Artist Jonathan Horowitz, 56, admits that his work is political, but he is no “artivist,” the trendy word referencing an activist artist. “The work is made from a critical perspective, but I’m not trying to position the viewer and elicit any particular response. Even past work that seems like agitprop is really more open.” Horowitz and I are at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery on West 26th Street where we are viewing Human Nature, his solo exhibition that illustrates — through video, painting and lenticular photography — human nature in all its permutations. It follows the 2021 Jewish Museum show, We Fight to Build a Free World, which Horowitz curated partly in response to the surge in global anti-antisemitism. Found footage coupled with pop music, blockbuster films, cult flicks, music videos and other forms of advertising, viewed through the lens of progressive politics are seminal to Horowitz’s vision. “I am a conceptual artist,” he told me.
Jonathan Horowitz got the keys to the museum, and he brought his friends along. The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History has given Horowitz curatorial carte blanche across its sprawling four-story building. The New York-based artist stationed his own work throughout the museum's permanent collection as a way of commenting on a post-2020 world in the context of Jewish American history. Also along for the ride: art history heavyweights like Norman Rockwell, Ben Shahn, and Andy Warhol. Horowitz, who identifies as a gay Jewish man, also showcases work from his art-world peers, a diverse group (stylistically and demographically) that comments on topics like Indigenous land and Black liberation. The resulting show, "The Future Will Follow the Past," is on view through 2023.
An art exhibit at the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History examines the division throughout the U.S. since the pandemic by looking at past examples of subjugation and intolerance. The exhibit, titled “The Future Will Follow the Past,” centers on the change in relationships between Americans throughout the pandemic, noting a rise in antisemitism, hate crimes, and the fight for LGBTQ rights. All four floors of the museum are juxtaposed with art pieces comparing past struggles to current ones, highlighting the cycle of rampant prejudice throughout history. Jonathan Horowitz curated the exhibit. The Brooklyn-based artist said he wanted to engage the museum’s core installation — which tells the story of Jewish people in America — and “fill in the gaps” with pieces to illustrate his vision.
As Jonathan Horowitz's powerful special exhibition -- which addresses antisemitism, racial violence, immigration, women's rights, LGBTQ+ rights -- grows in relevance, Philadelphia's Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History (The Weitzman) announces that it has been extended through July 4, 2023. Originally scheduled to run through December 2022, "The Future Will Follow the Past: An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz", is a transformative art exhibition that explores the significant changes America has experienced since 2020 and issues it has been grappling with for decades. "Jonathan Horowitz's exhibition continues to grow in relevance since the Museum reopened in May," said Dr. Josh Perelman, The Weitzman's Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions and Interpretation.
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.
When you step into the Jewish Museum’s current show, “We Fight to Build a Free World, An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz,” on view through February 7, 2021, you will be surrounded by a visual mash-up. In the first room, floor to ceiling wallpaper of Andy Warhol portraits, arrayed in photobooth-like strips, creates a hyper-energetic backdrop. On one wall hangs Bernard Perlin’s rendering, painted in the meticulous style he developed as an artist correspondent for Life and Fortune magazines in the 1940s, of two Orthodox Jewish boys standing behind a grafitti-covered newspaper kiosk. Across the room, is the colossal African-American artist Robert Colescott’s raucous and vitriolic 1975 “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware.”
It was a curator’s worst nightmare. Last March, just days before opening, with labels mounted and press previews planned, We Fight to Build a Free World, a comprehensive and powerful exhibition curated by the artist Jonathan Horowitz at New York’s Jewish Museum, was postponed until further notice – one of the many culture-sector casualties of Covid-19. “The exhibition came about through an invitation from the Jewish Museum to make a project addressing the resurgence of antisemitism in the country,” says Horowitz, who explains that, in thinking about themes and parameters, he wanted to contextualize antisemitism both historically and through the violence and bigotry directed toward many other marginalized groups.
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.
Jonathan Horowitz will mess you up. By the time you walk out of the American artist’s show at Sadie Coles, you won’t be able to distinguish between Trump, Gucci, Coca Cola and the metoo movement, because Horowitz sees all of it as an exercise in branding, the weaponisation of symbols. His four-screen video says it best. One screen shows Trump confidante/immortal gargoyle Kellyanne Conway looking like a grade-A plonker on Inauguration Day in a ludicrous Gucci coat. Another shows the all-white-models Gucci runway show where the coat debuted. So far, so clear: you get it – Gucci is deep in the pocket of alt-white new America, yadda, yadda, yadda. Hell, it’s even got a shop in Trump Tower, right?