In 1942 Ben Shahn, employed by the United States Office of War Information to create propaganda in support of the Allied cause, borrowed imagery from his fellow artists for a series of five posters depicting the “methods of the enemy.” “Suppression” was represented by Edward Millman’s We Must Win!, 1942–45, a rendering of a gaunt visage gagged by a swastika-emblazoned cloth; Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s Torture, 1943, featured a scarred muscular figure whose hands are bound behind his back. Käthe Kollwitz’s 1923 lithograph of begging children allegorized “starvation,” while Bernard Perlin’s exquisite lifeless female head provided an unsettling emblem for “murder.” For his contribution, titled Slavery, Shahn adapted his own 1935 Resettlement Administration photograph of Sam Nichols, a white tenant farmer in Boone County, Arkansas. In the illustration, the artist deepens his subject’s skin tone and fences him in with barbed wire. Conveying the war effort as part of a universal struggle for human dignity and liberation, the posters—deemed too challenging for their conceived purpose—were never reproduced. All five, however, are depicted side by side in Shahn’s gouache-and-tempera painting We Fight for a Free World!, ca. 1942, and appear as though they’ve been tacked onto a brick wall graffitied with the canvas’s title.
This work inspired “We Fight to Build a Free World: An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz.” Invited by the Jewish Museum in 2017 to respond to the resurgence of anti-Semitic violence in the US, Horowitz, following Shahn’s example, expanded the curatorial scope to embrace broader movements against racism, oppression, and ethnonationalism, presenting his own art in heteroglossic congress with work by more than seventy contemporary and historical artists.
Jonathan Horowitz’s art has long turned a critical eye toward American politics, but it took on new urgency in the Trump era. His altered photographic image of the former president golfing into a fiery hellscape became an instant symbol of our apocalyptic political era, with critic Jerry Saltz suggesting it become Trump’s “official presidential portrait to hang in all federal buildings, courthouses, and post offices.”
Most recently, Horowitz organized a timely exhibition at the Jewish Museum, titled “We Fight to Build a Free World” (through February 14), which looks at artistic responses to authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, and racism throughout history, including work by artists such as Kara Walker, Judith Bernstein, and Glenn Ligon.
In the early 1940s, the artist Ben Shahn created a painting for the Office of War Information with images depicting suppression, starvation, slavery, torture and murder. He called it “We Fight for a Free World!” The painting was supposed to lead to a series of propaganda posters, but the government rejected the project. Still, the original painting survived and has a new life today as the heart of a show at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan: “We Fight to Build a Free World: An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz.”
The exhibition, which is to run from March 20 through Aug. 2, examines the ways that artists have taken on issues like oppression, intolerance and authoritarianism, and raises questions about anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. With about 80 works in a range of media, the Jewish Museum covers a great deal of ground in sometimes startling ways.
New York Frieze Week has arrived just in time for Spring, bringing with it a flurry of fairs, exhibitions and can’t-miss art world events all across the city. But one of the week’s most exciting participatory art projects won’t be found inside the snake-shaped tent on Randall’s Island. No, artist Jonathan Horowitz will be setting up a public studio for passersby to paint black dots inside Westfield World Trade Center’s Oculus transit hub in Lower Manhattan.
Horowitz’s participatory art installation, called 1612 DOTS, is the newest iteration in a ongoing series, and the first major partnership the Oculus has done with an artist in its community programming series on the Oculus floor. Horowitz has previously staged the interactive work at venues such as the Swiss Institute in New York, 356 Mission in Los Angeles and 2015’s Frieze Art Fair on Randall’s, which is where I had the opportunity to try my own hand at completing the not-so easy task.
A few years ago, New York artist Jonathan Horowitz found himself with “many, many half-full cans of strange-colored paint,” he says—surplus from an earlier project. So he decided to see what he could do with them. At first he mostly dabbed the paint around the center of canvases, but he soon began flinging with abandon, splattering every inch of the surfaces, not to mention the walls of his Bronx studio. The resulting works are chromatic supernovas. “I never really know how they are going to turn out,” says the artist, who also notes that the pieces have an environmental conceit. “I see them as a repository for something that would have gone in a landfill.”
These “Leftover Paint Abstractions,” as Horowitz calls them, are making their debut in an exhibition at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center, the Greenwich, Connecticut, museum established by megacollector Peter Brant. On view May 8 through October, the show focuses on the past decade of Horowitz’s 25-year career, during which he has addressed issues ranging from war to gay rights to animal welfare while routinely slinging sardonic arrows at consumer culture, the media, and celebrity. He’s known for cleverly mixing pop and politics, irony and earnestness, often incorporating art-historical references.
Jonathan Horowitz has really made a name for himself in the past few years by putting the art world to work. A new show at the Swiss Institute, running from January 13-17, is simply titled “160 Dots.” It is the third in his Dots series, which are works on canvas comprised of black dots painted, with precise instructions from the artist, by gallerygoers and eager fair-attendees.
The dot is a black hole and a simple mark, an infinite void and an eternal asshole, a pregnant period or simply a circle. This figure, which featured centrally in Jonathan Horowitz’s project, was first mentioned by omission—a classified listing in Night Papers’ Sex Issue that read simply, “SEEKING PARTICIPANTS for JONATHAN HOROWITZ PAINTING PROJECT . . . 30–60 mins, $20 PAID.” An odd and intriguing opportunity at first glance: Your everyday hustler might spot an easy mark and a quick Jackson, while the savvy economist might wonder about the exchange value for that labor. Animal-rights activist, video maker, recentish painter, and commissioner of copies in the service of art, of which this endeavor marked the latest such operation, Horowitz offered to pay any participant willing to contribute a painting of a black dot.
Jonathan Horowitz is a New York–based artist known for his often-sardonic examination of value systems in media, culture, and politics. Here, he discusses his Free Store, which he first presented in 2009 at Sadie Coles and has since recreated several times. The latest iteration of the store will be on view as part of Art Unlimited at Art Basel from on June 10 to 16, 2013. Horowitz will open an exhibition of new work at Barbara Weiss in Berlin on June 21, which will be on view until August 3, 2013.