Radical women and climate change: what to expect from the US art world in 2018

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A report by Nadja Sayej for London’s Guardian.

Sexual misconduct reports, vital signs of climate change, altering net neutrality: 2017 was a tumultuous year for America. A number of upcoming art exhibitions continue the protest, debate and argument around free speech, the environmental crisis, civil rights and feminism – and look back on a year that changed the game.

The Brooklyn Museum opens an exhibition devoted to pioneers of feminist art in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 on 13 April, which explores the groundbreaking work of 120 artists from 15 countries. The politically charged artwork is used as a form of social critique, especially in the works of Brazilian performance artist Lygia Pape, Cuban film-maker Sara Gómez and Afro-Latina activist and artist Marta Moreno Vega, the founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute.

How did women enter the workforce before their right to vote? After this year’s centennial of the women’s suffrage movement, In Her Words: Women’s Duty and Service in World War I opens on 2 February at the National Postal Museum in Washington, which shows how the military helped shape the women’s workforce in the early 1910s. This exhibition features four heroic women, including a nurse named Greta Wolf, by putting their personal artifacts and letters on view.

Just as 2017 became an outspoken year of social criticism, on 20 January, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles opens Unspeakable, featuring the works of three artists defined as “social critics”. One piece is by text-based artist Barbara Kruger, who shows a video inspired by the cultural theorist Homi Bhabha, while Kara Walker shows a video inspired by the civil war and the life of a Virginia slave named Sally Hemings, believed to be the mother of six children with Thomas Jefferson.

It has been a complicated year with Trump dropping climate change from the US national security strategy and on 19 May, an exhibition opens at the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York. Artists on Climate Change puts the work of a dozen artists on view who “speak to larger issues that affect regional, national, and global ecological health”, said John P Stern, the president of Storm King. The exhibition includes the works of David Brooks, who uses construction materials like roof shingles to draw attention to suburban sprawl, and Dear Climate, a group of activists who make and distribute posters to raise awareness around climate change.

Another environmentally focused art show, Designed California, opens on 27 January at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From old Apple prototypes to recycled design, it traces the history of socially conscious design in California from the 1960s to the 1980s. The show features the eco-friendly furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and brings back the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture publication that ran from 1968 to 1972.

It has been 50 years since the civil rights movement and the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and one exhibition opening on 13 January at the Museum of the City of New York, called King in New York, shows photos that document his public protests, church sermons and speeches across the city. In one photo, King speaks about the American intervention in Vietnam in 1967, which was taken outside the UN headquarters. It also aims to show his lesser-known side, like his personal life, friendships and family.

On the note of anniversaries, it has also been 50 years since the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, and on 26 January the exhibition The Marines and Tet: The Battle that Changed the Vietnam War will open at the Newseum in Washington. With 20 large-format photographs by award-winning Life magazine photographer John Olson, there are photos of the marines during Battle of Huê, alongside old cameras, audio interview clips with marines and objects, which can be handled by blind and low-vision visitors.

Just last week, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, suggesting the internet will become a two-tier service – one for the rich, one for the poor. Two new exhibitions look at the power of mass surveillance, data collection and technology. Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen opens on 21 June at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington with roughly 100 artworks that reveals fragments of the government’s secret operations. One new video will make its debut, one which uses facial recognition algorithms, called How to See Like a Machine.

A naval base in Guantanamo by Edmund Clark.
 A naval base in Guantanamo by Edmund Clark. 

Over at International Center of Photography in New York City, British photographer Edmund Clark opens The Day Music Died, a 10-year survey exploring state secrecy. From Guantánamo Bay to Afghanistan and the CIA’s secret prison program, there are images of declassified documents, empty jail cafeterias and messy interrogation rooms. The artist aims to “reflect on how terror impacts us all by altering fundamental aspects of our society and culture”, writes the curator Erin Barnett. The show opens on 26 January.

Street art goes indoors at The Hole in New York City, as one artist hacker named KATSU is the subject of a solo show opening on 4 January. Memory Foam shows the New York City graffiti artist’s pioneering work from the 1990s, a mockumentary tagging the White House in Washington and his quadcopter graffiti drones, which will soon become open-source.

In light of recent social justice activism across America, one icon of 20th-century art is being honored with a survey show, the late Chicago artist Leon Golub, a painter and Vietnam War protester. The Raw Nerve show opens on 6 February at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The artist was committed to social justice and on view are his portraits of Brazilian dictator Ernesto Geisel, interrogators, heads of state, mercenaries and victims of violence.

An image from Leonard Fink’s Out for the Camera exhibition.
 An image from Leonard Fink’s Out for the Camera exhibition.

And over at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, a new exhibition honors the unseen work of New York photographer, Leonard Fink. Out for the Camera opens on 24 January with hundreds of images that he shot in the 1970s and early 1980s in the West Village, from self-portraits in mirrors to gay bar culture and New York’s annual Pride marches.

The American dream is at the core of a new, forthcoming exhibition opening at the Guggenheim museum in New York City, the first American survey of Vietnam-born Danish artist Danh Vo on 9 February, entitled Take My Breath Away. From American flags to everyday objects like washing machines and bar fridges, the sculptures on view reveal what the artist calls “the tiny diasporas of a person’s life”. The American military’s influence in south-east Asia is part of this exhibition, which also puts a critical lens towards the Statue of Liberty and the Kennedy era’s Camelot.

The New Museum Triennial opens 13 February with a sprawling exhibition themed around Songs for Sabotage. Showcasing 30 artists from 19 countries, the work explores the boundaries of society’s power and structure, and on view are the cartoonish paintings of young Los Angeles artist Janiva Ellis, who documents life as an African American millennial, and the art collective Inhabitants, an online channel who upload video episodes by ever-changing themes and topics.

As the co-curator Gary Carrion-Murayari says: “The exhibition amounts to a call for action, an active engagement, and an interference in political and social structures urgently requiring them.”

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