Follow the Money

HIllary Billary vs Donald Dollar

HIllary Billary vs Donald Dollar

I’m Mark Wagner and I Approve This Message opened at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York City on September 8, 2016. Mark Wagner’s medium is money. His mesmerizing collages are meticulously composed from cut fragments of currency, mostly one dollar bills. Monochromatic black and green, except where bits of more colorful foreign bills are employed as accents, Wagner fashions detailed allegorical scenes, over-size postcards from continental capitals, mottoes, and portraits of such personalities as Hillary Clinton—Hillary Billary—and Donald Trump—Dollar Donald.

Hedge Fund

Hedge Fund

Wagner’s stunning elaborate paper mosaics evoke both oriental and Byzantine art. The father of our country, George Washington, dominates. He is trimmed into compositional details that reflect each other like mirrors focused on mirrors but, full-size, George is tucked in with a teddy bear under a currency quilt. Wagner’s commentary remains open ended: no one is standing yet in the spotlight illuminating the podium center stage in Hail to the Chief. 

Hail to the Chief

Hail to the Chief

To see more of Wagner’s:






blogpost by Barbara A. Mateer

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Propaganda: Pro or Con? With a Post Script Concerning Political Speech

The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary states that the word propaganda derives from Congregatio de propaganda fide: “Congregation for propagating the faith, organization established by Pope Gregory XV” in 1622.  The organization, founded to promote missionary work, was housed in a complex designed by, among others, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the artist who would give the world the sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a saint overwhelmed by a rapturous vision.

In November of 1937 the Institute for Propaganda Analysis published “the seven common propaganda devices” in its Propaganda Analysis. To wit:

  1. The Name Calling Device
  2. The Glittering Generalities Device
  3. The Transfer Device
  4. The Testimonial Device
  5. The Plain Folks Device
  6. The Card Stacking Device
  7. The Band Wagon Device

Asking “Why are we fooled by these devices?” the authors conclude “ . . . propaganda as generally understood is expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends.”

Page back to 1925 when in Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler assessed the use of propaganda: “The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 10.04.31 AMA panel discussion considering propaganda was held on July 27, 2016, in conjunction with the art exhibit Of the people at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, New York. The moderator, Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic editor in chief, gave an eccentric Campbell’s soup condensed overview of propaganda’s history. Starting with the Philistines, noting that in the 16th century Martin Luther enlisted the German artist Lucas Cranach to promote his image and that the Catholic church countered with anitProtestant propaganda, Vartanian described how propaganda morphed from words to images, emerging with both Third Reich posters and Uncle Sam. Also how the CIA subsidized European tours of abstract expressionist artists, promoting the art as American individualism—a salvo to counter Soviet realism.

Daniel Bejar “Rec-elections (Let’s Make America Great Again, RNC, #1)” site-specific performance (Tampa, FL)

Panel participant Daniel Bejar had a unique and illuminating way of parsing some propaganda.  An interdisciplinary artist, he draws from his archive of political campaign posters and buttons. Stripping them of their specific images, he reveals the slogans in their frames. It’s striking how taglines repeat from one campaign to another. Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” is Ronald Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again” minus the Let’s.

Dyke Action Machine! (DAM!)

Dyke Action Machine! (DAM!)

Can propaganda do good?  Sue Schaffner, also a member of the propaganda discussion panel, most emphatically said yes! Schaffner is a cofounder of DYKE ACTION MACHINE! (DAM!), begun in 1991.  And DAM! has successfully used Schaffner’s photography to co-opt such images as the ubiquitous GAP celebrity billboards with the aim of promoting representation of lesbians in American popular culture.  Answering the question can you be ironic and radical at the same time? Schaffner says “We got you to look at it.”

The Agitprop! exhibit this summer at the Brooklyn Museum took as its mission linking social movements with artistic statements created in a variety of media.  Works by contemporary artists shared the galleries with images from the turn of the 20th century documenting the women’s suffrage movement and campaigns against lynching.

Safdar Hashmi, Sahmat Collective

Safdar Hashmi, SAHMAT Collective

Some were practical.  To protest the deadly beating of socialist street theater activist Safdar Hashmi in 1989, SAHMAT, which means in agreement in Hindi, urged drivers to decorate their rickshaws with statements promoting communal harmony. After receiving an award for best design the rickshaw on view may have been one of many that continued to ride the streets of Delhi when the competition was over.  And if you want to save a tree by living in it there was a tasteful swing that even had a cup holder.

No question the technology of modern media can make propaganda more insidious. Daniel Bejar acted transparently when in his Rec-elections project a large poster “Romney Great for ’68” with a photo of Romney père was raised at a protest march during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida (father and son look remarkably alike).  But 100 years from now will people be able to differentiate propaganda from art? DAM!’s media-savvy Sue Schaffner said even she sometimes can’t tell whether an image is real or from The Onion. So all we can do for now is be very wary.

