Vote.org’s Plan Your Vote campaign features voting advocacy artworks by artists including, from left, Julie Mehretu and Calida Rawles

 

ELECTION DAY IS NOV. 3 in the United States and in the lead up artists and art institutions have been active and engaged. The political season has inspired countless artist projects, information campaigns, public art installations, new artworks, and the revival of historic works.

Artists are making work and exhibitions are being organized around voting rights and American democracy and a variety of contemporary sociopolitical issues, including police brutality, the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 Census, mass incarceration, and immigration.

Exhibitions presented by MoMA PS1 in New York and the African American Museum in Philadelphia explore mass incarceration issues. Versions of “Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t for the 2020 Presidential Election,” an installation by Aram Han Sifuentes, are on view at Rice University in Houston, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and online at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The work “encourages the public to think about voting as an inclusive act of civic participation.”

COVID-19 has raised concerns about the safety of voting in person and delivery delays at the U.S. Postal Service that began just before election season have heightened interest in and the need for more mail-in ballots and expanded early voting windows.

 


“I Voted” by Amy Sherald for New York magazine

 

To help people figure out their voting strategies this year, vote.org collaborated with museums and artists to provide voters with state-specific information about how, when, and where they can cast their ballots. The special visual arts initiative is called Plan Your Vote.

Across the country, some museums are serving as polling places. In Atlanta, the High Museum of Art is an early voting site. The Brooklyn Museum’s website implores visitors to “Make Your Vote Count.” The New York City museum is an official voting center, offering both early and Election Day voting to the surrounding community.

Many California museums remain closed to regular visitors, but some are opening their doors for voters. The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Institute of Contemporary Art San José, the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, and the Skirball Cultural Center, where photographer Kwame Braithwaite’s “Black is Beautiful” exhibition debuted last year, are serving voters throughout the early voting season and Election Day.

The American Alliance of Museums encourages museums to participate in nonpartisan voter engagement, even providing guidelines for what nonprofit museums and staff members can and can’t do legally in terms of election activities.

The American Alliance of Museums encourages museums to participate in nonpartisan voter engagement even providing guidelines for what nonprofit museums can and can’t do legally in terms of election activities.

Meanwhile, galleries are facilitating fundraising for racial justice causes, COVID-19 economic relief, and political candidates through benefit sales such as Artists for Biden, which was organized by David Zwirner gallery. Through Hauser & Wirth, “Sentinel IV,” a limited-edition bronze sculpture by Simone Leigh, was produced and sold to support the racial justice work of Color of Change. Leigh is representing the United States at the next Venice Biennale in 2022.

The Imagine Freedom – Art Works for Abolition auction on Artsy benefitted Critical Resistance and featured artworks by more than 75 artists, including Kwame Brathwaite, Emory Douglas, Awol Erizku, and Theaster Gates who donated their work to “amplify the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex.”

Carrie Mae Weems and Hank Willis Thomas, co-founder of For Freedoms, an artist-led organization focused on creative civic participation, stand out among several artists involved with multiple campaigns and projects this election year.

 


“I Voted” by Derrick Adams for New York magazine

 

The Gee’s Bend community in Alabama, home to generations of renowned quilt artists, exemplifies many aspects of the community spirit engendered by the challenges of 2020, the urgency of the election, and creativity its encouraged.

In April, in the wake of the pandemic, the quilters came together to sew face masks for every member of the close-knit community. In June, the Souls Grown Deep Community Partnership announced it was establishing the Gee’s Bend Resource Center, providing free Internet access to promote voter registration, access to federal stimulus payments in the wake of the pandemic, and an accurate Census (Wilcox County, where Gee’s Bend is located has the lowest Census response rate in the state).

The collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston includes a quilt by Irene Williams (1920-2015), a Gee’s Bend quilter. Describing the design of the 1975 quilt, MFA curator Lauren Whitley said Williams “pieced together strips of red, white, and blue fabric printed with the word vote, arranging them in a novel variation of the Log Cabin pattern, called a Housetop, which was a favorite in Gee’s Bend.” The textile work was acquired in December 2018 and is titled, simply, “Vote.”

