The Wichita Art Museum has assembled a new exhibition from their permanent collection. It’s called “Occupy Art: Protest and Empathy for the Worker.”
The premise of the exhibition leans on the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement in both language and concept. The show attempts to historicize the populist fight for the 99% by displaying artworks from a span of 150 years. Important artists included in this show are Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz, Thomas Hart Benton, and, much to my delight and surprise, Kara Walker.
But, there is a disconnect between this premise and what the show actually does. While the connection between art and social movements certainly exists, the specific link between this contemporary “Occupy” premise and the art is weak – if it exists at all. The most contemporary work in the show is Walker’s Freedom: A Fable from 1997; not all of the artworks are politicized, namely the agricultural images that are more about nostalgia than unfair work practices; and, most importantly, there is no art from the Occupy movement – which is a shame because Occupy gave rise to many creative endeavors.
Ultimately, this premise is an attempt to make the Wichita Art Museum’s permanent collection relevant to current events. But because there is no concrete, or nuanced, connection to the Occupy movement, this attempts rings hollow, making “Occupy Art” feel like lost latecomer to the scene.