaper guided by high journalistic standards, when on March 5, 2010 the daily ran a full color paid advertisement as its front page rather than headlines and photographs  from the news stories of the day.”

American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life (March 27)
In this essay I review American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915, an exhibit of 103 paintings that recorded the American experience from the colonial period to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

Siqueiros: América Tropical Press Conference (April 3)
My coverage of the March 31, 2010 Press Conference where the city government of Los Angeles announced its commitment to the preservation of the world famous Siqueiros mural located on L.A.’s historic Olvera Street.

BP’s Oil Slick: LACMA Woes (April 27)
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico on April 26, 2010 – the beginning of the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. This was the first article appearing on the internet in the wake of that catastrophe to bring further attention to BP funding the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Goya: Los Caprichos in Los Angeles (June 20)
My review of Goya: The Caprichos Etchings, displayed at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Museum in Glendale, California, from May until August, 2010.

Let Me Tell You About MusicaLatitudes (August 7)
My essay details the abiding impact Latin America’s “New Song” movement has had upon my work as a visual artist.

Levi Artists: Lay Down Your Brushes (August 27)
Levi Strauss & Co., one of the largest clothing manufacturers on the planet, opened an art printmaking workshop in San Francisco. This article offers a critique of the ever tightening control corporations exercise over the art world and public space.

Siqueiros: Confronting Revolution & Censorship Defied (Sept. 25)
I was a participating panelist in A Print Dialogue: Siqueiros & The Graphic Arts, an event sponsored by the Autry National Center, organized by the José Vera Gallery, and held at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock, California. This article reviews the event, as well as the exhibition of Siqueiros paintings at the Autry – Censorship Defied.

The Madonna of the Napalm (October 6)
“While there are obvious differences between the Vietnam and Afghan wars, the parallels are striking. This article revisits the historic posters of the 60s that excoriated President Johnson for escalating the war in Southeast Asia.”

2009: Year in Review

Ah, 2009, when the bold slogans of “Hope” and “Change” morphed into sighs of “Disappointment” and “Business as Usual.” Now is the time to cast away political illusions and resume the work of creating new realities! What better place to start than a “Year in Review” presentation?

On a brief personal note, I have been working on a large body of new paintings and drawings, most of which have not been shown to anyone, and if everything works out a major showing should be in the offing by mid 2010.

This past year two of my oil paintings were featured at the Bakersfield Museum of Art during the museum’s Dia de los Muertos exhibition (September-November). I also had successful showings of my works at the Chicana/Chicano Biennial at the MACLA gallery in San Jose, California (June-August); at the Brand Library Art Gallery & Art Center in Glendale, California, during the gallery’s Man’s Inhumanity to Man exhibit (April-May); and at Avenue 50 Studio’s 365 & Counting exhibit (November-December). Also of note, in June of this year my web log was re-launched in WordPress, which has proved a boon to creativity.

I’d like to offer readers best wishes for the holiday season. I’ll resume my regular writing schedule come the new year.

(January 3) Waltz with Bashir – This was the very first post of the new year, a review of the brilliant animated film from Israel, Waltz with Bashir. “Based on Israeli director Ari Folman’s real life experiences as a soldier in the Israeli army when it invaded Lebanon in June ‘82, Waltz with Bashir is only the second animated feature film to be produced in Israeli cinematic history.” (January 10) A New WPA Arts Program? – During the first month of the Obama administration I contrasted the Depression era arts programs of the WPA to the present, posing the question; “Will the Obama administration offer even a substantially scaled-down WPA-like arts program for today, let alone provide any significant budget increases for already existing arts programs?”

(February 3) Charles White: Let The Light Enter – In praise of the great African American artist, Charles White (1918-1979). “What I always found so impressive about White was that he never abandoned his artistic vision in order to follow the dictates of what was fashionable. Despite the ascendancy and near total dominance of abstract art in the 1950s, followed by the successions of Pop, Minimalism, and all the vacuities of Postmodernism – White remained true to his style of figurative social realism.” (February 11) My Take on Things – My dialog with an art student from Western Kentucky University, and the subject of “Art as Activism.” (February 17) Spencer Jon Helfen: California Modernist Painting – My review of an important exhibition of American Modernist paintings at Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, California. The review focuses on two giants of the 1930s California Modernist movement, Victor Arnautoff and Francis De Erdely. (February 23) Edward Biberman Revisited – Now almost forgotten save for aficionados of the California Modernist school, Biberman was the subject of a fascinating retrospective at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park.

(March 3) Zombie Banks, Art Museums, & War – Wall Street crashes, Obama bails out the banks, museums close while arts organizations layoff 10% of their work force, all the while war funding increases. (March 31) Man’s Inhumanity to Man – I exhibited a suite of four black and white drawings at the Brand Library Art Gallery & Art Center in Glendale, California, part of a group show that examined human rights violations from the 1915 Armenian genocide to the present.

