ART & THE POLITICAL MOMENT

On Friday, January 13th, the Littman Gallery hosted “Art & The Political Moment,” a panel discussion between PSU art historian, critic, and curator Dr. Sue Taylor; experimental filmmaker Julie Perini; and visiting writer, artist, and editor Noah Dillon (NYC).

For posterity’s sake, and the fact that the snow and ice prevented some people from attending, below is a short note about our panelists and this discussion.

Noah Dillon has contributed to Modern Painters, Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, and artcritical, among others.

What occasioned this panel discussion was essentially Noah Dillon’s visit to Portland. Having read his essays online, particularly a Brooklyn Rail essay titled “What is Art?”, he and I started to correspond about this topic, discussing Duchamp’s ideas and what they might mean (or not) for contemporary art. Noah’s update to this, the urgent question of, “what can art do?” in terms of useful and meaningful activity, seemed well-timed as the, let’s face it, insane U.S. Presidential election drew to a close, leaving perhaps an attendant sense of futility at leisurely, conventional activities like painting nice pictures and so forth. I thought that a talk by Noah would generate insight as to what we as artists, curators and writers, students and teachers in the humanities, can and should do at the confounding juncture we find ourselves.

If history accounts for facts that’ve come before, what’s the answer to the confusion that comes once all the so-called “facts” are in? Is there a creative salve to the pangs of resentment, fear, and rage that the public threat that fascism, racism, misogyny, and hate come with? Might that be Art? And if so, is it art practice, art viewing, art sales? Is it group- or personally engaged? What is “Art,” and what can it do during times of social upheaval, war, moral and cultural strife? These are the questions that our panel considered. It just so happens that Julie Perini’s involvement and work in her First 100 Days, provided some clear answers to the question of “what can we do now?” Likewise, having attended compelling lectures in Dr. Taylor’s 20th Century Art series, I knew that she too would have much to offer to the conversation, relative to art, and, as ever, its necessity as a radically free, individual practice.

Anyone can make art, but then, as it’s all subjective, the question can and maybe should be asked, so what? In the epoch we find ourselves, that of oligarchic capitalism in the Anthropocene, it’s this so-what that challenges conventional art in practice and analysis today.

As a representative for the Littman, we recognize that for many in today’s world, just setting foot past the front door can be political — and for some, threatening — and I acknowledge that we’re talking about human acts and bodies that produce them. With an endlessly various set of perceptions and ideas, there’s just no shortcut to the answers for these questions. I’ll paraphrase poet and art critic Bill Berkson, to say that “Art is a variety of social behavior,” which has many facets and possibilities for us to keep in mind.


Dr. Sue Taylor is Professor of Art History in the School of Art + Design and Associate Dean in the College of the Arts here at PSU. She is also a corresponding editor for Art in America, and a prolific art critic. Professor Taylor’s book on German-born Surrealist Hans Bellmer, The Anatomy of Anxiety, appeared in 2000 from MIT Press, and her essay “Grant Wood’s Family Album” won the Smithsonian’s Patricia & Philip Frost Prize in 2005.

Julie Perini creates experimental and documentary videos and films, installations, and events. Her work often explores the areas between fact and fiction, staged and improvised, personal and political. Perini has been co-organizing First 100 Days, a resource to support creative resistance to the Trump regime, offering a platform for artists and non-artists alike to share skills and ideas for participating in street protests and creative interventions. Perini is also Associate Professor of Art Practices, Video & Time-Based Media here at PSU.