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OF MICE AND MEN

George Grosz & the 2020 election

***WRITING IN PROGRESS***

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley"

The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry

From Robert Burns’ 1875 poem “To a Mouse”

My dismay about the outcome of the 2016 election turned into horror as I witnessed the increasingly polarized aggressiveness in the United States, fostered and stoked by the daily lies, racism, and manipulations of the current leadership.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

From Robert Burns’ 1875 poem “To a Mouse”

As we reel from a pandemic which could prove as lethal as that which has hit the world 100 years ago, decisions taken for political gain as opposed to ones guided by science have provoked a failure to protect the American people. This has resulted in the 'most advanced country in the world' having the largest amount of deaths -in the world.

If the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers.

 

And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

 

Under that scenario, about 54,000 fewer people would have died by early May.

 

LOCKDOWN DELAYS COST AT LEAST 36,000 LIVES, DATA SHOWS

By James Glanz and Campbell Robertson, The New York Times - Published May 20, 2020

But of course, according to the current tenant of the White House, the "Failing New York Times" is a propagator of "Fake News."

So here we are on the eve of the 2020 election, at a moment when the ever-climbing stock-market suddenly plummeted 30% during just one week last March, and in which close to 40 million people to date have applied for unemployment benefits -which brings forth the specter of the Great Depression of the 1930's, and in turn raises the ominous memory of the opening that allowed Adolf Hitler to inexorably alter the face of the world.

Clearly, the situation is very different today. Not least is the fact that the deep financial crisis that plagued the western world between the great wars in the 20th century was long in the making, and very much exacerbated by a failing financial infrastructure; conversely our system is extremely sophisticated and nimble, as shown by the relatively quick recovery after the Great Recession of 2008.

President Herbert Hoover, who had taken office in 1929, the year the U.S. economy plummeted into the Great Depression, was widely blamed for the dire state of the economy, while in fact having largely inherited this fiasco from his predecessor Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States (1923–29), whose silence and dour personality Alice Roosevelt Longworth, a leading Republican wit, underscored:

When he wished he were elsewhere, he pursed his lips, folded his arms, and said nothing. He looked then precisely as though he had been weaned on a pickle.

By contrast, Trump inherited a very favourable economic context from his predecessor President Obama, and the financial performance of the United-States under his tenure is unprecedented.

Nevertheless, there are similarities between 1932, when George Grosz made a drawing of Hoover depicting him as a bust in a museum, already “history,” with, over his head, a pickle, in fact a reference to his predecessor Calvin Coolidge, thanks to whose mess he lost the election, and the present moment in which social inequalities, racism, and looming death, weigh in heavily on the outcome of the upcoming election.

George GROSZ (1893 - 1959)

Hoover, 1932

Brush, reed pen and pen and ink

27 11/16 x 18 1/4 in. (70,3 x 46,2 cm)

Annotated lower-left and stamped on the reverse “GEORGE GROSZ NACHLASS” and numbered 2-146-2. The present work was drawn to illustrate: Eddi Kantor, “Amerika, du hast es auch nicht besser (America you're not better off), UHU Magazine, Heft 4, January 1932

Collection of Akim & Anne-Marie Monet, Los Angeles

Having moved to the US from Berlin in 2018, eighty-five years after George Grosz did the same when Hitler was elected in 1933, I decided to pull together the sequel to the exhibition "DER KANDIDAT" I had mounted four years ago in Berlin, during the 2016 US election. This time around though, as opposed to offering a "reading" of the run-up to the election by comparing archetypes in Grosz's work with contemporary figures such as Melania, Trump and others, my idea is to present works by Grosz as a red thread of sorts, a historical starting point for a conversation about propaganda, racism, and death -perhaps the three most salient memories of WWII, and how in fact they are still prevalent today, almost a century later...

The title of the present exhibition "OF MICE AND MEN: George George Grosz & the 2020 election" came to me while thinking about the below drawing in our collection.

George GROSZ (1893 - 1959)

Cat and mouse, 1936

Reed pen, pen and ink and pencil on paper

13 1/4 x 20 1/8 in. (33,7 x 51,1 cm)

Signed and dated "Grosz 36" bottom right and annotated "43 cat & mouse" bottom center. Stamped on the reverse “GEORGE GROSZ NACHLASS” and numbered 4-105-2 The present work was drawn to illustrate: O. Henry, “The Voice of the City,” The Limited Editions Club, New York 1935, page 63

Collection of Akim & Anne-Marie Monet, Los Angeles

The innocent game of cat and mouse comes to a brutal finale in the present work. Grosz expertly juxtaposes the violence of the cat's success with a playful backdrop, complete with a butterfly floating through the air. This perennial power struggle has dire consequences, especially as considered within the context of the political events of 1936, three years after Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and the artist emigrated to the United States of America.

