Support and Defend
New work from David Howe
January 20th - March 6th
“But propaganda is never a mere waste of money, and its whole point is to make people feel as significant as possible” - B.R. Myers, art historian
Shaoul+Howe is pleased to present Support and Defend, an exhibition of recent works by gallery partner and founder David Howe. The decision to exhibit Howe’s work, while unusual and potentially controversial, remains within the gallery’s founding mission: to support unusual practices in contemporary art.
Reflective of the unique situation, artist William Powhida was invited to offer an outside perspective as a special curator of the exhibition. Support and Defend is the culmination of months of studio visits and hours of discussion between the gallery, the artist, and the curator regarding how best to present Howe’s political and conceptually-driven work as well as the inherent political dynamics of the situation.
The title of the exhibition, borrowed from a Tom Clancy CIA-espionage thriller, offers multiple allusions to the works included in Howe’s debut solo show. At the center of the exhibition, the immersive installation, “Merry Christmas! Love, Kim Jong Un,” explores the inner contradictions of life under a personality cult with wry humor. Howe’s fascination with images and facades of power extends into American society, ironically through the lens of the little known North Korean practice of “Collaborative Painting”, through two murals of Meta CEO and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Howe’s “Concrete Cathedral” represents another facet of authoritarianism and finds inspiration in the extraordinary steps the People’s Republic of Albania took to transform religious architecture into secular sites of collective activity during communist rule.
Intrigued by the parallels between North Korean collaborative painting and contemporary art practices employing anonymous assistants, Powhida commissioned a third painting to be completed on site at the gallery over the course of the six-week exhibition. Writing on the tradition of collaborative painting, artist and Georgetown Univeristy art professor BG Muhn observes, “collaborative work is generally considered unappealing within a capitalist society, where individuals working in tandem on the same piece of art may complicate creative direction and limit personal merit; in turn, artists might find their unique creative spirit undercut.” This potential conflict resolves itself in both systems when “the artists strictly follow the principle of foregoing attachment to an individual vision in order to serve the whole.”
The paradox of the North Korean ideology of Juche – self-reliance and the mastery of one’s own fate – in a communist state serves as an analogy for the ways subordinated classes of a society are expected to assume the attitudes of their ruling class. In North Korea, the position of the ‘master’ is defined as “an independent position and a creative position,” which finds numerous parallels in the position of the artist in Western societies. That Howe occupies both class positions is only one of the dualities that informs his darkly comic examinations of the uses of propaganda in Support and Defend.