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Take Five: Jonathan Horowitz and the art of the red-blue divide at CAM

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 6, 2012 - Last week, the Republicans painted Tampa red. Now the Democrats are bringing their blue to Charlotte, N.C. This Friday, both colors star in a politically themed exhibit opening in the lobby of the Contemporary Art Museum.

Jonathan Horowitz’s “Your Land/My Land: Election ’12,” referencing Woody Guthrie’s ubiquitous folk song, is a reprisal of the artist’s 2008 exhibition in a New York gallery. This election cycle, St. Louis is one of seven cities chosen to simultaneously show Horowitz’s take on America’s red-and-blue demarcation.

"Your Land/My Land” consists of a two portraits, one of Mitt Romney on the floor against the wall, the other of President Obama hanging above two rugs: one red, one blue. A pair of televisions is suspended in the middle of the room, facing away from each other, one broadcasting CNN, the other, Fox News.

It’s more than a statement. It’s also an interactive gathering place for debates and election night. The Beacon talked with Horowitz about the exhibit and the community it creates.

The Beacon: Why did you re-do the 2008 exhibition and how is it different?

Jonathan Horowitz: This one is more stripped down. It’s really a container for people to come together and watch coverage of the election and talk about it and there’s a website that will be set up that people can access and post comments on.

Four years ago, it was in a private gallery, and this year it’s in public institutions that are politically neutral and can create open space for discussion.

Will exhibit-goers in St. Louis communicate with those at the other six other sites in New York, Raleigh, N.C.; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles; Salt Lake City; and Savannah, Ga.?

Horowitz: Yes. At each location, there will be a station set up with a computer and the computer will be set to the website and will be linked to all the other sites with pictures of the different installations. There will be a live blog and you’ll be able to see where these comments are coming from and you can respond.

Also, the candidates’ Twitter and Facebook feeds will be incorporated and people can respond to the comments made by the candidates and the other museum-goers. People will also be able to access the website with their phones.

What questions does the exhibition ask?

Horowitz: The main question it asks is, "Does our polarized political culture accommodate voices of the electorate and allow for debate, or does it just cause alienation from the whole political process?" It also asks the question about what role can a museum play in our democratic culture.

The culture is so polarized that people just watch the media outlets that reaffirm their positions rather than opening up a debate.

How does this exhibition use the power of art?

Horowitz: I think art can describe a political reality and document it and mark time, and it can create, hopefully ,a space for people to reflect on these issues. Whether it’s really a useful means to effect change, you don’t make that presumption. I think it’s certainly conceivable but I think art can describe the world more than it can change it, especially art in museums. I think movies and TV have a greater ability to change the way people see things.

The St. Louis installation is the first exhibit space, and you have six more to finish before Oct. 12. How are making that work?

Horowitz: Each day is like another deadline, so it’s kind of crazy, but it’s very exciting.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.