PA vote stickerP.S. This has been a discussion of propaganda. But in light of the upcoming presidential election what of political speech?  New York City election rules forbid electioneering within 100 yards of a polling place. This would seem to dictate that so as not to promote spur-of-the-moment conversions an advocate may not harangue or offer literature supporting a candidate to voters approaching a poll within that limit. Fair enough.  But a recent poll workers’ training class advised the would-be poll workers that if citizens turn up at the poll wearing anything like a button, t-shirt, or hat declaring a political preference this constitutes electioneering and those citizens must be turned away until they reappear without any item visibly declaring their affiliation. Don’t worry—those who do cross the threshold are entitled to wear a sticker that reads “I voted” after their ballot is cast.

blogpost by Barbara A. Mateer

Goshka Macuga: Time as Fabric


Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that is not 1 (2012)


(detail) Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that is not 1 (2012)

The enormous black-and-white wool tapestries  which lined the walls of the second floor of the New Museum in New York City were fantastic—literally so.  In Time as Fabric, the first New York museum presentation of the work of London-based Polish-born Goshka Macuga, photographic images of everyone from Uncle Sam to Joseph Beuys are superimposed together on evocative landscapes.  Imagine if Marcel Duchamp had access to Photoshop (yes, Duchamp is in attendance too). Picture collages assembled on photographs of such locations as Kabul, Afghanistan, and the “Lost Forty” Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota.

The resulting images are expertly loomed into 10-foot panels that are seamlessly matched.  Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that is not 1 (2012) spanned the full north-south length of the gallery with that photo of Kabul.  The woven images are as clear from across the room as a snapshot you could hold in your hand but if you step up close you can see the warp and the woof.

On the Nature of the Beast (2009) features a tapestry within the tapestry.  In 1955 Nelson Rockefeller commissioned a full-size woven reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica.


On the Nature of the Beast (2009)

The tapestry was hung outside the UN Security Council but when Colin Powell stood in front of it to deliver his speech asserting the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq a blue curtain covered it. Macuga has also produced a bronze bust of Powell holding a vile of anthrax.


When one stepped off the elevator the first thing seen was basically a stage set with placeholder photographs of a cast supported on chairs, Angela Merkel among the bunch.  Walk around the side of Preparatory Notes (2014) and you see the wooden framework supporting the set and the sandbags that hold it in place.


This raises a question: the technique of the Flemish machine weavers who actually fabricate Macuga’s tapestries could be a trade secret but why is there not a playbill to acknowledge the many people who were necessary to bring Time as Fabric into being?  Does not naming the people behind the scenes make Goshka Macuga a voyeur?

For technical details of the photo process that creates the resolution of the tapestry images see Greg Beckel’s “Compositing Goshka Macuga’s Lost Forty tapestry (A Study for Photoshop Geeks).”  As you study the tapestry you will find signage that reminds us that ART IS POW=R! and ARTIST POWER!

blogpost by Barbara A. Mateer

Look At Me


What do you see when you look in the mirror? What do you see when you look back? What do you put on when you get dressed? Time can make a pointed confluence.

In Darshan Singh Bhuller’s film Das Modell, the Dancer & Lola Patrick Harding-Irmer confronts coming to terms with the deception of his mother—Lola.  Lola fabricated a history, hiding the identity of Harding-Irmer’s father as a German Olympic athlete, one chosen to be a model of Aryan perfection, an icon.  Lola, who had Australian roots, graduated from Berlin University and attended the Günther School in Munich, a training center for gymnastics and dance.  When the Günther School was selected to take part in the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin Lola taught the choreography to 2,000 gymnasts, designating their placement in the Olympic stadium.  Also prominently on display in the stadium were statues of the ”ideal” man. One of these was a decathlete specializing in the pole vault.  Lola’s chance encounter with this athlete led to Harding-Irmer’s birth.  Lola relocated to Australia where she established her own gymnastic school and kept her German liaison a secret.


It was only much later that Harding-Irmer, a gifted dancer with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, learned who his father was.  It took Harding-Irmer four years to accede to Bhuller’s urging that his story be told.  The result is a compelling documentary.  Das Modell, the Dancer & Lola was screened on June 4, 2016, at the Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center in New York City.

A BBC broadcast on June 17th describes an equally compelling confrontation: in Detmold, Germany, following a four month trial, former Auschwitz guard Reinhold Hanning was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail for complicity in mass murder.  Auschwitz survivors had given graphic testimony and Hedy Bohm, Erna de Vries, William Glied, and Leon Schwarzbaum were present in the courtroom at the time of sentencing.  The 94-year-old Hanning declared, “I want to say that it disturbs me deeply that I was part of such a criminal organization. I am ashamed that I saw injustice and never did anything about it and I apologize for my actions. I am very, very sorry.”  According to the BBC this could be one of the last trials of a Nazi official involved in the Holocaust.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.10.49 PM

Contrast this with Uniformity, currently on display at The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in Manhattan through 19 November 2016.  The exhibit displays crisply starched uniforms in their better nature: for nurses, police, soldiers, sailors, school children, even McDonald’s workers, and how these iconic images have been fancifully transformed by fashion designers.  Curator Emma McClendon writes “The push-pull between the identity of a group and that of an individual is a constant tension in modern society.”  What’s on view provokes questions about depictions of rank, hierarchy.  What is mundane and what is the use of camouflage?


