BEER SUMMIT: ENVISIONING ARTISTIC ENGAGEMENT WITH ARCHIVE
Museum displays in presidential libraries are notorious for obfuscating the historical truths found in their archives. Famously, the displays in Ronald Reagan’s presidential library did not mention the Iran-Contra scandal even as it held the documents about those events. The mediated nature of archives has made them an important subject in contemporary art. Artists like Fred Wilson, James Luna and Walid Raad have created archive displays that offer uncomfortable histories and ambiguous narratives that reshape public imagination about archival subjects. With bids under development in New York, Hawaii and Chicago for Obama’s presidential library how do recent artistic interventions into archives help us envision a body of objects and documents that is a public resources for transformation?
“Beer Summit” refers to an incident during Obama’s first term when acclaimed black Harvard historian Henry Lewis Gates was arrested entering his own home by a Sargent in the Cambridge Police force.
The incident was covered by media outlets as a example of racial profiling, and has become a term for discussing politics and visual culture. Obama in a press conference described the incident as a teaching moment, a time for the country to have a national dialogue about race and police activity. This lead to Obama to invite the arresting Sargent and Henry Lewis Gates to a beer in a patio near the rose garden. It was referred to in the media as the Beer Summit.
Participants include: Steve Ruiz, artist and operator of the Visualist.com, Lauren Pacheco of the Chicago Urban Art Society and the Art in Public Places program of the 25th ward, and Alison Kleiman of the DePaul Art Museum.
Ross Jordan is an Assistant Director of Exhibitions and the Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Exhibitions and Exhibitions Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He holds masters degrees in art history and arts administration and policy from the same institution. Previously, he was a 12-month intern in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art where he was a contributor to the museums blog InSide/Out and provided research support for future exhibitions including Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art (2011). Ross is interested in the intersection of material and visual culture and political and public imagination. Recent curatorial projects include Haptic: Touch and Textile at Adult Contemporary, Chicago (2014) and In/visible at Co-prosperity Sphere in Chicago’s Bridgeport Neighborhood (2012). Originally from Decatur Ga. Ross received his B.A. in Studio Arts from Connecticut College and was a recipient of a studio arts fellowship at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.
Image Caption: This 2010 image from the Pittsburgh Post-Ghezett by Rob Rogers illustrates how failures and disappointment from one administration get passed on to the next. Rogers counts on his readers expectation that presidential libraries are sites of commemoration and not designed for deep political and policy inquiry. In ironic fashion he points to the public dialogue these buildings could evoke, but are never are given the chance to do so.