The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted life in ways that are difficult to comprehend. Massive illness and loss of life, economic hardship, daily restrictions, anxieties, and uncertainties—all things that are concerns for so many simultaneously. In the midst of this—indeed in the midst of other major crises as well like World Wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s in the US—artists create. In contrast to ancient times, when artists’ attentions were often invested in commissions, many contemporary artists are able to create work about the things that matter to them in one way or another—intellectually, culturally, socially, and personally.
From the Heart: Artist as Commentator, drawn from RAM’s collection, features works that reflect themes and topics that motivate artists to action, inspiring them to comment, investigate, and care. For example, in the 1990s, Ben Cunningham created a series of objects—including adornment—that reflected his concern about HIV as well as the controversies and issues surrounding it. Meanwhile, Rosita Johanson took on war and conflict in her colorful stitched narratives. Further historical perspectives are offered by artists like Dorothea Lange, a documentary photographer who captured the desolation of towns in the Midwest during the 1930s. Her images—depicting scenes of hardship in the United States—may have seemed remote many months ago, but now feel familiar in the midst of current economic circumstances.
To bring this conversation closer in time and space, this exhibition has an online counterpart that focuses on current work produced by members of RAM’s community. It can be accessed on the iPad in the gallery and through the RAM website, ramart.org.