For this exhibition, Ivan Witenstein takes as his starting point the assembling of an epic poem partly inspired by a recent biography of the abolitionist John Brown. His interest in simultaneously writing, illustrating and annotating the verses results in a constellation of paintings and sculptures. He sites as a partial template, and an additional point of reference, Jello Biafra’s updating the lyrics to folk singer Phil Ochs’ song, Love Me I’m a Liberal. Biafra turned Ochs’ Civil Rights era attack on liberal passivity into one on modern Clinton Democrats. Witenstein is particularly interested in this method of redirecting the accusation.
Witenstein’s new sculptures are realized in pigmented resin and fiberglass, bronze and chrome plated steel. Two families of figurative sculptures are accompanied by two individual sculptures of contemplative young boys. The figurative groupings are meant to evoke both the holy trinity and nuclear family units. The boys stand in stark contrast to the families, in that they represent the individual away from the nuclear group. The boys begin and end the exhibition. The first boy, dressed up as a cop riding the family dog, serves the dual function of guarding the entrance to the show and participating as a viewer, studying the works on the wall along with the visitors. The second boy is a sensational version of Huck Finn, with parts of other characters grafted to him.
The exhibition also includes bronze weaponry (seemingly dislodged from commemorative monuments), and a sculpture based on a satirical cartoon that envisions an anti-Northern monument critiquing the North’s ideological foibles from a Southern voice. Installed along the gallery walls will be a series of watercolors ranging widely in scale and source, that include allusions to political cartooning, comics, illustration, and music, among other things.