Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Behold, (Barack Obama’s) America in San Diego

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Since late September, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken Museum of Art have been engaged in a three-museum hang of American art in the collections of the three museums. Titled “Behold, America,” the exhibition could come across as a bit gimmicky: The Timken is a small museo-temple stuffed with mostly Old Masters, SDMA’s collection strength is also Old Masters and the best of MCASD’s collection doesn’t have much to do with its Americanness.

Turns out the three-venue exhibition worked just fine. This is partly because curators at the three institutions created smart groupings of works (especially at the Timken), but it’s substantially because the exhibition is a chance for MCASD to show off its excellent, too-little-seen collection. (MCASD lacks permanent collection galleries, which effectively prevents the quality of its holdings from being better known.)

But it’s also because San Diego is a border city, American by geography and unusually culturally diverse by, well, that same geography. I visited “Behold America” a few days after the 2012 election, the election in which Hispanic voters overwhelmingly voted Democratic became an important, often decisive bloc: The Pew Hispanic Center reported that Latinos voted for Barack Obama by a 44-point margin. Latinos were important, often decisive contributors to Democratic victories in many down-ballot races too.

Throughout the exhibition(s) I saw artwork that reminded me of the election and the campaign. With the results of that election taking full effect this week, I thought I’d share a few favorites over the next day or two.

Vito Acconci, Instant House, 1980. Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Artist Unida Takashawa’s experience of the piece was substantially the same as mine (even though I should have known what the piece ‘does’ because I featured it here in September, 2011).

Instant House reminds me of the way so many conservatives experienced the election: Unaware of what was going on outside their self-created awareness. I thought of Karl Rove’s infamous ‘don’t call Ohio yet!’ command-cum-meltdown on Fox News, of the way a clear pro-Obama tide was clear even as the self-contained Republican media insisted that Mitt Romney would win. (Obama became the first presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower to win twice with over 51 percent of the vote.) ┬áSomething about the way conservatives have built a self-interested bubble for themselves — from the gated communities that keep them from seeing or knowing how the rest of America lives (Zoe Strauss photographed the gated community in which Romney gave his infamous ‘47% rant’ at a fundraiser, more via Slate) to the media outlets they’ve built that allow them to hear dogma rather than data-driven facts — has created an especially polarized America, on in which it’s possible for conservatives to see and hear only what you want to see and hear. Acconci’s piece may specifically reference the Cold War, but there’s something there for today, too.

A drawing for the piece is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

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  1. […] yesterday’s initial post about the MCASD-SDMA-Timken joint “Behold, America: Art of the United States from Three San […]

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