By the time the ink on this article dries, the nation will have sworn in the president with the catchiest catchphrase since Eisenhower's "I like Ike." If ever there was a time for art to explore political language, it's now.
Beep Beep Gallery's Popaganda attempts to tackle the visual language of politics without all the messiness of actual politics. Organizers Mark Basehore and James McConnell have brought together work designed to promote itself, promote nothing, or promote promotion with no ties to real campaigns or parties. Unfortunately, this group show is long on promise and short on delivery.
Popaganda squeezes 15 artists' works into Beep Beep's intimate, studiously lo-fi space. The exhibit consists mostly of small paintings, drawings and mixed-media works by a young stable of gallery regulars including Ben Goldman and Sat Kirpal Khalsa. Themes depicted range from Goldman's hyperpatriotic portrait of the gallery's founders to Evereman's early Soviet-style print of a worker mounting a poster by – who else? – Evereman. The spirit of Shepard Fairey hangs low over all.
What should have been a provocative look at how art shades into marketing shades into manipulation, instead too often degenerates into a series of easy jokes. But irony eats its young. And the down-at-the-heels, hipster aesthetic of snarky irony evinced by most of the show's works is already starting to feel dated.
A missed opportunity is forgivable, but Popaganda takes a step down from there. Kerri Boles' mixed-media drawing casts Martha Stewart as a Nazi officer in full salute in "Martha, Martha, Martha." Not only is this shooting fish in a barrel, it's extreme and just mean. I have to wonder if survivors of Buchenwald would also equate making sweaters for dogs with gassing 4 million Jews.
Popaganda does offer bright spots: Reed Elliott's untitled work consists of a banana that can only be described as erect covered in popcorn kernels and a broken condom. Explosive, absurd fertility. Bean Summers' cut-and-paste video of multilevel marketing testimonials may be his best work yet.
The subject of propaganda is a potent one by which lives are saved and lost. Too bad it's made to freeze in the cold night of radical disengagement. Consider flippancy Gen-X's gift to culture. Or, like, whatever.