Los Angeles: Manifest Equality
Manifest Equality, a five-day benefit to raise funds for The Courage Campaign, was a refreshing progression in the history of issue-based exhibitions. A panel of judges consisting of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Hammer Director Annie Philbin, artists Ed Ruscha, Edgar Arceneaux, Shepard Fairey and Lari Pittman, LACMA Curator Franklin Sirmans, Vogue Editor Lisa Love, Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs and art critic David Pagel selected the over 400 pieces of art. And while it was obvious from the diverse work presented that no cohesive exhibit could be mounted from the cacophony of artists’ voices represented, a few cogent themes emerged. This is in no small part because of the clever multi-purpose design and layout of the space which allowed for both a stage and a DJ section to be central in the room.
The abstract idea of equality lends itself well to conceptual projects and among those on view, iO Wright’s Self Evident Truths, while quite simple, most elegantly portrayed the faces of those who are ‘created equal.’ Wright sent out a call to friends in the LGBT community asking to capture their images – Camila (2009) NYC was printed large and hung on the wall while a small wooden stand held black and white snapshots of the other participants, free for the taking. The project made lucidly clear the image of those denied their equality. While Wright’s work was literal, Bettina Hubby, in homage to Felix Gonzales Torres, literalized the language of love and the language of pillow talk in her We’re All Searching for Someone to Sleep Next To. Text from matchmaking sites were handwritten on pillowcases, revealing the deep desire everyone has to fine a partner to share their life (and/or bed) with. Jeff Sheng and Alix Smith should also be noted for their photography projects. While Sheng’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell hid the identity’s of gay and lesbians actively serving in the military, Smith’s States of Union depicted families in tropes of classical painting.
Ironically, the militancy of the early gay rights movement seems to now be focused on the injustice of not being allowed to serve in the military. While ACT UP and Gran Fury brought attention to the lack of attention to HIV-AIDS, this exhibit had a vast amount of work about the archaic military policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Scot Lafavor’s painting of two uniformed male soldiers holding hands, Answered and Told, was deftly composed and adroitly painted; while Scotland Haisley’s Hypocrisy was more didactic in its sloganeering – “Fight for your country, Lie for your country.” Karen Wippich’s Born Gay was a quaint, nostalgic depiction of sailors surround by text including the campy send up “Anchors of Bigotry Away!”
Two of the better paintings at Manifest Equality – on levels of both execution and concept – were God Save the Queen, a Rimbaud inspired self-portrait by Simon Haas and Master Copy, The Athenaeum, a Gilbert Stuart facsimile by Korin Faught. It was a pleasure to see the gay French Libertine conjured up by Haas, who chose to re-interpret Rimbaud’s “The Tortured Heart” to include more sadomasochism than called for in the original. Faught meticulously copied the famously unfinished portrait of the great general George Washington but smartly topped him off with a rainbow ribbon.
From the world of street artists, toy designers and illustrators came more of the requisite rainbow imagery. While many the works were well executed, some lacked a strength of artistic vision and came off feeling more like graphic design for an unspecified product. A couple of the more interesting works though included Tristan Eaton’s Stand United and Carlos Ramos’s Godzilla. Eaton chose to paint a 1940’s style clip art image of a soldier waving a (rainbow-colored) flag, while Ramos inexplicably turned his attention to pre-Manga kitschiness of the Japanese lizard-monster. The über-hip collaboratives She Kills He and Friends With You were also nicely represented while Buff Monster showed up with his ubiquitous pink. At least all of these works were bright and colorful.
As if equality had already been obtained, a few artists presented works of celebratory joy. Aaron Farley and Marley Kate, both commercial fashion photographers, presented apicture of the party that will take place when equality is a given, and not a strongly fought after, right. Farley’s voyeuristic Kiss shows a couple, despite the camera’s revealing flash, lost in a moment, unaware of any other person in the room. Kate’s bright, crisp photograph, shows the members of fashion design team Peg Leg in the midst of paint-splattered revelry. Both photographers depict the party that the supporters of Manifest Equality want to be at.
But, it was fellow commercial photographer RJ Shaughnessy who captured the more elusive mood of the Manifest Equality event. Equally somber, reverential, beautiful and pure, These Photographs will Heal Your Soul #22 was a photographic representation of what appeared to be snowfall illuminated by the flash of the camera. As an abstraction, it could be read as confetti or glitter, and despite being black and white, it was a vibrantly alive image. As considerably the most abstract image of the entire exhibit, it was the best portrayal of what true equality will mean to those who eventually win it.
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