The huge posters — from "a surprising new exhibition at the Wolfsonian museum at Florida International University titled 'Thoughts on Democracy'" — are supposedly a present-day permutation of Norman Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" posters. The Rockwell posters, made during WWII, present an inspiring, positive, plainly un-ironic vision of freedom in America. (The illustrated freedoms are: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.) The new posters eschew the Rockwellian attitude and replace it with— who could have predicted? — snark, cynicism, and sadness.
Let's see if we can figure out why the NYT thought this Florida art show deserved a big write-up and slide show:
In Guillermo Kuitca’s rendition of Rockwell’s image of parents putting their small children to bed, the family is surrounded by a sea of blackness. In James Victore’s remake, tears burst from the parents’ eyes as they pull an American flag over a wooden coffin.Oh, my lord, the people really are complacent about freedom! They continued going about their business despite the presence of giant crappy posters!
What all of this suggests is not just a reinterpretation of Rockwell but a meditation on an American crisis of self-confidence: the sense that trust in American ideals is giving way to fear and uncertainty about how they are exploited....
Many of the artists interviewed said they felt that now was not the time to emphasize American greatness, as Rockwell did, but rather to caution people about the risks of complacency. They said they created the posters because they loved their country — about two-thirds of the 60 are American — but felt that their fellow citizens needed to wake up, to break free from anxiety and a habit of looking away.
In the mall at least, the artists’ instincts seemed to be borne out. In an hour and a half, more than 100 people walked by the exhibit. Only 8 stopped to look.
Apparently, the NYT has not heard of some of the less-frequently-invoked American freedoms: the freedom to ignore propaganda, the freedom to avert your eyes from artists who scream for attention, the freedom to shop without genuflecting at sanctimonious criticism of your country, and the freedom to loathe hideous art.
Now, the journalist who wrote this piece, Damien Cave, did spend "18 months on and off" reporting from Iraq, and he is "stunned by the war’s lack of impact on people’s lives or thoughts." I'm not sure why his personal experience belongs in this article. He seems to be offering it as a basis of authority for his promotion of this exhibit which aims to goad Floridian shoppers to agonize about the war. I'd say it reveals that Cave's field of expertise is not art.
The most powerful efforts tackle the tension between the American democratic ideal and its practice. The Map Office, a design studio in New York, produced three unequivocal images. One poster shows democracy as a green goo spread across a pristine landscape; another reads, “kiss the fist of democracy.” A third says, “Democracy is the Helvetica of Politics,” reflecting its ubiquity, openness and adulteration, the artists said.The most powerful efforts? Look at the slide show at the link. These are the most embarrassingly unsophisticated pictures in the bunch.
A paradox is embedded in this round of cynicism and self-doubt...You've got to be kidding me. This is the New York Times, not the student newspaper at Florida International University?
Why, then, are we so depressed?...
In many cases the results feel more like heartbreak than like anger...
Democracy often seems to grow uglier with age.
But amid the happy, escapist shoppers at the Aventura mall, these thoughts felt as out of place as Rockwell’s proud posters. The sprawling darkness of Mr. Kuitca’s remake of “Freedom of Fear,” with the original tucked in the corner, seemed far more apt.