The Art Scene Responds To The Troubled Economy
Lauren Leibowitz September 26, 2011
Like many New Yorkers, we’ve been following reports on the Occupy Wall Street protests happening in New York City’s financial district this past week. National media has been all atwitter with reports of attacks on these peaceful protesters, who have assembled a diverse group of demonstrators to make a statement about government corruption and the privileging of big business and the wealthy 1% in American policy-making.
No one was safe from their wrath, not even the art world, which typically serves as a bastion of cultural criticism and social commentary on matters of civic discontent. In an effort to champion workers’ rights over corporate greed, protesters took aim at Sotheby’s by repeatedly interrupting an art auction at the famed art auction house last week, pledging their allegiance to Sotheby’s art handlers, who have been struggling over contract negotiations. The art auction served as a poignant reminder of the discrepancies in the distribution of wealth in the art market itself, a sort of microcosm of the larger financial issues plaguing our country.
We decided to pay homage to art’s traditional role in this conversation—as criticism, commentary and instigator—by taking a look at some of the projects that have tapped into our social zeitgeist, activating it via emotive visual experiences to address the recession, unemployment and lots of other factors contributing to this particularly charged moment of worldwide economic crisis. These responses date back to 2008, when the recession first began, and paint an interesting trajectory of how the dialogue has shifted since.
Damon Rich, “Red Lines Crisis Housing Learning Center” (2008)
Damon Rich designed an architectural model to represent home foreclosures in New York City based on a panorama of the city from the 1964 World’s Fair. “In some way, I hope my exhibitions function as strange educational playgrounds for adults,” he told the New York Times.
“Dead End Part I” from arsoni5t on Vimeo (2008)
This intriguing animated graphic novel, though in German, contains many themes pertinent to the American economic climate. The Dead End series takes place during the financial crisis of 2008, and depicts an armed zombie uprising. The stark black and white imagery evokes the cold hard attitude we feel toward the machine.
Pathways To Housing staged this video installation last spring, developed in partnership with the creative agency Sarkissian Mason. The organization drew the attention of passersby to the plight of the city’s many homeless, a group whose interests are ignored all too often. A video projection of a slumbering, shivering man encouraged pedestrians to send a text message to the charity, which would, in effect, help the ghostly figure to find shelter.
“We Like America and America Likes Us” from Bruce High Quality Foundation on Vimeo (2010)
Anonymous artist collective The Bruce High Quality Foundation made this video as part of the 2010 Whitney Biennial about our complex relationship with our country. The video was projected onto the windshield of an ambulance/hearse in the exhibition, with montages from American cultural touchstones set to a narration from a disembodied voice that critiques the conflicts of our shared experiences. “We wish we could have fallen in love with America… but it never made sense.”
Playspent.org, an interactive site, comes from McKinney and Urban Ministries of Durham, and sets out to prove that poverty is no game. SPENT is a simulation of the choices a low-income single parent must make to survive, putting the player in the tough position of choosing between essentials like auto payments or a child’s field trip funding. You might make it through the simulated month—but you might not be happy with the results.
ATM or this is [not] new york, Sponsored By Nobody (ongoing)
ATM or this is [not] new york is an NYC-based performance piece that sheds light on the city’s interactions with the homeless population. Produced by Sponsored By Nobody, this traveling theatrical endeavor presented the homeless interacting with ATM patrons in exchange for spare change. The performance evolved into a dialogue on gentrification and the interactions within the city between people of highly different interest groups. This project was successfully funded through Kickstarter.
Loft In The Red Zone, Fractured Atlas Foundation (ongoing)
Loft In The Red Zone proposes another call for action—though this group’s been affected by the ongoing Wall Street occupation to a bit more of a detriment. This exhibition is an artists’ tribute to New York City on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, expressing several artists’ reaction to the aftermath of the crisis. Unfortunately, barricades have gone up around the gallery in attempts to safeguard the city against the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the gallery isn’t receiving the action it needs. Donate to their Kickstarter in order to ensure that the exhibition makes enough money to stay open through October.