Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Report from the Phantom Zone

The recent economic slow down has hit the entire global arts community extremely hard, but strangely, I have not seen many artists using the current state of affairs as the central dialog of their work. This could be because the changes in our economy occurred so recently and quickly, but in general it seems that making art about crisis is one of the fastest and most fundamental ways that people process and respond to any set of circumstances. I have even heard of an artist who collected pieces of debris and was making sculpture while in the Superdome in 2005. The American Red Cross reports that some 275,000 homes were lost during Katrina, and, rightfully, that loss has become the nexus of thousands of artists work. Same with 9/11, same with the wars, or any other large cultural crisis. Artists usually take pride in being cultural first responders that help society gain perspective and work through a crisis through the act of making art. Many estimates expect unemployment to top 30,000,000 by the end of 2009. By the end of 2009, RealtyTrac estimates there will be some 2,000,000 families who have their homes in foreclosure. And that’s just in the US. Where’s the work on those losses?

One installation I saw at the Contemporary in Atlanta had an installation by Detroit native and conceptual sculptor Mark Wentzel called “Morale Hazard”. Wentzel’s installation deals directly with the current economic climate and the traumatic loss felt over the transformation of the auto industry. For his installation, Wentzel has suspended a 1965 Ford Mustang (a classic Detroit muscle car) from the ceiling of the Contemporary in front of a wall drawing of a mustang running head long off of a cliff/graph of economic indicators. Crawling away from the hanging Mustang is an anthropomorphized V-8 engine that appears to have evolved its’ own legs and corporate necktie as if the engine itself is desperately trying to abandon the discarded husk of the previous generation’s concept of the automobile for something new, organic and unknown. Wentzel’s work is able to provoke conceptual questions about our teetering auto industry while simultaneously producing visceral awe at seeing a 3000 pound machine hanging from the ceiling. His work challenges icons of masculinity, freedom, and independence while raising questions about our dependence on the previous century’s social and financial structures. Mark Wentzel’s installation is a fascinating example of work that has multiple modes of entry and directions for interpretation. Subsequently, his gallery talk was filled with people who had hugely diverse interests, like people who were interested in art, people who only wanted to talk about the economy and some people who were just interested muscles cars.
If you have a chance and are Atlanta, go to the Contemporary and check it out. If you see any interesting art about the current economic crisis, please leave a link to it in the comments section.

Installation shot of Mark Wentzel's "Morale Hazard"

Preview discussion with Mark Wentzel before his gallery talk at the Contemporary in Atlanta, May 23, 2009

Interview by: Steve Aishman


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