From get-out-the-vote efforts to billboards across America, a selection of the many creative ways artists, galleries, and museums are raising awareness about Election 2020 and critical issues of the moment follows:

 


The For Freedoms Election 2020 effort is inspired by the Wide Awakes, a group of abolitionists established in 1860 to mobilize against slavery and for Abraham Lincoln. | Courtesy For Freedoms

 
PUBLIC ART. Awakening 2020, For Freedoms, Various Artists, Nationwide | Through Nov. 18, 2020

Founded by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms is an artist led organization focused on creative civic participation, voter resources, and public awareness campaigns emphasizing an infinite quest for freedom and justice, that everyone has a voice and a vote. For Election 2020, For Freedoms implemented a 50-state billboard campaign (including Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands) and issued an Infinite Playbook providing specific guidance and information for artists and the public about how they can organize and spread the message through social media, virtual town halls, and their own artistic projects. Participants in the billboard campaign include Chloë Bass, Gina Belafonte, Garrett Bradley, John Edmonds, Shepard Fairey, Genevieve Gaignard, Guerrilla Girls, Glenn Kaino, Yashua Klos, Christine Sun Kim, Marilyn Minter, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Ai Weiwei, Toshi Reagon and Lola Flash. The 2020 campaign is focused on “not only increasing voter engagement, but a longer-term vision of a great Awakening centered around Healing, Justice and Listening, the new ‘Four Freedoms.’”

 


Vote.org’s Plan Your Vote campaign features voting advocacy artworks by artists including, from left, Paola Kudacki and Sanford Biggers

 
SOCIAL MEDIA. Plan Your Vote, Various Artists, Nationwide | Launched Sept. 10, 2020

A 2020 visual arts initiative from vote.org, Plan Your Vote “harnesses the power of art to promote and encourage citizens to exercise their right to vote.” Partnering with artists, museums, university art centers, other arts organizations, the campaign encourages the public to download and post images from their library of voting advocacy artworks on social media. Participating artists include American Artist, Calida Garcia Rawles, Candida Alvarez, Christine Sun Kim, Derrick Adams, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Kambui Olujimi, Robert Longo, Sanford Biggers, Sebastian Kim, Dyani White Hawk, and Wangechi Mutu.

 


MARK LOUGHNEY, “Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration,” 2014-present (graphite on paper, Series of 500 drawings, Each 12 x 9 inches. | © Mark Loughney, Courtesy the artist

 
EXHIBITION. “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” Various Artists, MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens, N.Y. | Sept. 17, 2020-April 4, 2021

This group exhibition “explores the work of artists within U.S. prisons and the centrality of incarceration to contemporary art and culture.” The lethal COVID-19 crisis in American prisons is also reflected. The exhibition, and accompanying book published in the months before it opened, is the culmination of a decade of research by guest curator Nicole R. Fleetwood, a professor of American studies and art history at Rutgers University. Her work has focused on the artistic practices of incarcerated artists and art by non-incarcerated artists concerned about erasure, state repression, and mass imprisonment. Works by more than 40 artists are on view, including American Artist, Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, Tameca Cole, Russell Craig, James “Yaya” Hough, Jesse Krimes, Mark Loughney, Gilberto Rivera, Sable Elyse Smith, and Jerome Washington. The exhibition includes a series of public programming, education initiatives, and related projects.

 


RODNEY MCMILLIAN, “Untitled (Supreme Court),” 2004-06 (poured acrylic paint on cut canvas, 216 x 216 inches). | Courtesy the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles, © 2020 the artist. Photo by Gene Ogami

 
EXHIBITION. “States of Mind: Art and American Democracy,” Various Artists, Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, Texas | Sept. 19-Dec. 19, 2020

Rice University is presenting an intergenerational group exhibition focused on the state of democracy and some of the most urgent and divisive issues in American politics, namely police brutality, gun control, immigration, and voter access. Works by 30 artists, dating from the 1990s to the present, are featured. “Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t for the 2020 Presidential Election,” a site-specific installation by Aram Han Sifuentes, is among the works on view. Several African American artists are also participating, including Alexandra Bell, Tony Cokes, Paul Stephen Benjamin, Janiva Ellis, Kevin Jerome Everson, Tomashi Jackson, Rodney McMillian, Xaviera Simmons, Hank Willis Thomas, and Wilmer Wilson IV.

