Many would argue that the entire history of art is political. Some artists would go further claiming that every piece of art as such is a political act. Particularly some circles within conceptual art link the aesthetics with the political. Therefore many conceptual artists refuse to embrace the aesthetics as a norm in art practice. It’s not only the concept that is in the very center of artistic practice; it is about the political subjectivity of the artist in the moment when he or she creates art, and the subjectivity of the public. These types of deliberations are only one part of the enormously important movement within conceptual art, highlighting the connection between political and art, which largely influences the contemporary art in general. Charles Gaines, one of the most important figures of conceptual art in the United States, certainly belongs to the above mentioned movement within contemporary art. The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles organizes an exhibition of his works.
Charles Gaines’ art can be traced back to the very beginnings of the first generation of conceptualists, to the period between the end of 1960s and the first years of 1970s. As many conceptual artists of that period, Charles Gaines was initially influenced by the postmodern philosophy that had a big impact on the artistic practices of that time. He began to be interested in how the rules adopted within dominant discourse can construct order and meanings. Further on, Gaines was interested in practices that examined the representation of the meanings in the complex interplay between objectivity and interpretation. He investigated the ways in which meaning can be experienced in images and words. Therefore, the visual representation of his works is often characterized by the traditional artistic media and the text exhibited parallel with the medium. Gaines constantly insist on the question of the artist’s and the public’s subjectivity, that is usually connected with the political issues. That is why his works characterize the aesthetics of the political subjectivity of everyone involved in the piece of art, thus examining the ways of the artistic interpretation of different meanings.
The works that will be exhibited at the Hammer Museum are covering the period in which Charles Gaines’ work was largely influenced by the dominant political, social and cultural context of those years. His works are touching the questions such as the representation of African-American citizens, in a period that is known in history as an African-American Civil Rights Movements. It is interesting to see how his works created in the period of the Civil Right Movement are understood today, when both the discourse and the context have changed. The language of the dominant discourse has changed, so the perception of the piece of art would be different today than it was 40 years ago. At the exhibition we are announcing we will see many works by Gaines that superficially have nothing to do with politics, yet all of them are deeply connected with the political, or at least with the politics of language and politics of representation.
The exhibition of the work at Hammer Museum is curated by Naima. J. Keith, and is organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem. The organization of the exhibition was made possible by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The extraordinary works by Charles Gaines will be on view from February 7th until May 24th, at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
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Images courtesy of the artist, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects and Hammer Museum.