 

Vanessa Fusco

Loosely thinking about how the current president uses the pulpit of his position to rile his electoral base, thereby fostering most violent reactions ostensibly offered to the altar of civil liberties, but which in fact translate into a 'burning of the books' insofar as they constitute a severe loss to cultural heritage, the title of John Steinbeck's controversial masterpiece "Of Mice and Men" came to my mind. As I turned to the book, I discovered that it was published in 1937, the year after George Grosz drew the "Cat and Mouse" in our collection, the story is set in California, of recent our home state, and it takes place during the Great Depression, a daunting time some say we are about to recreate...

This was enough for me to conclude that I had found my title:

OF MICE AND MEN

George Grosz & the 2020 election

One of the last exhibitions we visited before 'Sheltering-in-Place' in Los Angeles was Frieze LA, where I was literally knocked off my feet by the Richard Prince car exhibited in the Gagosian booth.

Richard PRINCE (b. 1949)

Untitled, 2008

Fiberglass, steel, acrylic, and Bondo

47 1/4 x 181 x 67 in. (120 x 459,7 x 170,2 cm)

Pictured here on February 14 with one of my boys. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

This masterpiece is very appropriately "Untitled," since more than a car it is a sculpture, and beyond its imposing formality, it is a cultural testimony to the 'Americana' Richard Prince has so aptly plotted since the 70's, when he started his career as a preparer of magazine clippings.

The following day I brought my family to the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills for a private viewing of Prince's "New Portraits."

I had followed from a distance the various copyright lawsuits brought by people portrayed in the first batch of Instagram portraits shown in 2014, and I always wanted to own one for our collection. None were for sale from this show unfortunately, but I absolutely relished seeing them in the flesh.

Installation view on February 15, 2020 of "RICHARD PRINCE New Portraits" at Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills.

Not unlike the quintessential political satirist and social critic George Grosz, one who makes the world "his own" and elicits a plethora of emotions by bringing his distinctive style of commentary to current events, Richard Prince uses what's known as the art of 'appropriation' in a way most eloquently described by veteran art critic Peter Schjeldahl, a vision George Grosz would have no doubt adored:

Possible cogent responses to the show include naughty delight and sincere abhorrence. My own was something like a wish to be dead—which, say what you want about it, is the surest defense against assaults of postmodernist attitude. Come to think of it, death provides an apt metaphor for the pictures: memento mori of perishing vanity. Another is celestial: a meteor shower of privacies being burnt to cinders in the atmosphere of publicity. They fall into contemporary fame—a sea that is a millimetre deep and horizon-wide.

 

RICHARD PRINCE'S INSTAGRAMS

By Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, September 30, 2014

In a compelling defense of the first iteration of Richard Prince's Instagram works, Noah Dillon writes:

He takes preexisting material, without permission, and reproduces it with his name attached. He often changes very little (if any) of the original matter. That maneuver has a very long lineage, as many art admirers will recognise, in Prince’s career, his contemporaries, and in the generations that preceded him: Sherrie Levine, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades, the codified iconography of various cultures — and etc. It can often be difficult to distinguish between convention, appropriation, plagiarism, and homage. Repetition, reproduction, iteration, also at play here, have similarly long genealogies in Lucas Cranach, the Dadaists, Warhol again, Louise Lawler, Robert Gober, and so many others. Those are obviously histories of which Prince’s detractors are either unaware, or that don’t carry weight.

 

WHAT'S NOT THE MATTER WITH RICHARD PRINCE

By Noah Dillon, Artcritical - Published July 9, 2015

When the venerable Whitney Museum of American Art presented in 2015 "America is Hard to See" to inaugurate the new building, the press release stated:

... the exhibition elaborates the themes, ideas, beliefs, and passions that have galvanized American artists in their struggle to work within and against established conventions, often directly engaging their political and social contexts.

Upon visiting this exhibition which marked a significant moment in the presentation of American Art, and surely because I had just been given the opportunity to acquire a trove of works on paper by George Grosz directly from the estate of this great artist, I was thrilled to discover that along with 600 artist included in the pantheon of twentieth and twenty-first century American Art (where Richard Prince's work was of course prominently featured), was displayed a striking work by George Grosz. It dawned on me that this treasure of pre-WWII German Art History, who was arrested several times by the German authorities for publishing antigovernment and anticlerical drawings during the 1920s, accepted an offer to teach at the Art Students League in New York in 1932, and finally left Germany 'for good' in 1933, was clearly marked, in this all-important historical exhibition in 2015, as 'one of us,' as an American!

