Editor’s Letter, January/February 2017

KC Studio editor Alice Thorson, photo by Mark Berndt.

Three days after the election, the Truman Library Institute issued a press release that characterized Donald Trump’s victory as “a political upset that stunned the world and rivaled Truman’s surprise defeat of Thomas Dewey in 1948.”  The release went on to announce the 10th annual Howard & Virginia Bennet Forum on the Presidency.

The Nov. 12 event provided a collective catharsis for a packed audience at Unity Temple on the Plaza, who came to hear TIME Editor-at-Large David Von Drehle, journalist and “Dark Money” author Jane Mayer, and presidential historian Douglas Brinkley share anecdotes, prognosticate about what to expect, and offer historical context for Trump’s unexpected win.

The session was both calming and sobering, offering balm in the form of information and humor.

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet,” which opened at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Nov. 19, offers another kind of post-election balm. Channeling the individual voices of 40 members of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir through 40 speakers as they sing a sacred choral work by Thomas Tallis, the work offers a transcendent immersion in the beauty of song.

A large gallery at the south end of the Bloch Building hung with buff-colored acoustic panels provides an austere setting for the 40 black speakers arranged in a large oval. Listeners can amble among them, or take a seat on the benches within and close their eyes, the better to meditate on the work’s larger message of many voices joined in unity in honor of an idea bigger than themselves. The exhibit continues through March 19.

The Lyric Opera’s upcoming production of “Dead Man Walking,” inspired by a nun’s belief in the value of all human lives, also takes on added dimension as the country embarks on a new course, which may or may not, in Sister Helen’s words, “Bring compassion into a world which is cruel without reason.”

Artists too, are busy processing the election results. “Art can make something out of this awful present,” New York artist Matthew Weinstein wrote in a mass email circulated in the days following the election.

“Think of the artists who, in grotesque times, turned revulsion into imagery and gesture, and through acts of passionate creativity gave panicked and grieving people an iconographical mirror,” Weinstein enjoined. “And when this time is past, and it will pass, people will look back at it partially through images and gestures.”

A new poem by Glenn North, composed in honor of the American Jazz Museum’s new “Harmony on the Vine” mural, holds just such a mirror up to recent racist episodes, while veteran artist Roger Shimomura’s exhibit at the Belger Arts Center battles racist stereotypes.

Like North’s poem, Shimomura’s paintings stand firm in their support of justice for all, defying those who would dismiss that cause as “political correctness.”

CategoriesKC Studio
Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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