Matt Adams, Houston art blogger and president of the Visual Arts Alliance, wants to be very clear: “The First 100 Days: Artists Respond” is not an anti-Trump art show.
It just so happens that no artist submitted pro-Trump work.
“Everyone that I talked to about this topic before the call for entries closed said, ‘Now Matt, you know you’re not going to get any pro-Trump work,’” says Adams. “I’m not necessarily surprised, but I am disappointed that we don’t have the other side of the story.”
The idea to curate a juried show came over pizza and beer with friends, as Adams was looking to channel his own frustrations into a project. Though there have been anti-Trump exhibits across the United States over the last year, Adams wanted to put his own spin on it, meaning it was open to those of all political views and that it would correspond with Trump’s hundredth day in office.
“I believe – my crystal ball – that the media, the public, is going to pay attention to April 29, 2017, in a way that we have not paid attention to the hundredth day of any previous president’s presidency,” says Adams. “I’m 48. I’ve grown up hearing ‘oh, the first hundred days, the first hundred days’ thrown around [but] when the hundredth day comes, it just goes. I think this time it’s going to be different and I’m going to be part of that dialogue with this group of artists.”
Adams selected work from 42 different artists – sculpture, photography, mixed media, painting and digital work. Some have previously contributed to politically themed exhibits, like Josh Alan, whose work was displayed in “On Democracy” at the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland. Some you’ll recognize from recent local exhibits, such as Marti Corn’s “Out of Darkness,” featuring photos of and interviews with refugees, or Gary Watson’s “Dear Lieutenant Governor, We’re Just People,” spotlighting the experiences of a trans woman following the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. And some you’ll just know; three have been named to our lists of “100 Creatives”: Anat Ronen (2014), Valentina Kisseleva (2013) and Patrick Palmer (2012).
Artists were required to both demonstrate a mastery of their medium and to submit an artist statement on their works, which was a new twist for many of them. “Visual artists and words? Not so much,” says Adams, adding that he knows of at least three that chose not to submit because of the requirement. Still, he felt it was a key component and was not disappointed in the statements that did come in.
Expect to see phrases like “you better get used to disappointment,” “I refuse to follow this movement,” “humanity will prevail,” and “only then will this have been worth it.” In her statement on her painting Make America Regret Again, Ronen makes clear that she was not looking to create a caricature. The portrait and the hands were from different images available online, which she only combined and set against a background hinting at Nazism. Ronen ends the statement by saying simply, “We are screwed. Bigly.”
“I wanted to create an opportunity for artists to respond to their world at this time. That was my goal,” says Adams. “Art has the power to allow artists to convey human emotions. This is what artists are doing. They are not making a political statement on behalf of anyone else. They’re making statements from their own heart, their own mind, their own experiences.”
Ultimately, Adams says artists want to make art. “There are artists still making work. I’m not going to be surprised if there’s another show. I mean, this is already Houston’s second show of political art. Do you think there’s going to be another? Probably.”
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