If you are one of the the five remaining undecided voters in today’s U.S. presidential election, just ask yourself, “who would Jackson Pollock vote for?” In yesterday’s article for The Guardian, British art critic Jonathan Jones mined Washington, D.C.’s art treasures for kernels of partisan meaning.
At the Hirshhorn, he detected a strong anti-China — and perhaps even pro-Mitt Romney — sentiment in Ai Weiwei’s minimalist installation of debris from a cheaply constructed school that collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, though advocating for more education spending sounds like a pro-Barack Obama position to us.
(For the record, as amusing as Jones’s whimsical take is, in 2008, Ai wrote the following in his blog: “Tonight my heart thumps with anticipation, because I hope Obama wins tomorrow. I hope that tomorrow’s United States will have a ‘non-american’ president, an American of color with an accent who, like Yang Jia, comes from a single-parent family who is young, inexperienced, and scrawny, even though I can’t get too excited about a democracy process that I have nothing to do with. I hope this new stranger will win.”)
In Chuck Close’s portrait of his grandmother-in-law, Fanny, Jones comes “face to face with the kind of ordinary, middle-class American both candidates are desperate to woo.” Although the “enlarged scale makes the face an emphatic celebration of individualism,” Fanny belongs to the Dems because “there’s a warmth and tenderness to the work, too, a feeling of caring.” The portrait isn’t only pro-Obama, it’s pro Obama-care: “With its grand sense of human frailty and the implication that we must care for one another.”
Over at the National Gallery, Richard Serra’s “Five Plates, Two Poles” mirror America’s current post-industrial crisis. Jones reads it as a paen to American manufacturing:
Rust in colour and blue collar in status, this mighty sculpture suggests not the power and glory of the Republican individual making millions and bestriding the world, but the dwarfing of people by mighty machines and great cities. Running counter to the Republicans’ notion of a chosen land whose people don’t need a supportive state (just low taxes and free markets), Serra’s work shows us the America its great artists have seen: a place of sorrow, suffering and vulnerability, chronicled with compassion.
But Jones really gets cooking when he segues into historical fiction. “Even the dead guys seem to be voting Democrat,” he observes. Jackson’s Pollock’s “Lavender Mist” is a testament to American freedom, “the freedom of the blues and jazz that Pollock played as he painted.” Jones seems to be projecting his own ideals onto Pollock’s metaphysical, emphatically apolitical brand of avant-gardism. In fact, Pollock pretty much abandoned his leftist politics when he became a savvy businessman whose main product was drip paintings. Nevertheless, Pollock would never endorse Romney. The man doesn’t even drink.
How would other famous dead artists vote in the 2012 election? Thomas Kinkade’s sentimental regionalism and entrepreneurship puts him squarely in red state territory. Andy Warhol is a one-man swing state: gay but pro-business. Obama’s neoliberal economics and penchant for bailing out big banks would have been too milquetoast for radicals like Courbet, Picabia, and Malevich, who probably would have endorsed a Green party candidate Jill Stein.
Young Dali would have voted for Obama, late Dali would have swung Romney, as would have arch-conservative Edgar Degas. Randy artists Klimt, Manet, and Picasso would have balked at Romney’s puritanical social mores and endorsed a more pro-sex candidate. Jacques-Louis David was something political switch-hitter, so who knows how he might have voted. Apolitical dandy Marcel Duchamp might have voted for Obama, or not voted at all. Obama would probably have the vote of Renaissance humanists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, though they would have to be brought up to speed on hot button issues like Medicare, the Bush-era tax cuts, federal funding for abortion providers, and electoral politics in general.
Precious little is known about Vermeer‘s political views, but, judging by his artistic output, he seemed to think women’s place was in the home. He may have had had binders full of women performing traditional domestic chores.
— Chloe Wyma
(Image: Detail from Dan Lacey’s “Nude Obama Romney Horses And Bayonets,” 2012. Via the artist.)