American University Museum's Online 'Contested Space' Series Explores Themes Relevant to Presidential Election of 2020

  • September 16, 2020 11:06

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Allan Gerson, Border Wall, No.8, March 2019. Courtesy The Estate of Allan Gerson.

Every four years, American University Museum in Washington, DC, presents exhibitions during the run-up to presidential elections addressing the most heavily contested issues, with the intention of educating and encouraging dialogue. This year, necessitated by the ongoing pandemic, the museum is providing virtual space for these exhibitions and discussions. Art on view this fall explores themes around the global climate crisis, particularly water as a declining resource, immigration policies, and truth and illusion in public discourse.  



There’s a tendency to think of fake news as a modern term. It’s not, as the phrase emerged over 100 years ago. Art and Authenticity in the Age of Fake News assembles 30 paintings, prints, and photographs from the American University Museum collection that—like images in the media today—challenge ideas about “truth” in representation. At a time when the veracity of images is constantly being tested, this virtual exhibition examines how and why modern artists have often done this testing themselves.

Nancy Van Meter, Barbie Petticoat: Like Flower Waiting for the Bee, 1999, cyanotype photogram mat: 14 x 14 in. Gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Gift of the artist) 2018.15.1887

With works spanning the 20th century and the Western world, the exhibition looks at the ways in which, over the past century, visual artists have negotiated issues of truth and deception. It provides insight into the complicated relationship between art and politics in the past, but also in the present. Nika Elder, assistant professor in AU’s Department of Art, who specializes in North American art from the colonial period to the present, including African-American art and the history of photography, curated the exhibit, while AU graduate students produced it.

The exhibit includes work by well-known figures like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Mabel Dwight, Lee Krasner, Kurt Schwitters, Ben Shahn, and Renée Stout, as well as lesser-known artists. Gallery Talk: Art and Authenticity, 4:15-5:15 p.m., Oct. 26. Register on Eventbrite


Edward Burtynsky: Water features the artist’s large-scale photographs, often taken from a bird’s-eye perspective, that tell the timely story of where water comes from, how we use, distribute, and waste it. This exhibition, comprised of large-format color photographs by Burtynsky, explores humanity’s increasingly stressed relationship with the world’s most vital natural resource.

Water presents photographs taken between 2007-2013 that trace, in intricate detail, humanity’s complex relationship with the world’s most vital natural resource. In the seven years since the Water series was released, this body of work has perhaps become even more relevant as the planet moves deeper into the inevitable climate crisis and our relationship with water becomes more volatile and precarious. Gallery Talk, 7-8 p.m., Oct. 8. Register on Eventbrite

Allan Gerson, Border Wall, No. 7, 12/28/18. Courtesy The Estate of Allan Gerson.


Two online exhibitions address issues surrounding immigration and identity from very different perspectives:

Border Wall | Allan Gerson presents powerful and poignant outsized photographs taken of the Mexican side of the border wall. Border Wall examines the question of citizenship from the point of view the other—the individual hungry for access to a country or space they’re told they cannot occupy and are consistently denied in inhuman ways. There is no shortage of deterrents, yet the desire and will for change are still there. The wall displays the symbols and imagery of all of the talismans for what could be, what life might hold and most importantly of hope. Curated by Jennifer Sakai. Gallery Talk: Border Wall, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Sept. 24. Register on Eventbrite

D.C.-based artist Mikray Pida was born in the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, China. Her art is grounded in ancient Uighur civilization and the struggle of modern Uighur life. Drawing upon her ancestry to contemplate the loss of Uighur cultural identity, Pida’s large-scale paintings comment on climate change, overpopulation, and refugee crises that threaten human existence worldwide.  

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