(June 12) The Death of Franklin Rosemont – My eulogy for the American surrealist artist, historian, author, poet, and activist, Franklin Rosemont. (June 22) The Death of Motor City – Reflections on the demise of Detroit and the great tradition of American social realism. (June 25) Artist’s Responses to Homelessness – My review of Hobos To Street People: Artist’s Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present – a traveling group exhibit on the subject of homelessness.

(July 5) Mexican Prints at University of Notre Dame – My review of the exhibit, Para la Gente: Art, Politics, and Cultural Identity of the Taller de Gráfica, with a special focus on the Mexican artists of the 1930s Popular Graphic Arts Workshop. (July 14) Art Hate Week! – For purposes of giving UK bourgeois art institutions “a necessary kicking.”

(September 2) Guayasamín: Rage & Redemption – My in-depth examination of Latin American master, Oswaldo Guayasamín, and his retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California.

(November 25) The Mona Lisa Curse – My review of The Mona Lisa Curse, a documentary film by art critic Robert Hughes that offers a devastating critique of contemporary art and it’s over commercialization.

(December 1) LBJ, Obama & Afghanistan – In this article I announce the publication of “Hey, Hey, LBJ…“, a web exhibition I curated on the subject of posters from the 1960s that protested the Vietnam war and the policies of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. My article was published the day President Obama announced he was sending an additional 30,000 combat troops to Afghanistan.

2008: Year in Review

The waning days of 2008 represent more than just a tumultuous year coming to an end, they bring closure to decades of extreme political reaction and backwardness, at least in the U.S. – or so it appears. Whether or not we are on the threshold of a new progressive era depends upon people in their tens of millions becoming actively engaged in visualizing and building a different type of society, and that is not simply a matter of political action. Art has an enormous role to play in such a process as it allows us to dream and imagine, as well as to reveal hidden truths and possibilities. What is more, art encourages critical thinking, it provokes, challenges, and dares one to visualize the impossible – a mindset we are sorely in need of today.

This year I have written a number of articles on art and artists both past and present, I offer a selection of these writings here as a “Year in Review” presentation:

(January 15) The Los Angeles Art Students LeagueSeed of Modernism at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. An important show on the roots of modernism in L.A. during the years 1906-1953.

(February 20) The Unveiling of Robert Scull – When money became “an overbearing influence on contemporary art.” (Feb. 29) Apostles of Ugliness: 100 Years Later – The centennial of America’s very first avant-garde art movement, the so-called Ashcan School.

(March 19) Artists Against the War: A Review – To mark the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the New York Society of Illustrators mounted an exhibit titled Artists Against The War. I wrote of review of the show for the Foreign Policy in Focus website.

(April 19) The Newspeak Newseum – The latest cultural institution to be added to the U.S. capital; “The Newseum provides the clearest look yet of a cultural institution in the service of big business.” (April 26) Edward Hopper: A Retrospective – “As a youngster Hopper’s paintings provided me with an entry point into the art of the Great Depression period.”

(May 1) May 68: Posters from the Paris Rebellion – “Socially conscious graphics that to this day have not been outdone in terms of political sophistication, simplicity, and effectiveness.” (May 14) Robert Rauschenberg 1925-2008 – Eulogy for the iconoclastic Pop artist. (May 24) The Harvey Milk Public Monument – “The memorial bronze of Harvey Milk placed in San Francisco’s City Hall should be a constant reminder of what has yet to be achieved.”

(June 13) The Cologne Progressives – “A bloc of artists that represented the radical outer fringe of the Expressionist movement of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933).”

(July 4) The Orientalists: Then and NowThe Lure of the East, British Orientalist Painting at the Tate Britain. Questioning the West’s accepted wisdom regarding the Islamic world.

(September 13) War & Empire/Art of Democracy in San Francisco – “A new and vibrant social engagement in American art.” (Sept. 18) An Art World Mesmerized by Bling – “As the world burns and international financial institutions fall like so many dominoes, impulsive oligarchs and imprudent investment bankers continue to put their money into the overheated contemporary art ‘market’.”

(October 17) I wrote a review of the War & Empire exhibition for the Foreign Policy in Focus website.

(November 7) The Enduring Works of Goya – The Los Caprichos etchings and the continuing influence of the Spanish Master. (Nov. 2) Art and the Global Economic Meltdown – The “unavoidable political topic is on the lips of everyone in the art world these days.” (Nov. 21) L.A.’s MOCA in Meltdown – “MOCA’s dilemma is indicative of the crisis now rippling through the world of elite art institutions, a disaster that will only intensify as late capitalism careens into worldwide depression.”

(December 2) Josep Renau: Commitment and Culture – Celebrating the 100th birthday of the Spanish painter, poster designer, and muralist. (Dec. 4) Making a Killing in Central America – My 1989 drawing depicting two of the many thousands killed by death squads in Central America during the 1980s.