We The People offers a new line on what it is to be American

While the last general election in the UK was perhaps the most exciting in recent times, it’s fair to say that it was remarkably meek in comparison to its equivalent in the US. Every presidential election is a mammoth event in fact, incredibly expensive and logistically outstanding. It engulfs the whole country, throws up wonderfully eccentric characters,encourages riveting debate and generates many, many fascinating stories.
And this is how it is at the moment. Barack Obama, the current incumbent, is battling it out with Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, racking up umpteen road miles in gargantuan tour buses as they exhaustively campaign for the “hearts and minds” of every American soul.
Pulling up in whatever city or town that is next on the itinerary, they meet chirpy volunteers, already equipped with clipboards and beaming smiles, adorned in t-shirts and caps with every dinky little slogan under the sun scrolled across them. And this is just a slice of the action.
Recognising that the mood is right, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, in partnership with curators Alison Gingeras, Jonathan Horowitz and Anna McCarthy, has produced a new show that attempts to offer a different version of the American people.
The language here is one expressed and envisaged by artists and conflicts greatly with the reality that is imagined by savvy spin doctors or haughty media organisations.
Brilliantly entitled We The People, which politely borrows the first three words of the constitution, the exhibition asks some very pertinent questions against the backdrop of everything that has happened in America this year. Most of all, it asks, what is it to be an American?
Can people be so easily, inappropriately or simply cheaply be labelled as Starbucks Mums, NPR Republicans, American First Democrats and the Facebook Generation? Is there anything in the idea of the subjugated 99 per cent and the aristocratic one per cent? Is it even viable to pigeon-hole entire states as red or blue? The list could go on.
“This exhibition’s theme resonates with Robert Rauschenberg’s own artistic and philanthropic legacy—the use of art to explore and expose key issues of our time, the power of media and headlines in our society’s understanding of itself, and the pulling together of a community of artists as activists to confront those issues,” explains Christy MacLear, executive director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
“Exploring how one characterises the American fabric is relevant to understanding the voice and representation of the people. This is a part of Rauschenberg’s legacy, as much as being an artist he was a man of the people, in all their diversity.”
To create this inquisitive environment, to make the experience one that gets people asking questions, the curators of the show have gathered a variety of works executed across painting, sculpture and photography that are supposed to be representative of the American people.
To cast the debate across a wider timescale, there is a decided mix of art from over the years. The older generations are represented by Romare Bearden, George Segal, Margaret Bourke-White, Alice Neel, Duane Hanson, AlexKatz, and Robert Rauschenberg.
The younger generation includes artists like Tina Barney, Fred Wilson, Elizabeth Peyton, Barkley L. Hendricks, Nicole Eisenman, and Danny McDonald, and also shows work specifically produced for this exhibiton from Nate Lowman, Julio Cesar Morales, Richard Phillips and Swoon.
We the People at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Project Space, New York, is on from October 3rd through November 9th 2012.
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