Smile Politely

Art that’s not just pretty

The Krannert Art Museum is currently running two exhibitions that provide an opportunity to see art perform political work and provoke the political in us.

First, till April 6th, Not Ready to Make Nice: Guerrilla Girls in the Art World and Beyond is an aesthetic exposé of the global sexism that pervades our world up to and through this very day. Particularly, the exhibit concentrates on how sexism manifests itself in the art world, with truly shocking disparities in representation and recognition in museums and by award committees. The Guerilla Girls make profound use of statistics in their art works, deftly integrating them, amplifying their impact. It is a wonderful opportunity to see what art can do when statistics that otherwise lie dormant on an Excel sheet come to life and grip us in this exhibit.

Meanwhile, we should note that the Guerilla Girls have been a revolutionary presence in the art world since forming in 1985. Advocating for gender and racial equality in a space that is otherwise considered to be bourgeois, their advocacy-through-art reveals the revolutionary potential and, hence, significance, of both intervention and attention to this space. Having not been familiar with them before, I deeply appreciate the exposure to their movement and work, reinvigorating the hope and investment I have in their space of intervention.

Then, running through May 4th, complimenting the Guerrilla Girls, Art as Provocation is a wonderfully curated exhibit (by Kathryn Koca Polite) of works from Krannert’s permanent collection. Encompassing a number of mediums and materials from artists of varying backgrounds, the exhibit’s eclecticism with a political core asks us to see the world anew. From more straightforward works, to the eccentric, to the exuberantly detailed, our modes (or norms) of perception are challenged with each new political context, asking us to see the work on its own terms. Accordingly, these terms are both those of their political context and its subversion. There is enough variety to find things you will like more or less, but each will demand something of you in its own way that I ask you to consider, as the artists do, if only for a moment.

There is a certain element of privilege that accompanies most museum visits, but these exhibits provoke us to come to that awareness: not just in that space, but also when we leave, back into the world of our daily lives. I waited longer than I should have to make my visit, so I hope, with the time that is left (especially with regard to the Guerrilla Girls!), that you will take advantage of this opportunity to honor Krannert, these artists, and the political contexts that motivate the works you will see. In a provocative gesture in accord with these exhibits: visiting them, seeing them, is your civic responsibility.

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