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A Season to Create Protests

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Many N.Y. artists are focusing on expressions of dissent as galleries ready for autumn

The New York art world is abuzz with political activity. A number of Brooklyn and Manhattan protest-themed exhibitions have opened in the past few weeks and long-time veterans of guerilla action have popped up around the city in places like Grand Central Terminal to do political work with artful skill.

Leave it to the recent influx of Republicans to energize and animate artists and gallerists alike in these late August days.

Normally, this is the one time of year that the art world still seems to sleep. A stroll through Chelsea reveals what is really going on. Behind the scenes, the art world is preparing for a new season. Most galleries are closed to the public, or open by appointment only, like Pavel Zoubok Gallery on 23rd Street. Energies shift toward the heavy lifting of closing out one season and beginning another.

With the foot traffic down, and the phones momentarily quiet, there’s a lot to get done in this tiny window of “summer.” It looks like Mathew Marks Gallery on 22nd Street is patching the concrete floor of its huge, momentarily un-partitioned ground floor space. Street-level windows are papered, permitting the gallery’s employees a vacation, if not from work, at least from their fishbowl.

A peek through the window at Bellwether on Tenth Avenue reveals the next show going up, and piles of invitations being readied to go out. (Blessed are the hands that update the mailing list and label those oh-so-many announcement cards).

It used to be that all of August was, at the very least, a month of “dress down Fridays” for the gallery set. It offered gallerists a rest from art world antics and gave the public a chance to see the folks behind the desk as they are—hardworking people with way too much schlep work to do.

That seems like a distant memory. It’s clear that political art is the season opener’s story, as in many ways it should be.

Numerous artists—both those who specialize in political art, and many who do not do so overtly—are rising to the occasion posed by a number of challenges–organizing, fund-raising and speaking out in an effort to topple the Bush administration. This is important work that only a few have sustained an unswerving commitment to over the years, when it was just as necessary and far less glamorous. The work of our dear, recently passed Leon Golub comes to mind.

So as we all rally on through November, let’s remember the many parts to be played. And that some folks are, by necessity, back at work, holding down the fort, and the gallery.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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