For centuries, artists have explored the discrepancies of authoritarian figures, highlighting the abuse of power in politics and business. Giving them a platform for the first time, “Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy” at The Met Breuer, brought to life by curators Doug Eklund and Ian Alteveer, is an exhibition that takes a plunge into the depths of the atrocious aspects of American culture. The exhibit starts in the sixties (1969) and continues up until the 2016 presidential election. From sculptures, prints, photography, drawings, and even video, the exhibition featuring 70 works by 30 artists working in a range of media is a lively force that leaves the mind in jitters.
Fact-checking and curious, the artists acted as citizen journalists, uncovering truths that placed them in antagonistic positions in relation to the movements they’re linked to. The exhibition is divided into two parts: the first half is composed of fact-finding research art, such as Lombardi’s intricate flow-charts that exposed financial and political fraud, and Jenny Holzer’s LED displays of government documents stating its involvement in Iraq. To create this thirteen part sculpture, Holzer edited together a stream of text hellfire colors from fifty-two documents produced between 1980 and 2004 that trace the U.S. involvement in Iraq, from close relationships in the 1980s with Saddam Hussein to his ouster under false pretenses after the 9/11 attacks. The second part focuses on more abstract, wondrous, bizarre and somewhat personal pieces, notwithstanding the analyzing of political and societal turmoil, such as Sarah Anne Johnsons’s “House on Fire.”
Standouts of the exhibition include Wayne Gonzalez’s dramatic portraits at the entrance to the exhibition including “Peach Oswald” created in response to the assassination of John F Kennedy. The exhibit statement notes, “Gonzales was born in the same New Orleans street as Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of president John F. kennedy. The artist’s family also had close connections to local district attorney Jim Garrison, who famously declared that Oswald had “never fired a shot.” Garrison further theorized that anti-Communist hard-liners at the CIA, aiming to thwart the late president’s desire to ease tensions with Cuba and the Soviet Union, and in Vietnam, had plotted the assassination instead. Here, Gonzales depicts Oswald in a close-up, his upturned gaze at eye level with the viewer despite the paintings monumental scale. In this way, Oswald seems to communicate his unique position as the only person who knew whether he killed president Kennedy or not.”
Other notable works include the original copies of “The Black Panther” newspaper, by Emory Douglas and Sarah Anne Johnson’s “House on Fire” which is inspired by her grandmothers disturbing experiences while being treated for depression. In her maquette, she expresses how the CIA-induced and involuntary psychological torture underwent by her grandmother affected her family dynamic. “In the late 1950s Johnson’s grandmother Velma Orlikow, entered treatment for postpartum depression at Allan memorial institute in Montreal under the care of Dr. D Ewen Cameron, a renowned psychiatrist. Although Orlikow went willingly, she and her family were unaware that her treatment was part of the CIA-sponsored MK-ULTRA mind-control program. For several years, Orlikow was involuntarily subjected to permanently mind-altering brainwashing experiments involving extreme electroshock therapy, sleep deprivation, and large doses of LSD and other psycho chemicals. Johnson’s meticulous dollhouse reveals the shocking details of Orlikow’s story, using hallucinatory and frightening imagery to expose how the torture inflicted by the psychiatric institution invaded the family home. Each unsettling room portrays and aspect of maltreatment, distortion, and abuse, creating an uncanny visualization of the family’s unimaginable trauma.”
The exhibition presents an alternate history of postwar and contemporary art that is also an archaeology of our troubled times. It is accompanied by the installation “Jane and Louise Wilsons: Stasi City,” showing at the Met 5th Avenue, “which is one of the most important works of video in the past half-century, gives us a tour of the former headquarters of the East German secret police.”