An Ode to the Year That Will Live on in Infamy

RIDGEFIELD, CT — Two of the key things one does when drawing from life is separating the light from the shadows and separating the front or middle ground from the background. These simple acts of delineation take on prodigious metaphorical weight in hands of seven artists exhibiting their work in the show Twenty Twenty at the Aldrich Contemporary Museum.

The exhibition was originally conceived as both a document of and response to last year’s election season. But the way it deals with this subject is to wisely take the contrarian tact of using hand drawing to record and describe the cascade of upheavals, ructions, and catastrophes that made 2020 feel like an entire decade. The wall text tells me that the hand is central to this show because the appendage (and its utilization) suggests “deliberation and perhaps more importantly responsibility.” All the work is drawing based on photographic source material, and the most urgent pieces in the show give me a sense of the hand as a tool of action which expresses the crucial faculty of agency.

Andy Mister, “Paris; Barcelona; La Paz; Gaza; Beirut” (installation view), )(all 2020) (courtesy the artist and TURN Gallery, New York, Twenty Twenty, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, photo: Christopher E. Manning)

I see in the work of Andy Mister hands actively engaged in the struggle against arbitrary and irresponsible use of violence by the state: people throwing peace signs, wrestling police barricades out of their way, and shielding their mouths from aerosolized weaponry. His portraits are monochromatic, tinged in violet or gold or an icy blue, (combining pencil, charcoal and acrylic) each image its own chapter in a long saga of state-sponsored violence and its repercussions and the color imparts a certain mood to each scene. Oasa Duvernay’s drawings using only graphite on paper are more emotionally evocative. In her drawing “The foot on my neck is part of a body. The song that i sing is part of an echo” (2020) I can feel the immensity of the hug one figure gives the other. In this case the hands are grasping for the solidity and comfort of another body like a breathless patient gasping for air. Even in Duvernay’s portrait of a group of carnival hucksters performatively laying their hands on former President Donald Trump to ostensibly protect him, there is that intention: to guide, to protect, to petition for intervention.

William Powhida, “Possibilities for Representation” (2/7/2021 updated, installation view)(2020) (courtesy of the artist and Postmasters Gallery, New York, Twenty Twenty, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, photo: Christopher E. Manning

I’m also very moved by the work of William Powhida’s “Possibilities for Representation” (2020) which presents the many presidential candidates across the political spectrum in the form of a chart, with small watercolor portraits of each individual. The may also places these candidates on the continuum between socialism and fascism. What I most enjoy about the work is that Powhida weaves in characters from popular film and television. Characters from The Matrix, Mad Max, The Expanse, Elysium, and the Star Trek series appear with descriptive notes such as “Simulation”; “Societal Collapse, Energy Crisis”; “Democracy”; “Oligarchy in Space”; and “Collectivity.” Powhida shows me that our fictional lives as refracted by large movie studio and television conglomerates have everything to do with current circumstances, because these stories tell us what we want and who we are in the dark.

Oasa DuVerney, “Through the lies and the sell-outs, The mistakes and the madness. Through pain and hunger and frustration, We carried it on” (2020)

The first few works I encountered in Twenty Twenty were less compelling and frankly apt than the ones I discuss above — work by Diana Shpungin felt like drawing as reverie and Marti Cormand’s work had a more formalist and whimsical focus. Still, this is a powerful show in its exploration of its central conceit: Our political and social world is in our hands, and whether it ends up a dystopian hellscape or a place of thriving vitality depends on how we collectively imagine it, draw it, and shape it.

Twenty Twenty continues at the Aldrich Contemporary Museum (258 Main Street Ridgefield, Connecticut) through March 14. It was organized by Richard Klein, the exhibitions director, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

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