"“Change of the Century” speaks of the current political landscape and the immediate task of developing political consciousness in the U.S. This task is articulated through drawings and prints whose proportions are analogous to political fliers and posters. The work emanates from a socialist worldview that fosters a robust consciousness of our interlocking histories, and develops critical visual analyses of systemic social, economic, class, and cultural issues. Each work in its own way advances progressive and revolutionary steps toward social equality, equity, and a classless society. This objective, undoubtedly, far exceeds the scope of this small exhibition.
Though art may have, as Trotsky said, “its own laws” that encourage its development and illusions of its social autonomy, he makes clear that it’s inseparable from the capitalist economic mode that surrounds it. Whether the artist chooses “political” subjects or self-reflexivity, their subjectivity is therefore objectively political. The cognition of this situation is positively directed by the degree to which the artist recognizes their relation to, and their capacity to alter, the conditions and trajectory of society’s grotesquely uneven development. The second phase of cognition is the extent to which art and its marketplace often contribute to uneven social development. While many political radicals may dismiss art galleries as hopelessly bourgeois or commercial (and many are), they are nevertheless sites for circumnavigating some orthodox political structures. For artists, this requires a great leap of faith beyond their own subsistence to the art system’s support for distractions and dilettantism that mask its subservience to capitalist class rule. If art is permitted to express a socialist worldview within this system, its quest for a fully developed humanity must be recognized.
To fully understand this goal one must recognize the art’s capacity to function as a revolutionary force that counters the current national rightward swing toward reactionary and proto-fascist ideology, politics, and culture wars. Most art has been quietly minding its own business since this process gained traction during the 1970s Nixon presidency. Ultra-right Christian groups, white nationalists, conservative think tanks, and elected Republicans have regrouped and codified their strategies, fortified their ideology, sponsored their allies, and systematically advanced it through the halls of power to the present day. As we know, this reactionary line has recently erased women’s bodily autonomy, criminalized non-white people and immigrants, eroded LBTQIA rights, dissolved civil and voting rights, outlawed diversity in education, threatened journalists, stripped employment of its equal opportunities, and diluted judicial and governmental accountability. The U.S. is standing at the edge of authoritarianism and the blueprint for that future is the Ultra-Right’s Project 2025.
As Mao postulated, ideological preparations and propaganda are necessary for-- and always made in advance of-- the creation of a new society. This is true for building the base or constituency of a revolutionary or a counterrevolutionary society. Artists must work to detach themselves from the tropes and false securities of the capitalist art world. These do not serve their true social purpose, which is to engage in production that helps to meet humanity’s material needs. The bourgeois line of the art world runs deeply through us all and will require great struggle to overcome. Self-representation, in solidarity with all workers and oppressed peoples, are the spiritual tools in this production. Artists must forge their own ideological preparations and declarations in advance of any potential gains by reactionary political forces. These preparations will generate a myriad of approaches and aesthetics. This necessarily includes the mapping of the progressive parameters of dissent through rhetoric, images, symbolism, contexts, and so forth. Artists must form a united front that reinforces an egalitarian and revolutionary society that recognizes and rewards their productive purpose. We have nothing to lose but our chains…
Keith Walsh received a Cultural Trailblazer award from the LA Department of Cultural Affairs for 2021-22. Recent exhibitions include the Oakland Museum of California, Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers University, Torrance Art Museum, rdf_a, PRJCTLA, the Dallas Biennial, the Kleefeld Art Museum, and SoLA Contemporary. His work has been featured in Artforum, Artsy, Art and Cake, Artillery, Artweek, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Times, The LA Weekly, Visual Art Source, VoyageLA, and included in the Locust Review. His alt-folk-punk one-man-band, The Keith Walsh Experience, recently released the new album Revolutions in the Sun on Bandcamp.com