 


Installation view of “11.03.2020: Vote!” mural by D’NAE HARRISON, LOVE Park, Philadelphia, Pa. | Photo by Photo by Steve Weinik

 
PUBLIC ART. To the Polls Murals, Various Artists, Philadelphia, Pa. | Oct. 2-Nov. 3, 2020

Organized by Mural Arts Philadelphia and curated by Conrad Benner, To the Polls features six temporary murals installed in Philadelphia’s LOVE Park. The artworks by Khalid Dennis (aka BKLvisions), Candy Alexandra González, D’nae Harrison, Hysterical Men, Nathaniel Lee, and Kah Yangni are designed to “excite the electorate” and encourage voters to have an election plan.

 


DREAD SCOTT, “The Legacy of Slavery Is in the Way of Progress and Will Be Until America, Which Benefits From That Legacy, Has Been Replaced With a Completely Different Society, proposal sketch,” 2018 (Digital photo collage, dimensions variable). | © Dread Scott, Courtesy the artist and the New York Times. Original photograph by Annie Flanagan for the New York Times

 
EXHIBITION. Citizenship: A Practice of Society, Various Artists Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver | Oct. 2, 2020-Feb. 14, 2021

Responding to urgent social issues and the current political climate, more than 30 artists are presenting works dating from 2016 to present. Contributors include Nicole Awai, Alexandra Bell, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ekene Ijeoma, Ariel René Jackson, Titus Kaphar, Kenya (Robinson), Jayson Musson, Pope.L, Dread Scott, Aram Han Sifuentes, and Nari Ward. “Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t for the 2020 Presidential Election,” a site-specific installation by Sifuentes, is among the works on view.

 


Art for Action: In Washington, D.C., digital screens project works by Carrie Mae Weems and Jeffrey Gibson. | Courtesy Orange Barrel Media

 
PUBLIC ART. Art for Action, Various Artists, Multiple Cities | Oct. 3-Nov. 3, 2020

In the lead up to the election, this nonpartisan public awareness campaign organized by Orange Barrel Media is running on 350 screens in 16 cities, including several battleground states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. Art for Action is expected to reach a daily audience of more than 3.3 million people and nearly 107 million over the course of the campaign via digital billboards and IKE Smart City kiosks. Featuring artworks by Jenny Holzer, Carrie Mae Weems, Jeffrey Gibson, and Tomashi Jackson, the initiative is focused on combating voter suppression with state-specific interactive information about voter registration, voting by mail, and other voter information and resources.

 


Vote Your Future by LACI JORDAN, for Times Square Arts. Based in Los Angeles,
Laci Jordan is an artist and creative director from Huntsville, Ala. | Courtesy Times Square Arts

 
PUBLIC ART. “Vote Your Future,” Various Artists, At the Crossroads, Times Square Arts, New York, N.Y. | Oct. 15-Nov. 8, 2020

Partnering with Amplifier Art, Times Square Arts is encouraging voter turnout, civic engagement, and direct action with images by nine emerging artists—Celeste Byers, Gillian Dreher, Shannon Finnegan, Brooke Fischer, Kayla Jones, Laci Jordan, Never Made, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, and Carolyn Suzuki. The artworks feature QR codes linking to state-specific voter information via vote.org. Posted all around Times Square, the artworks will also appear throughout the city on digital displays in public health clinics, food pantries, and community centers.

