'States of Mind: Art and American Democracy' to Open at The Moody in Houston

  • September 17, 2020 11:52

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Rodney McMillian, Untitled (The Supreme Court Painting), 2004–06, Acrylic on canvas, 216 x 216 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. © 2020 the artist. Photo: Gene Ogami.

The Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston will be reopening its galleries on September 19 with the fall exhibition States of Mind: Art and American Democracy, on view through December 19, 2020. 

Reflecting on some of the most pressing topics facing American democracy, States of Mind is timed to coincide with the 2020 presidential election in order to encourage dialogue around current social and political issues. Many of the works on view examine the status of our country’s founding principles of freedom and equality, while others engage with questions of voting access, gun control, and immigration policies—three issues that are common throughout the United States and of particular concern to Texas. States of Mind does not attempt to cover the myriad complexities of a democratic government but rather to invite viewers to consider timely yet recurrent questions around these themes. Each artist in States of Mind offers a discrete and potent account of how political issues directly affect our daily lives. By illuminating challenging, often entrenched policies, they seek to stimulate discourse and propose social change.

States of Mind reflects the Moody’s mission to cultivate interdisciplinary conversation through the arts. Alison Weaver, the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director, says, “As the political process unfolds, the exhibition will underscore the fundamental role art plays in fostering a dynamic dialogue in the community, especially during this divided time.”  

Organized by Ylinka Barotto, Associate Curator, States of Mind features emerging artists, some of whom are showing work in Texas for the first time such as Janiva Ellis and Camilo Godoy, together with established figures such as Cady Noland and Hank Willis Thomas, among others. The presentation includes paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, and works on paper, providing an intergenerational take on certain aspects of the U.S. democratic system.

The works in States of Mind span the last three decades, and some were created in direct response to the current presidential administration—a period during which many of these issues have been brought to the fore. Installed throughout the Moody’s galleries, States of Mind is designed by exhibition designer and architect Aviva Rubin. Using the cube as a metaphor for democracy, Rubin deconstructs the geometric shape to echo the exhibition’s theme of an imperfect system. The golden walls throughout the galleries point to the aspiration of improving and perfecting government, even as so many of the artworks expose frail social realities.

Highlights from the exhibition include works that question the state of long-standing democratic institutions such as Rodney McMillian’s Untitled (The Supreme Court Painting) (2004–06), made in reaction to the decisive role the Supreme Court played in the 2000 presidential election of George W. Bush over Al Gore. The painting points to the collapse of American values, represented by the iconic building seeming to melt into the ground. The flaccid portrayal of the neoclassical architecture subverts the building’s innate strength, calling out the shortcomings of the justice system as a whole and specifically its failure to protect African Americans. Chris Burden’s L.A.P.D Uniforms (1993), originally created in response to the police brutality during the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent Los Angeles riots in 1992, continues to resonate. Imposing in scale, the uniforms reflect on the outsize power of the police force and instances of its repressive conduct.

Addressing issues of voting access, Aram Han Sifuentes will create a site-specific installation that encourages the public to think about voting as an inclusive act of civic participation. Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t for the 2020 Presidential Election consists of a booth where visitors can cast ballots that question the electoral system, who is excluded from it, and what would happen if those marginalized people were allowed to take part in the democratic process.

Gun control is central to Israeli artist Yael Bartana’s video The Undertaker (2019), which is being presented in the United States for the first time. Filmed in the streets of Philadelphia on the occasion of Bartana’s performance Bury our weapons, not our bodies!, the video uses historical references as well as contemporary expressions of public protest to address the pervasiveness of gun violence in our culture. Mexican artist Teresa Margolles’s El Brillo series (2019) consists of three elegantly hand-embroidered black-velvet garments adorned with glass shards from shootings at the Texas-Mexico border and from the artist’s hometown of Culiacán. The series addresses the violence inextricably connected to the international distribution of U.S.-made guns. 

Immigration is a critical issue for many artists in the exhibition. Guadalupe Maravilla’s Disease Thrower #9 (2019) is a personal account of the displacement, alienation, and uncertainty the artist confronted as an undocumented child migrating to the United States. Maravilla sees the totemic work as a healing conduit to address individual traumas, illness, and disquietudes, as well as the shared circumstances encountered by other migrants. 

Catherine Opie’s Political Collages (2019) is a new body of work created in response to current political and social uncertainties. Animated sequences of images collected from popular magazines will appear on freestanding vertical monitors not only at the Moody and across campus but also dispersed in public locations around the city, thereby connecting the exhibition to the greater Houston community. 

For visitor guidelines and more info: moody.rice.edu

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