Taken altogether the conundrum remains—what is illusion? what is deception? and what is real? How do we reconcile this day to day?

blogpost by Barbara A. Mateer

Art=Ammo: All it Costs is Chalk

Simple concept using art for social awareness. June 2nd is National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

From the Art=Ammo website. (

“In the words of Brecht, ‘Non-action is a tragic flaw’. As artists we have the responsibility to create work that elicits a response… empathy, introspection. A first step toward changing attitudes. Join us as we breakthrough soundbites and political shouting with art to remember lives lost and stop people in their tracks to think about gun violence.”

– Lorin Latarro

Emory Douglas “We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains” Urban Justice Center, NYC

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 7.18.22 PM


“We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Chains” celebrates the art of Emory Douglas. The exhibit, which opened with a reception Thursday, May 19, 2016, at the Urban Justice Center in New York City, puts on display Douglas’s strong graphic work and commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panther Party as advocates for positive social change.  The people filling the gallery that evening, many grey haired, some younger, eagerly listened to the 72 years young Douglas speak about his life work.  Those present from the early days of the Black Panther movement were asked to stand to be acknowledged. Urban Justice Center managing director Shani Jamila, an artist herself, curated the exhibit of Douglas’s work, culling from the collection of Alden and Mary Kimbrough.



Artist and minister of culture for the Black Panthers from February 1967 to the early 1980s, Emory Douglas brings into sharp focus the temper of the time, a time of hope and possibility and, yes, frustration and divisiveness.  Douglas found his voice, expressed in visually direct statements that were circulated widely in The Black Panther newspaper.  Keenly focused on the needs of community, on injustice, inequality, the bold lines of Douglas’s art speak volumes. Emory Douglas’s clear vision needs to be seen today more than ever.


blogpost by Barbara A. Mateer

Are you ready to make political art?

So many of us feel frustrated with the political process as we watch celebrity “trump” substantive discourse around serious issues, too often we feel discouraged and powerless.  As artists we have the tools to process feelings, to raise questions and to explore them by any means necessary.  We can interpret the past, the present or imagine the future.  Art is a powerful tool which can be used to present alternative viewpoints or to breakdown complex issues fueled by emotions.  Sometimes we hold back fearful of reprisal and misunderstanding or we are paralyzed by the question is political art really art?

But we can learn from one another.  Molly Crabapple is an artist who uses her work to advance conversation around issues of race, social justice and human rights.

“Molly Crabapple is an artist, journalist, and author of the memoir, Drawing Blood. Called “An emblem of the way art can break out of the gilded gallery” by the New Republic, she has drawn in and reported from Guantanamo Bay, Abu Dhabi’s migrant labor camps, and in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, and Iraqi Kurdistan. Crabapple is a contributing editor for VICE, and has written for publications including The New York Times, Paris Review, and Vanity Fair. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.” Bio from Crabapple’s website.

Molly Crabapple talks about her artistic journey with Christiane Amanpour.

For more on Molly Crabapple go to her website.

Thinking about art for social change?

It’s 2016, a Presidential election year, the time for reflection, action and vigorous debate.  A time to highlight the critical issues that we face as a nation: immigration, black lives matter, education, economic inequality, social justice, access to healthcare, a woman’s right to choose, climate change, financial and corporate reform.  The list goes on and on and though it may be long we’re founded on optimism for soon we will cast our votes and back the candidates who we think will rise to meet the challenges these issues pose.

As artists we are uniquely positioned to examine the problems we all face and show them through a different lens, to help us see what we didn’t see before, to spark a new idea, to evoke a feeling or reaction by triggering empathic and compassionate responses to troubling situations or events.  Think of Diego Rivera’s murals, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Jacob Lawrence’s paintings, Keith Haring’s graffiti, Red Groom’s Woolworth’s Tower, in Pittsburgh Vanessa German’s assemblages and Art House, Ai Weiwei’s installations and our juror, Lonnie Graham’s photography.

We tell people’s stories, we inspire people to think and now we call on you to contribute to this rich tradition of translating shared experience.  We challenge you to listen to the fire in your belly and respond to an issue, research it, think about it, hold, it look at it, make it your own and release it into the world. And if you don’t already, make Art for social change.



To provide a forum for artists to speak through their art for social change.


Art Advocacy Speaks – Art for Social Change’s vision is to host, promote and network with artists who use their medium as a vehicle to encourage participation in democracy