Published originally for East Side Monthly magazine. October 25, 2018.
A RISD Museum exhibition grapples with art, identity, and The Phantom of Liberty
In early October 2016, Dominic Molon was driving through Virginia, and he knew where the election results were heading. There, in the home state of vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, Molon saw lawn after lawn hosting Trump signs. Molon is the RISD Museum’s Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, and this experience became the seed for one of the museum’s latest exhibitions, The Phantom of Liberty, the broadest exploration of post-war art and design in its history.
The exhibit is named after a surrealist film of the same title by Luis Buñuel. The film is characterized by loosely related, darkly comedic vignettes, which are critical of social order and vertiginous in effect. RISD’s The Phantom of Liberty adopts a similar mood, engaging art from different modes and media, like textile, video, painting, and sculpture. The exhibit is intended to spark questions and conversations about the nature of freedom and its intersections with identity.
The show, now on display at the Chase Center, is kaleidoscopic in scale and scope. You can listen to audio of artist Ann Hamilton reading excerpts of Walt Whitman’s “The Body Electric” and “Song of Myself” next to a wicker casket filled with mouth molds made from bread dough. Molon’s curatorial statement is positioned on a wall in the middle of the room, opposite to “Pause Wallcovering,” a vibrant graphic design composed of repeating patterns of commas and periods; artist 2×4 Inc. repurposes the language of computer interfaces and digital communication to surprising and haunting effect.
Some pieces are especially provocative, like Liz Collins’ “Pride Dress”, an American flag that has been altered into a dress that is too long for the mannequin, trailing and frayed on the ground – or Pia Camil’s “The Little Dog Laughed”, a curtain composed of abstractions taken from billboards in the artist’s native Mexico. Also featuring work from art world celebrities Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly, The Phantom of Liberty is a poignant and critical examination of our times. The Phantom of Liberty continues through December 30 at the Chase Center. 20 North Main Street