Each week a member of The Block’s team offers selections that resonate with them at this moment. [View our archive of selections]. In the days before the 2020 election Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs, shares three works in the Block Collection she has been thinking about.
Tuesday, November 3 is Election Day. As Americans head to the polls, these works from The Block’s collection are helping me to think about the intersection of politics and media, and the strength that lies in a diverse American identity.
Chicago artist, activist, arts educator, and institution-builder Margaret Burroughs provides an empowering portrait of American diversity in her 2001 linoleum print Faces of My People. This tightly grouped gathering of young people, each facing squarely forward, resists compartmentalization. While the face of the figure to the right is entirely black except for a pair of piercingly white eyes, and that to the left is mostly white, the faces of the three figures in the middle are black and white, a patchwork of harmonizing contrasts.
Allan Freelon’s 1935 aquatint print, Campaign Headquarters, invites us to reflect on the history of race and gender in American politics. A white man stands on a platform and leans into a microphone as a crowd of men listen. An African American man in a suit and tie with round-lensed glasses stands on the side of the room near the door alongside a second African American man in a cap and overalls. The man in glasses faces us, becoming a focal point in the composition, and making visible their minority status in the room. Women are also noticeably absent from the scene. While American women won the right to vote in 1920, public campaigning remained predominantly the domain of men well into the second half of the 20th century.
Cuban-born and New York-based conceptual artist Wilfredo Prieto’s 1999 sculpture Speech offers a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the fleeting value of media. The work features a commercial toilet paper holder supporting a roll of toilet paper cut from the pages of Cuba’s Granma newspaper. Made at the very end of the 20th century, the work references a moment when the pace of the print news cycle could render a morning headline obsolete by nightfall. In today’s digital age, the pace of news is only accelerating, with headline stories now shifting by the hour, sending earlier stories down the drain.