Conspiracy! Fake News!
In the exhibition, Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy, MET Breuer reaches back in time and traces the simultaneous development of two kinds of art about conspiracy. Works based on historical research, and investigative reporting and ‘plunging down the rabbit hole’ works where facts and fantasy freely intermingle – a state of being that is all too familiar these days. The exhibition Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy is the first major exhibit to tackle this perennially provocative topic.
The cartoonish iconography below entitled Hitler’s Brain Is Alive by American artist Peter Saul riffs on the title of a lowbrow sci-fi movie from 1968 entitled They Saved Hitler’s Brain ~ the artists satirical take on the monstrous abuses of Iraqi detainees by American forces at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
Below, Wake Up, 1969 was painted by artist Gerald Williams, who cofounded the Chicago-based collective AfriCOBRA, whose members sought to “bridge the concerns of their oppressed communities of color with an exuberant painting style.” This painting/collage references a broadsheet of mysterious origin ~ The King Alfred Plan ~ which was first referenced in John a. Williams’s The Man Who Cried I Am (1967), a fictionalized account of the perfection of black writers such as Richard Wright and James Baldwin. The King Alfred Plan “warned of mass internment of African Americans in the event of civil unrest, and versions of the document circulated in inner cities before being picked up by community-based activist newspapers.”
Below, The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview, 1976 ~ the year the House Select Committee on Assassinations was formed. Lutz Bacher (btw-book launch this month) answered a request for an interview with this eighteen-part collage and typescript, which both fulfilled and subverted the task. in it, she mimics the ragged cut-and-paste aesthetic of conspiracy subcultures at the exact moment that their interests were becoming known in mainstream culture. Here, Bacher uses Oswald as a stand-in for the “illegibility” of others and the slipperiness of identity.
Below, Sarah Anne Johnson’s ‘House on Fire‘ ~ “In the late 1950s Johnson’s grandmother, Velma Orlikow, entered treatment for postpartum depression at Allan memorial Institute in Montreal under the care of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, a renowned psychiatrist. Although Orlikow went willingly, she and her family were unaware that her treatment was part of the CIA-sponsored MK-ULTRA mind-control program. For several years, Orlikow was involuntarily subjected to permanently mind-altering brainwashing experiments involving extreme electroshock therapy, sleep deprivation, and large doses of LSD and other psychochemicals. Johnson’s meticulous dollhouse reveals the shocking details of Orlikow’s story, using hallucinatory and frightening imagery to expose how the torture inflicted by the psychiatric institution invaded the family home. Each unsettling room portrays an aspect of maltreatment, distortion, and abuse, creating an uncanny visualization of the family’s unimaginable trauma.”
Below ~ Martian Portraits by Jim Shaw ~ inspired by amusing and clumsy reportage in supermarket tabloid photography.
Below, the painting Government of California, 1969 by artist Peter Saul is a kaleidoscopic depiction of tangled protuberances and bulbous limbs evoking a period when protests against the Vietnam War and Civil Rights consumed much of the country, resulting in sometimes violent police and military reprisals. You will notice ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, as Frankenstein’s monster, with a syringe of illegal drugs protruding from his head ~ referencing the conspiracy theory that the right-wing politician’s power over the counterculture derived in part from the government’s covert inundation of antiwar groups and communities of color with drugs in order to neutralize their opposition.
The thought provoking exhibition, Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy, features seventy works by thirty artists in media ranging from painting and sculpture to photography, video and installation art from 1969 to 2016. The exhibition presents an alternate history of postwar and contemporary art that is also an archaeology of our troubled times. Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy will be on view through March 31, 2019.
The MET Breuer is located at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, NYC.
Also in the news, MET Breuer making way for The Frick Collection to take the Whitney Museum of American Art space in late 2020.