 


Installation view of Resist COVID-19 Take 6!, a public art installation and awareness campaign by Carrie Mae Weems, Lincoln Center, New York, N.Y. | Photo © James Wang

 
PUBLIC ART. Resist COVID-19 Take 6!, By Carrie Mae Weems, Lincoln Center, New York, N.Y. | Unveiled Oct. 15, 2020

First launched in May in Syracuse, Carrie Mae Weems‘s public art project is designed to build awareness about COVID-19 and the disproportionate infection and death rates among people of color. The messaging also focuses on dispelling myths about cures, promoting social distancing, encouraging public dialogue, and thanking frontline workers. The installation is the first-of-its-kind at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts where it debuted in October with bilingual versions for the first time. Partnering with mission-driven organizations such as museums, cultural institutions, universities, food banks, and health clinics, the campaign has been rolled out in New York City (Apollo Theater, Brooklyn Museum, The New School) and other major cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Durham, Nashville, Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta, Sarasota, and Savannah, with plans to bring the project to all 50 states.

 


“I ELECT: Power Every Four Years,” Starring Carey Brianna Hart, Written by Bill Spring, Directed by Ricky J. Martinez, and Produced by Jose Lima. Watch Trailer | Video by I Elect

 
THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE. “I ELECT: Power Every Four Years,” Starring Carey Brianna Hart | Premiered Oct. 17, 2020

This one-woman, one-act show starring Carey Brianna Hart, delivers a message about the power of voting. The 25-minute theatrical performance debuted Oct. 17 via livestream video. Hart’s character is a Miami, Fla., woman named Bella. Having endured pandemic isolation, with the 2020 election looming, she is emotionally fraught and decides to record her thoughts and feelings in a dramatic video message addressing fellow voters. Recalling her shock about the outcome of 2016, four years later, she is anxious in anticipation of the 2020 election.

 


EDGAR ARCENEAUX, “Sunset,” 2015-2020 (photographic print, 20 x 36 inches / 50.8 x 91.44 cm, unframed; 23.5 x 39.5 x 2 inches / 59.69 x 100.33 x 5.08 cm, framed; Edition 1 of 5, 2 AP). | © Edgar Arceneaux, Courtesy the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles

 
ONLINE EXHIBITION. “Edgar Arceneaux”Until, Until, Until…The Presidential Bookend Series (2015-2020),” Vielmetter Los Angeles | Oct. 24-Nov. 21, 2020

In 2015, Edgar Arceneaux presented his first live work, a recreation of Ben Vereen’s infamous performance at Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inaugural celebration. Appearing in blackface, Vereen offered an homage to vaudeville performer Bert Williams that concluded with “a biting commentary on the history of Black performance, assimilation into white norms, and white supremacy,” footage the television audience didn’t see. The censored version skewed viewers opinions of the performance and the actor. Revisiting Arceneaux’s re-staging days before the 2020 election, this exhibition features eight images documenting the live work.

 



New York commissioned 48 artists to reinvent the “I Voted” sticker. The David Hammons design is based on his red, black, and green African American flag (top right). Amy Sherald adapted a 2017 portrait, “What’s precious inside of him does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence (All American),” in which her subject is wearing a red, white, and blue flag shirt and a black cowboy hat (bottom right).

 
MAGAZINE. “I Voted” Stickers, Various Artists, New York Magazine | Oct. 26-Nov. 8, 2020 issue

Every election season, after casting a ballot in person, voters are given “I Voted” stickers to wear proudly as proof they have fulfilled their civic duty. New York magazine and I am a voter (a self-described “nonpartisan movement”) collaborated with 48 artists who designed a collection of reimagined “I Voted” stickers. The magazine produced four different covers for its Oct. 26 edition, each featuring a dozen designs, with a sheet of the corresponding “I Voted” decals inserted inside the double issue. Nearly half of the participating artists are Black, including Derrick Adams, Bisa Butler, Tawny Chatmon, Alfred Conteh, Julian Gaines, Rico Gatson, David Hammons, Yashua Klos, Glenn Ligon, Bobby C. Martin Jr., Shantell Martin, Shaina McCoy, Julie Mehretu, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Adam Pendleton, Deborah Roberts, Amy Sherald, Devan Shimoyama, Lorna Simpson, Hank Willis Thomas, and Sam Vernon.

