Language in Times of Miscommunication opened March 4th at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary art. The show is curated by Lauren O’Connell, the museum’s curator of contemporary art, with the support of Kesha Turley. The exhibition includes the most recent iteration of my installation, Possibilities for Representation, that I began work on over three years ago. It spans a period of time that includes a pandemic and Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
The exhibition brings together the work of 18 artists whose work addresses the role perception plays in the reception of information. It’s an ambitious show that pushes back against dismissive labels like ‘political art’ with a range of works that engage subjectivity and how viewers or audiences may construct meaning, perhaps differently than intended by any individual author. The speed with which words, phrases, and are coopted and appropriated by the right highlights the mutability of language to function as a political symbol.
The show was recently reviewed by Lynn Trimble for Hyperallergic who observed “William Powhida’s “Possibilities for Representation” (2020–ongoing), an expansive watercolor and gouache installation comprising a timeline of the United States’ political history and several imagined futures, speaks to the existence of propaganda across time with an elegant mix of history and humor, conveyed in part through images culled from the overlapping realms of politics and pop culture.”
My installation shares a gallery with York Chang, Christopher Jagmin, April Bey, Jenny Holzer, and Safwat Saleem among the artists included in the exhibition. If you are in the area this excellent group show is currently on view in Scottsdale, AZ until August 27th and well worth a visit. A catalog is currently available for pre-order and curator Lauren O’Connell has written an extensive and insightful essay that provides far more context for all the artists' work.
I’m grateful to Lauren O’Connell and the museum for providing me the space and time to produce the latest version of Possibilities. Further documentation of all of the paintings included in the installation will be available soon. This is an exhibition that I would love to see travel in 2024 as we enter another election cycle in times of constant and intentional miscommunication.
Installation views of Language in Times of Miscommunication at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), March 4 – August 27, 2023. Photo: David Blakeman
Pictured: William Powhida’s Possibilities for Representation (Variation 6), York Chang’s Factograph Series, Christopher Jagmin’s I Will Sleep Tonight (center) and April Bey’s Your Progress (left). Safwat Saleem’s Concerned but Powerless #1 - #22
The Art World™ is in full swing in Miami celebrating the art market’s dominance as the main distribution system for contemporary art under global capitalism. I’m thinking about what it means to be an anti-capitalist, which I cannot claim to be while my products are on display at Art Miami. It is more of an aspirational position, while I remain stuck in contradiction trying to sell work critical of the role of art and artists in a global art market. I’m thinking about it because you don’t have to identify as a capitalist when you participate in the art world. That distinction is reserved for actual anti-capitalists (some of whom are probably showing and selling work tbf). It’s not like you have to append your role to include ‘capitalist’ along with your other identity markers. I think would be embarrassing for many of us who have rather progressive social and political beliefs about how society should operate, particularly in the state of Florida where Republican Ron DeSantis is gearing up for his presidential campaign. That contradiction doesn’t seem to matter much when so many people invested in art descend on South Beach for the party. For a few more days the art world will revel in the fullness of its embodiment of capitalism and congratulate the winners including those politically-minded artists who embrace the contradiction to get their messages in front of the ruling class with the money to buy their work. It’s a bit gross to watch unfold across the various media platforms, but it is also an accurate distillation of the dominant forces driving contemporary art - aspiration, speculation, and compliance. At the very least, I do not have be there to kiss all the ass. At this point, I’d rather just send the art into the Miamiasma. I have to credit artist Paul D’Agostino for that term and the title of this brief post, after he coined the phrase from my obligatory Instagram post of my work for the fairs. And of course, the works are available through Gallery Poulsen, if you happen to identify with my position.
Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has motivated me to stop using the platform and start thinking about other, older ways of thinking in public again. Prior to Musk taking the company private again, I had largely stopped using the platform to communicate with others in any meaningful way. It became a site to get news and hear the inner monologues of a few interesting people, but those accounts had grown few and far between. Mostly I seemed to be reading about narrow bands of interest from interesting people or watching journalists practice an extension of their (paid) work as writers. All of this has been accompanied by a shift towards live-performance on Instagram and TikTok, which I have little interest engaging with. As a ‘word person’, I had also stopped writing and thinking in forms longer than a caption outside of my art or the occasional writing project. I don’t think I’m going to return to regular blogging, but I do think there is something to returning to a space where I can think out loud when no one is looking. I imagine anyone reading this has decided to visit this site looking for a particular art work or some piece of information. It is an island in a sea of information and does not have to perform in an attention economy. Anyway, it’s ironic that the democratizing platform of Twitter has ended up in the hands of a billionaire who is looking to turn Twitter into a profit-engine. It’s something that would fit neatly into one of my more dystopian timelines about the contemporary era which has seen some of the worst effects of wealth and income inequality come to pass, including the erosion of democratic institutions that Thomas Piketty warned about in Capital in the 21st Century. So, you won’t find me active on Twitter anymore @powhida, but I’m leaving the account there as a digital headstone for over a decade of sometimes interesting and often embarrassing public engagement about being an artist in New York. #RIPDrunkartist
I’m nervous to present documentation from my installation, Possibilities for Representation, at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art included in Twenty Twenty. I’m nervous and filled with anxiety about the outcome of the coming election and what it will mean for the subsequent iterations of the installation. The exhibition, organized by Exhibitions Director Richard Klein, features several artists whose work addresses the politically-charged moment with works on paper drawn from photographic sources. All of the artists have been invited to add, subtract, or modify their contributions to the show. I started work on the paintings for the show back in January to prepare for a June opening that was interrupted along with the rest of the world until October of this year. The individual works are currently for sale, much like the politicians depicted in the works who depend on private money to fund their campaigns. This decision is explained in a little more detail in the note included in the installation, but is not entirely commentary on campaign finance. It is also commentary on the economic impact of COVID on artists and galleries. The Aldrich is not a collecting museum, so selling the work out of the exhibition is less fraught than the current austerity-driven deaccessioning happening across the country as museums struggle to deal with lost revenue and the important work of expanding the representation of their current collections. While there are important reasons for museums to sell works held in the public trust, it is still no less painful to see how museums are putting works back into speculative markets. I think it would feel similar to seeing a property held in a public land trust be dismantled and sold to private developers. In a less fucked up world donors, patrons, and the government would provide the funds necessary to support museum workers and begin new acquisitions campaigns to add under-represented artists (rather than engaging in expensive capital campaigns to expand their physical footprints). Right now, that isn’t a cultural or political reality, so it’s with some ambivalence that I accept there are urgent needs met by what might be described as “recapitalization” - returning work held in the public trust back into private hands due to a lack of public funding. It is difficult to put art, often held in storage and out of sight, before the needs of people. It just seems too much like an austerity measure and indictment of the lack of progress by museums to expand their holdings of art instead of expanding their spaces.
Paddy Johnson and I have decided to launch a Patreon campaign to help fund our podcast Explain Me. After a year-long hiatus, we returned with two episodes this year, which found us discussing the spring art fairs as the Corona virus pandemic unfolded around us, and a recent conversation about the impact of the “pause” on the art industry with Ateiler 4’s Jonathan Schwartz and my art dealer, Magda Sawon of Postmasters Gallery. Part of the reason we took a year off is due to the amount of work planning, recording, and editing a podcast takes while we have both been pursuing more freelance and adjunct teaching work to support our critical and artistic practices. It made the time commitment necessary to record and publish_ Explain Me_ on a monthly basis difficult for us, but we both really enjoy the work. To that end, we have launched the Patreon campaign to raise enough money to produce at least 3 - 4 episodes of _Explain Me_ each year with a goal of raising enough money from our listeners to record a new episode every two weeks. We understand that might challenging, particularly at this difficult moment, but we have to start somewhere. If you enjoy listening to _Explain Me_, please consider supporting our discussions of the way art, money, and politics intersect in the art-industrial complex. All of our previous and future episodes will remain available for free, but we can’t do it without the support of our core listeners. If you’re new to _Explain Me_, all of the episodes are available through Apple Podcasts, and I hope that you’ll give it a listen as we continue to record new episodes this spring and summer. If you find the episodes of interest, we welcome your financial support. https://www.patreon.com/explainme