What do Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937), Alfredo Jaar’s Rwanda Project (1994-98), Teresa Serrano’s Amapola (2017), and Yoko Ono’s Dream Together (2020) have in common? They individually focus on traumatic events such as, respectively, the bombing of a Spanish city, genocide in Rwanda, drug wars and femicide in a Mexican city that borders the USA, and the current Covid-19, global pandemic. Each work cited, of which there are many more in the history of art with similar themes, is characterized by a unique aesthetic that doesn’t diminish any of its content but rather impacts the viewer in direct or oblique ways. It can be, however, ostensibly problematic to ponder these works as art because of the very nature of their subject matter; and this is not unlike Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others (2003) and its thesis of art’s innate difficulty in addressing catastrophe to those who do not directly experience it.
Darkest Before Dawn: Art in a Time of Uncertainty is an exhibition of international artists that work in diverse media including painting, sculpture, photography, video, sound art and performance that explores a myriad of topical subject matter in a world of uncertainty. And similar to the exhibition’s title culled from the eponymous aphorism of a 17th century theologian, the exhibited artworks equally offer hope and, akin to an enlightening dawn, to break through one of the darkest moments we currently find ourselves in our collective, human history.
Image: Elisabeth Ajtay, Untitled (X-Ray), photogram, 2018, 16.25 x 21.5 in.