 


Biden-Harris mural by Jonathan Desrosiers in Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, Fla. | Courtesy Truxton Media

 
PUBLIC ART. “Murals Across America,” Various Artists, Various Locations | Ongoing

In the lead up to the Presidential election, the Biden-Harris campaign worked with Washington, D.C.-based Truxton Creative to commission eight Black artists to create murals in battleground states. The murals feature the Biden-Harris logo and focus on the power and importance of voting. Participating artists include Tia Richardson in Milwaukee, Wisc.; Shawn Perkins in Detroit, Mich.; Jonathan Desrosiers in Miami, Fla.; Chukwunonso Ofili in Houston, Texas; Ernel Martinez in Philadelphia, Pa.; Isaiah Williams in Cleveland, Ohio; Joseph McKinney in Atlanta, Ga.; and Antoine Williams in Durham, N.C.

 


Carl Hancock Rux performing The Baptism (of The Sharecropper’s Son & The Boy From Boonville), a three-part tribute poem commissioned by Lincoln Center. | Photo courtesy Lincoln Center

 
VISUAL POEM. “Carl Hancock Rux: The Baptism (of The Sharecropper’s Son & The Boy From Boonville),” Directed by Carrie Mae Weems, Lincoln Center, New York, N.Y. | Debuted Oct. 27, 2020

Commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, artist and poet Carl Hancock Rux has composed a three-part poem paying homage to pivotal civil rights figures John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, who both risked their bodies and lives to secure the right to vote for Black people. Both Lewis and Vivian died on July 17, 2020, in Atlanta. Rux has a dramatic voice of great depth and warmth and he speaks with authority and conviction. He performs the poem for an 11-minute abstract film directed by artist Carrie Mae Weems. Online, the project also includes brief video interviews with Rux conducted by Weems, in which the poet speaks candidly about first learning about the Civil Rights Movement, the influence of Bernice Johnson Reagon, and what made Lewis stand out. In the coming months, additional programming is expected including special installations and screenings in New York and beyond.

 


JAMES “YAYA” HOUGH made 40 watercolors depicting the Feb. 23, 2020, murder of Ahmaud Arbery who he was jogging in Glynn County in South Georgia when he was chased, shot, and killed by white vigilantes. | © James “Yaya” Hough

 
ONLINE EXHIBITION. “Rendering Justice,” Various Artists, African American Museum in Philadelphia | Opened Oct. 28, 2020

Examining mass incarceration in American, this exhibition showcases “varied responses to the displacement of bodies and revocation of autonomy entailed in incarceration. The works affirm how artists maintain a sense of identity, regain their agency, and grapple with coercive forces until—and after—they reenter society.” Works by currently and formerly incarcerated artists as well as internationally recognized figures are on view. Contributing artists include Russell Craig, Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kaphar, Michelle Daniel (Jones) and Deborah Willis, Mary Elizabeth Enoch Baxter, James “Yaya” Hough, Jared Owens, and Michael “OG Law” TaBon. Produced in partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, with support from the Art for Justice Fund, this exhibition is currently presented online because the museum remains closed due to COVID-19. The show is guest curated by Jesse Krimes. More coverage

 


Details (2) from “The Signing” (2017), a 15-foot photograph by Renee Cox that reinterprets Howard Chandler Christy’s “Scene at The Signing of the Constitution of the United States” | © Renee Cox, Courtesy the artist and Boca Raton Museum of Art

 
ARTWORK. “The Signing,” By Renee Cox, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, Fla. | Through September 2021

Among the works on view in its galleries this fall, the Boca Raton Museum of Art is displaying “The Signing” (2017), a grand, 15-foot photograph by Renee Cox. The work is loan from the artist at the request of senior curator Kathleen Goncharov. The fascinating and dramatic image revisits Howard Chandler Christy’s 1940 painting “Scene at The Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” offering a contemporary take with Black subjects. In Cox’s version of the historic moment in 1787, her cast dons elaborate and fabulous costumes, including garments made from brightly colored African fabrics, period clothing from the 1700s, as well as contemporary ensembles. The work is being shown publicly for the first time. In a statement from the museum, New York-based Cox said: “This work aims to unleash the potential of the ordinary and bring it into a new realm of possibilities. It’s about time we re-imagine our own constitutions.”