Now returning to the predicament we are in, with 100,000 deaths from Coronavirus in the last three months, close to 15% unemployment with the prospect of many jobs not returning -at least until herd immunity from the Coronavirus is attained, and/or a vaccine is developed, it is quite edifying to read the full text from the section of the Whitney exhibition "America is Hard to See" in which the George Grosz work was included:

FIGHTING WITH ALL OUR MIGHT  

Following the catastrophic stock market crash of October 29, 1929, many American artists committed themselves to using the expressive power of their art in the struggle for social change. By 1933, one quarter of the workforce was unemployed and signs of the Great Depression were everywhere: homeless men, women, and children; soup kitchens; shantytowns; protests, strikes, and lockouts.

 

Artists worked to document these problems and also to ameliorate them. Some joined the government programs formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which aimed to revive the nation by creating jobs, aiding farms and small businesses, and regulating finance. Photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange were hired to document farm life for the Resettlement Administration; printmakers working for the Federal Art Project made more than 11,000 prints. Some of these artists were committed to Roosevelt’s progressivism, while others went so far as to become members of the Communist Party of the United States. As the printmaker Mabel Dwight observed: “Art has turned militant. It forms unions, carries banners, sits down uninvited, and gets underfoot. Social justice is its battle cry.” As military preparations for World War II revitalized industry and the economy recovered, many artists shifted their attention to the war and the threat of fascism, continuing to agitate for a more just and humane world.

"...a more just and humane world" -these words left trailing as one entered the section of the exhibition defined the impetus of artists in these trying times to engage as much with great suffering, as with a desire to celebrate resilience, and the sheer will to fight back.

At this juncture, it should be said that although the subject matter one needs to contend with in order to address the present social and cultural climate in the United States is tp say the least 'difficult,' insofar as it often displays some of the uglier traits of our character, the language of art is one of beauty -material and intellectual, and through this there is great solace in thinking that even as the human species at times displays a horrible propensity for injustice and inhumanity, as seen here through the topics of propaganda, racism and death, people also have the capacity to create avenues through which our species can make great leaps, and art is one of the important ones!

Shortly after seeing the Richard Prince exhibition (apologies for the necessary digression -it will make sense shortly), as California went into lockdown and our world moved from physical to digital for several months, Facebook became for me an interesting barometer of my friend's thought, but also a reflection of a wider conversation. I was horrified!

Not only did people post articles that addressed the bleak reality of a deeply divided county, of which the different parts no longer hear each other, let alone speak the same language, but many people whom I know personally, or who are only one-person-away from me, started to hurl insults at whomever thinks differently....

Although I mostly refrained from engaging in digital conversations with those I don't agree with, having quickly recognized that it takes more that one to dialogue, I coined a brutally vulgar hashtag, somewhat tinged with Groszian humor, to express my thoughts about the posts that displayed behavior I found particularly disturbing:

#lafarandoledestrousducul

I used this hashtag eliciting smiles, thumbs-ups, and even anger at times, and soon discovered that there is a 'search' function on Facebook that allows to find all instances in which the hashtag appears. Little did I know until then that I had 'collected' close to two-dozen posts that fit my notion of "the assholes' dance" where propaganda, racism and death were out in full force. The posts are complete with pointed comments about the topics, and in one case, to top it all off, to a friend who asked precisions about my hashtag, I answered, as loosely here translated from the french:

Akim Monet

Samuel Asseo it's the farandole of assholes, that turns, that turns....

 

Samuel Asseo

Akim, in my mind a farandole is a joyful dance. In this case I see rather assholes walking on a march. From there to say that it is a goose's step, there is only one step.

 

Akim Monet

It’s an expression that oozes with irony; for us a crisis of morality, and for these assholes, a farandole of idolatries, danced around a fountain of pseudo-civil liberties, of which the gush peddles the stained sweat of the participants, all to the rhythm of the drum beat of the narcissistic pervert asshole-in-chief. All taken together: the farandole of assholes!

 

Akim Monet

This farandole is actually a dance of death.

Michael WOLGEMUT (1434-1519)

The Dance of Death, 1493

the Nuremberg Chronicle of Hartmann Schedel

Samuel Asseo

Akim, your description of the farandole of assholes is so realistic that I felt the stench that emerges...

Now having the composition of my exhibition to the forefront of my mind, and armed with the rich material from my Facebook interactions, the visual aspect of the posts immediately reminded me of the Richard Prince Instagram works, so I proceeded to image them into "Paintings" chronicling the current very unusual times. Subsequently, I found a way to "etch them in metal for posterity. 

Akim MONET (b. 1968)

Harassed Nurses, 2020

UV cured ink on 1/8 in. brushed aluminum Dibond

24 x 51 1/8 in. (60,96 x 129,86 cm)

Collection of Akim & Anne-Marie Monet, Los Angeles

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