Tough times generally breed good art, and in today’s agitated political climate, using satire and anger to respond to the current state of affairs is an act of survival. This idea of persisting through difficult times through art, manifests clearly in ”Art as Witness: Political Graphics 2016–18,” a new SVA-generated exhibition on view from Saturday, October 6, through Saturday, November 3, at SVA Chelsea Gallery. Curated by illustrator, caricaturist and SVA faculty member Steve Brodner and SVA’s Director of Galleries Francis Di Tommaso, “Art As Witness” is a group exhibition of over 200 satirical and politically charged illustrations, cartoons and animations.
Fifty-three prominent artists contributed to “Art As Witness” including Milton Glaser (SVA’s acting chairman of the board), 2018 SVA Masters Series Award recipient Roz Chast and Art Spiegelman. Each artist’s work addresses the issues and controversies surrounding the most polarizing presidential election and administration in recent history. Timed to coincide with the final weeks of the highly anticipated midterm elections, “Art as Witness” comments on the Trump presidency; the #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #NeverAgain movements; the opioid epidemic and the gun-control and immigration debates to encourage activism, spark discussion and, hopefully, inspire action.
“Times of national emergency require a call out to everyone to speak out and take the necessary action,” Brodner says. “Artists are no different. The long tradition of graphic commentary has seen us through the best and worst of times. The need for this collection has only grown with the increasing immensity of our national crisis. While the main focus is on illustration, the variety within that discipline takes us to wild and unexpected places. In a time of editorial instability, the work in this discipline may, on the whole, be at an all-time peak.”
“Art as Witness” features a diverse group of artist-activists, many of them also SVA faculty or alumni. The participating artists include Najeebah Al-Ghadban , Gail Anderson (BFA 1984 Graphic Design), Marshall Arisman, Andrea Arroyo, Istvan Banyai, Melinda Beck, Louisa Bertman (MFA 2015 Visual Narrative), R.O. Blechman, Barry Blitt, Steve Brodner, Nancy Burson, Harry Campbell, André Carrilho, Roz Chast , Seymour Chwast, Joe Ciardiello, Sue Coe, John Cuneo, Nathan Fox (MFA 2002, Illustration as Visual Essay), Felipe Galindo, Sally Gardner, Milton Glaser, Robert Grossman, Brad Holland, Frances Jetter , Victor Juhasz, Viktor Koen (MFA 1992 Illustration as Visual Essay), Stephen Kroninger, Anita Kunz, Peter Kuper, David Levine, Nicole Licht, Zoe Matthiessen, Mike McQuade , Oliver Munday, Christoph Niemann, Tim O’Brien, Glenn Palmer-Smith, Hanoch Piven (BFA 1992 Graphic Design), David Plunkert, Bill Plympton (1969 Cartooning, in collaboration with Billy Shebar and David Roberts), Melanie Reim, Rob Rogers, Edel Rodriguez, Chloe Scheffe, Jeff Scher , Nasrin Sheykhi, Yuko Shimizu (MFA 2003 Illustration as Visual Essay), Edward Sorel, Art Spiegelman, Brian Stauffer, Seth Tobocman, Armando Veve , and Olimpia Zagnoli.
Animations, collages, posters, sculptures and videos all will be on view. Highlights include Milton Glaser’s call-to-action SVA subway posters, recently featured in the Design Museum’s ” Hope To Nope“ exhibition in London; Jeff Scher’s animated ” Teach Your Children” music video, which draws parallels between the civil rights protests of the ’60s and present-day demonstrations against unconstitutional policies; three new videos from MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Chair Marshall Arisman on sexual harassment, gun violence and drug addiction; Nancy Burson’s July 2018 Time magazine cover, which superimposes President Trump’s face on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s face; Barry Blitt’s June 2018 New Yorker cover on the Trump administration’s family-separation policy; cartoons by Rob Rogers, who was recently fired from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after 25 years for his sharp critiques of Trump; and a never-before-seen version of Victor Juhasz’s Rolling Stone cover depicting Trump as a tornado.
“One may wonder what concrete results an exhibition like this can attain,” DiTomasso says. “But there is one effect that these 200-plus eclectic, provocative and often humorous images can have: They can appeal, through their eyes, to viewers′ consciences, to their sense of civic duty. They can prompt—better yet, incite—in them the will, now as we near the midterm elections, to do something. To do the only thing that truly counts: to vote.”
This exhibition honors SVA’s beginnings as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, founded in 1947 to encourage socially aware artists in the pursuit of their creative freedom. More than 70 years later, this cornerstone remains essential to the College’s mission.
“Art as Witness” will be accompanied by two free public events. On Thursday, October 11, a reception will be held at the gallery from 6:00–8:00pm. On Thursday, October 18, there will be a panel discussion moderated by BFA Illustration faculty member Steve Brodner, and featuring artists Anita Kunz, Melinda Beck, Bonnie Siegler and MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Chair Marshall Arisman. The evening will begin with a musical performance vocalizing highlights from the Declaration of Independence; the performers will be Neil Rolnick (composer and electronics), Melissa Hughes (soprano), Tomás Cruz (tenor) and Bill Solomon (percussion). It will take place at the SVA Theatre, starting at 6:00pm. For more information, click here.