This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

31Oct/20

MINISTRY OF TRUTH: 1984/2020 EXHIBITION AND Q&A

Sue Coe’s “We Are Many. They Are Few.” can be found at Morgan Ave. & Harrison St. in Brooklyn (photo courtesy Art at a Time Like This)

Who: Abigail de Ville, Marilyn Minter, Deborah Kass, Ruj Greigarn, Barbara Pollack, Anne Verhallen
What: “What Have Artists Contributed to the 2020 Election?” live, online discussion about new outdoor exhibition
Where: Art at a Time Like This Zoom
When: Monday, November 2, free with RSVP (donations accepted), 7:00 (exhibition continues through at least November 20)
Why: On March 17, just at the start of the pandemic lockdown, Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen launched Art at a Time Like This, a website that asked the question, “How can you think of art at a time like this?,” kicking off months of daily postings of politically charged old and new works by dozens of major artists, in addition to lively Zoom discussions exploring the role of art and the artist in the age of Covid-19. Pollack and Verhallen have now moved their activism outdoors with the ambitious “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020,” a collection of twenty billboards located across the five boroughs, featuring new, civically conscious designs by an impressive group of emerging and established artists. The winners were chosen out of twelve hundred submissions, some through an open call, by Pollack and Verhallen with the Bronx Museum’s Jerome LaMaar, independent curator Larry Ossei-Mensah, Carmen Hermo of the Brooklyn Museum, and the Queens Museum’s Sophia Marisa Lucas, resulting in a wide range of diverse works from graduate students and international stars, responding to the failures of the current administration.

V. L. Cox reveals “The End Hate Doors” at 21st St. & 44th Rd. in Queens (photo courtesy Art at a Time Like This)

“I think what has been our way of working is that over the course of seven or eight months, we’ve always had a direct response to the moment, and so the way we worked was also very much in the moment,” Verhallen said during a recent Zoom interview. “The first day that we launched the online exhibition, we didn't know that we were going to make it into a nonprofit, but everything was very organic, and so was this first public project. This is the first of many to come, hopefully.”

Pollack and Verhallen make no bones about the goal of “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020,” which was organized by Art at a Time Like This with Save Art Space. The name of the exhibition refers to a trio of slogans emblazoned on the white pyramid that is the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984: “War Is Peace.” “Freedom Is Slavery.” “Ignorance Is Strength.”

“One of our main goals is to demonstrate that artists have ideas that need to be brought into the political conversation, that they envision other ways of looking at things, alternative ways of looking at things, and solutions for the future that are not part of the political debate,” Pollack said. “So we thought with the election coming up, we needed to provide some kind of special platform for art in response to crisis.”

Shirin Neshat’s “America Land of Dreams” interacts with other signage at Grand St. & Catherine St. in Brooklyn (photo courtesy Art at a Time Like This)

In an email blast, they declared, “Early voting has started and this administration has taken to the courts to cut mail-in deadlines. Other absurd restrictions and rules encouraging voter intimidation are also in the courts, facing decisions by Trump-appointed federal judges. So to ensure your vote is counted, get to your polling place early or drop off ballots before next Tuesday. Let’s hope for a clear-cut decision that leaves no question of the outcome. . . . On your way to your polling place, take a look around you. You’ll probably find one of the billboards in ‘Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020’ along your way.”

You can rent a car, take public transportation, or get on a bike and trek around to see as many of the billboards as you can; there are ten in Brooklyn, four in Queens, three in the Bronx, two in Staten Island, and one in Manhattan. (You can find the complete map here.) On Atlantic Ave. and Classon Ave., Deborah Kass proclaims, “Yo Vote!” in bold yellow letters on a blue background. Marilyn Minter calls for “Justice Now!” (Eleventh Ave. & Forty-Fifth St.) in glam graffiti. Sue Coe’s “We Are Many. They Are Few.” (Morgan Ave. and Harrison St.) is a graphic black-and-white depiction of two giant cops trampling over a Black Lives Matter rally as a city burns in the background. Helina Metaferia’s “Headdresses 6” (Webster Ave. and East 173rd St.) reveals a black woman’s headdress to include leaders of the Black Power Movement. Mel Chin’s “Flag of America 2020” (Jackson Ave. at the Pulaski Bridge) shows Old Glory with the stars divided in two, twenty-five on each side, while Holly Ballard Martz also incorporates the Stars and Stripes in “The Greatest Show on Earth” (Calyer St. and McGuinness Blvd.), complete with a “No Exit” sign. And in Ruj Greigarn’s “The Marching” (Myrtle Ave. and Cornelia St.), a nonbinary person in a blue blouse, black pants, and black high-heeled boots walks down the street carrying a rainbow flag. Other billboards by Shirin Neshat, Dread Scott, Abigail de Ville, Dan Perjovschi, Aaron Gilbert, Akinbo Akinnouye, Guerrilla Girls BroadBand, Lola Flash, Angela Portillo, Rachel Hsu, Holly Martz, Terry Berkowitz, V. L. Cox, and Ileana Hernandez also involve dissent, racism, hate, injustice, immigration, police brutality, and an America that is supposed to be the land of dreams.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find words around everything that’s happening, and artists are so attuned to how our communities feel,” Verhallen said over Zoom. “So besides giving the artist a voice in a public space, it also provides the audience with a sense of camaraderie and catharsis.”

Lola Flash’s “i pray” makes its point at Utica Ave. & Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn (photo courtesy Art at a Time Like This)

Talking about reviewing the submissions, Pollack notes, “It was this great outpouring of humanity. It was really moving to look through them. It was amazing how much people had to say.”

Verhallen adds, “Both Barbara and I got really emotional when we went through it because it really felt like an outpouring of people’s hearts. The last couple of months, there’s been a real demonstration from voices that have been unheard, so it was quite an experience to go through the works.”

On November 2 at 7:00, election eve, Pollack and Verhallen will host the live, interactive Zoom discussion “What Have Artists Contributed to the 2020 Election?,” joined by Greigarn, de Ville, Minter, and Kass, each of whom has previously contributed work to Art at a Time Like This. Admission is free with RSVP.

Oh, and no matter where you are, be sure to vote, because that’s what all of this is about.

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