Postcard from Austin, Texas: Exposing an unpleasant underbelly of America

There is Eugene Delacroix’ “The Massacre at Chios,” with its 1824 showing in the Salon de Paris igniting European concern about tragedies occurring during the Greek War of Independence.

There are Francisco Goya’s “Fatal Consequences of Spain’s Bloody War with Bonaparte, and Other Emphatic Caprices,” prints so controversial they were not published as “The Disasters of War” until 1863, 35 years after his death.

There is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” his 1937 painting of the German bombing of a Basque town that attracted the world’s attention to the atrocities occurring during the Spanish Civil War.

And now there is Vincent Valdez’ haunting 2016 black-and-white monumental depiction of Ku Klux Klansmen in “The City I,” owned and currently on exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art.

This could be any city in America. These individuals could be any Americans. There is a false sense that these threats were, or are, contained at the peripheries of society and in small rural communities. . . . It is possible that they are city politicians, police chiefs, parents, neighbors, community leaders, academics, church members, business owners, etcetera. This is the most frightening aspect of it all.

Vincent Valdez, Blanton Museum of Art website

Vincent Valdez was born and raised in San Antonio; an artist about whom we boast. Yet you want this enormous painting stretching across the gallery wall to please be a scene from any other city in America. Please not here. Not my neighbors.

The KKK and other racist groups exist throughout the country; denial does not help; you cannot simply wish them away. They might indeed be your neighbors.

The menacing eyes peering out from the holes in the white hoods glare at you, following you around the room. There is no place to hide.

We have interrupted their gathering. The group looks warily at us as we look at them; no one appears to be welcome here.

Blanton Museum of Art website

 

After viewing Valdez’ powerful punch, the antidote in the next gallery, a 2012 neon by Tavares Strachan, offers relief. “We belong here.”

As humans, we all struggle with how we fit in and belong…. Who gets to determine who belongs where? And where is here? And why does it matter?….

I wanted to make a work that everyone can own—one that everyone can have….Because as soon as you read it, you say, “We belong here,” and we do belong.

Tavares Strachan, Blanton Museum of Art website

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