Art Never Loots1/14/2015
On a cold Friday night in mid January, some 150 people crowded into a warehouse garage on the east side. The attraction was a one-night art show by Jordan Weber and Mitchell Squire. Weber’s installation included a rusty police car sitting in a large puddle. Spotlights dramatized that one side was painted with the New York Police Department logo, the other side with that of Ferguson Police (Ferguson, Missouri). Red sculptures of blood and 18 cardinals (religious symbols) gushed from the car and flew above it. Squire showed a video he made several years ago of red licorice being stuffed through the windows of a model car.
Despite the political nature of the subject matter, the show had more of an air of celebration than protest. Weber and his art representative, Moberg Gallery, have both been receiving hate mail from people who believe they are encouraging anti-law enforcement protests. The audience, including Des Moines Art Center Director Jeff Fleming, seemed interested in the art — not in protest.
Weber said he began looking to buy a police car the day that a Missouri grand jury declined to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, igniting days of both riots and peaceful protests. He spent two days in Ferguson last summer and excavated materials from the streets in their aftermath. With those, he made his own paints for portraits of Brown, called “American Dreamer.” Collectors Jon and Sara Gaskell bought that series.
“Sara and I made the decision to acquire American Dreamer 1 & 2 because of Jordan,” Jon explained. “Don’t get me wrong, the piece is amazing. But Jordan really wanted to talk to us, and I think understand us, and share with us before we took possession. The story, his reaction, his process, his result, was all so intimate and urgent. The first thing he asked me when I met him was ‘How does it make you feel?’ What was far more important was how it made him feel. The aftereffect is stunning.”
Weber was also on the scene when similar riots broke out in northern California last fall, painting public cartoon murals in Oakland. Last week, his first New York City show opened at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn. New York media described that show, “Respond,” as “a massive exhibition on the perception of injustice.” Despite its alleged size, Weber’s police car was too big to fit in the gallery. Instead, he sent photos of the project.
Whether painting light-hearted murals or making large sculptures, Weber is engaging folks in dialogues about more serious subjects. He’s collecting attention, too.
“Jordan is building a big name for himself in the art world right now. In the last two months, he has been busy on both the east and west coast. If I was putting my personal money into any one emerging artist from L.A. to New York, Jordan would be on the top of my list,” said Moberg Gallery owner TJ Moberg.
The negative reactions to the art remind one of the Robert Mapplethorpe controversy of 1989. That photographer drew ire for depicting gay lifestyles. I don’t recall anything in his exhibition, which was cancelled by Washington D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery, that one doesn’t see in most Gay Pride parades these days. Art is not dogmatic. Everyone sees something a little different in art, no matter what the subject. All art is political in the sense that it engages society, either by influencing it or being influenced by it. And art never throws bricks through grocery store windows.
Iowa Architectural Foundation announced its fifth annual “Snapshot Iowa,” a photography contest open to all Iowa seventh – 12th graders. This year’s theme is “Places to Remember.” Students are asked to photograph a public place that is important to them. Details : www.iowaarchfoundation.org CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.