 


ZINA SARO-WIWA, “Table Manners,” 2014-2019. | © Zina Saro-Wiwa, Courtesy the artist

 
PUBLIC ART. Zina Saro-Wiwa: Table Manners, Midnight Moments, Times Square Arts, New York, N.Y. | Nov. 1-30, 2020

For six years, Zina Saro-Wiwa produced a series of “eating performances” featuring people from the Niger Delta, with each of the subjects consuming a meal while staring directly at her camera. Every night at midnight, throughout November, one of the works will flash across the digital screens in Times Square. Each of Saro-Wiwa’s video works begins with the name of the performer and what they are eating. The description of the project notes that “…the simple act of consuming a meal is staged as a celebration of community, tradition, and a collective act of memory. …Candid and vulnerable yet undeniably confrontational, the works also raise consciousness around the socioeconomic and political troubles the oil-producing Nigerian region faces.” Nigerian-born Saro-Wiwa is based in Los Angeles.

“I’m really pleased to be showing this work in the month of November. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic it was to be August, but this month is auspicious. It is a momentous time in America’s history. A war for the country’s soul is taking place with this election, it seems. It is also the 25th anniversary of my father’s execution. A man who fought for the rights of our land and people not to be despoiled by Big Oil and an oppressive military regime. This work Table Manners is about coming together. About communing. About respect for one another and respect for the land.”
— Zina Saro-Wiwa


NICK CAVE, “Truth Be Told,” 2020. | © Nick Cave, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery

 
PUBLIC ART. “Truth Be Told,” By Nick Cave, Jack Shainman, The School, Kinderhook, N.Y.

Chicago-based artist Nick Cave intended to install this text-based work on the neo-Federalist facade of Jack Shainman’s outpost in Upstate New York three months ago, but permission from the village of Kinderhook has yet to be granted. With the election imminent, the artist and gallery moved forward with the monumental work composed of black vinyl letters standing 25-feet-tall. The gallery describes the work as “a pointed antidote to a presidency known for propaganda that disguises truth and history to present racist and nativist ideology as patriotism. It is also open-ended, intended to spark questions surrounding personal interpretations of truth and integrity.” About the protest work, Cave said, “Time to step up, and into the truth.”

 


Days after the election, artist, choreographer, theater director, and writer Bill T. Jones will deliver the next Message From the Library via Zoom

 
ONLINE PUBLIC LECTURE. Bill T. Jones: Message From the Library, Brooklyn Public Library, New York, N.Y. | Nov. 8, 2020 at 7 p.m. EST

Choreographer Bill T. Jones has been commissioned to deliver the Brooklyn Public Library’s next Message From the Library via Zoom. Titled “At Risk,” the post-election lecture will consider the powers and limits of language, performance, and perception at a time when artists, individuals, and the nation as a whole have felt acutely ‘at risk.'” CT

 

READ MORE Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris talked art with artists Carrie Mae Weems, Catherine Opie, and Shepherd Fairey at a virtual kickoff event for Artists for Biden

READ MORE about Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s record on support for the arts

 


PUBLIC ART. Biden/Harris Crop Circle Portraits: Artist Stan Herd made an earthwork image of Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden in March, that receded into the terrain weeks later as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In August, when Biden named Sen. Kamala Harris as his Vice Presidential running mate, Herd created a portrait of her on the same site at Juniper Hill Farms, north of Lawrence, Kan. The land is in full view of planes landing at Lawrence Municipal Airport. | Video by Resonate Pictures

 

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