Letter to the Editor by Founder Charles Krause
Letter to the Editor


It is with profound sadness and disappointment that I write to take issue with Mark Jenkins’ brief review of Defining the Art of Change in the Age of Trump, published in the Arts & Style section of the November 4th editions of The Washington Post.

As Jenkin’s notes in the opening line of his review, I am a former Washington Post reporter who, 40 years ago this month, was shot and nearly killed while on assignment for The Post in Guyana. Why that’s relevant is because my efforts to show and encourage American artists to create political art are, as Jenkins notes, a direct result of what I observed time and again during my years as a foreign correspondent for The Post, CBS, and PBS: art can influence political opinion and be a powerful agent of social and political change.

Not always, of course. But often enough, which is why totalitarian regimes, colonial powers, and dictatorships throughout history have kept a close eye on visual artists. And why today, in the United States, few, in any, museums or commercial galleries show contemporary political art that might offend the patrons or politicians they depend on for their survival.

You might be surprised by the heightened caution and fear that exists in Washington’s fine arts community today and by the number of people who have told the founders of The Center for Contemporary Political Art (CCPArt) how brave they think we are for exhibiting art critical of the President and his administration.

And, by the way, how thankful most of them say they are for our presenting Defining the Art of Change in The Age of Trump now, doing what we and nearly a hundred American artists can, and think we should do, to prevent a storm that too many others are making preparations for by sticking their fingers in the air, trying to determine which way the wind’s likely to blow after Tuesday. Their concern isn't the country. It's being on the right side of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if and when the storm hits.

Ours is not.

As much as I respect a critic’s right to his or her opinion, a critic can also be bored, lazy, overworked or burned out, and therefore wrong, about an exhibition. Jenkins refused my offer to send him the “call” notice for this exhibit; the artist’s statements that accompany the works of art in this exhibit; and/or background information about the CCPArt, the entity presenting this exhibit.

In an email exchange with me before his review was published, Jenkins said there was no point sending any additional information because he wouldn’t have “room for all that.” That, the added information, might have resulted in a more informed review. But that apparently didn’t occur to him. Nor was his excuse true. Jenkins has total freedom to review the exhibitions he wishes and to divide the space he’s allotted each Sunday, however, he sees fit.

What's also true is that political art is still frowned upon by the American art establishment, which Jenkins has little use for but isn’t secure enough to confront. In the United States, serious art is not of-the-moment. Nor is it supposed to address social or political issues still controversial enough to appear on the front pages of the country’s remaining newspapers. When Jenkins judges this exhibit of contemporary political art to be “heavy on breaking news,” what he’s saying is that the art in the Defining exhibit is trivial (“visual polemics”) and not worth the time serious collectors might spend looking and acquiring it (“probably won’t age well”).

While he’s entitled to his opinion, it’s also possible he’s missed a turning point in the history of 21st-century art. The political art we're showing is a genuine and legitimate response to The Age of Trump, which serious people now understand is going to require a long time---and a great deal more effort than was originally thought---to overcome, no matter what happens Tuesday.

More and more young artists are creating political art because everything else seems so unimportant by comparison. The art in the Defining exhibit isn’t about “breaking news.” It’s about the issues that have troubled thinking Americans since the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy, promising to rid the country of "Mexican rapists" by building a wall to rival the Great Wall of China. Remember when most people thought The Donald's Wall was a joke?

Jenkins’ throw-away lines would be laughable, too, if they weren’t so glib and dangerously insulting. What does he mean when he writes, two days before an election that may mark the beginning of a power struggle our system isn’t prepared for, that our Defining exhibit “is not recommended for anyone suffering from Trump fatigue…?”

Were he more thoughtful, he would have recommended the Defining exhibit to all those suffering from “Trump fatigue” because it offers one sure way to jolt them out of their complacency and prepare them for whatever lies ahead.

And finally, to dismiss the art in this exhibit as nothing more than “visual polemics” that “probably won’t age well,” suggests he’s forgotten about Goya’s Third of May 1808, considered one of the greatest paintings in the Canon of Western Art, Picasso’s Guernica and the Dada Fair in 1920, to which the Defining show has been compared. The editors of The Washington Post owe America’s visual artists and the founders and supporters of The Center for Contemporary Political Art an apology and a more serious review of Defining the Art of Change in the Age of Trump before it closes November 25th.

Charles A Krause
Founder and Chair of the Board The Center for Contemporary Political Art
Washington, DC

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