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 Cloud Gate, Anish Kapoor

attentive octopus


Tonight Barack Obama will address supporters from a stage in Grant Park, Chicago, the site of the
1968 riots during the Democratic National Convention. The swampy land Grant
Park is built on was solidified by filling it with debris after the Great Chicago
Fire. In the ensuing decades the landfill project filled in a lagoon and
connected the city park to a railroad causeway in the harbor. Today there are 70,000 people expected
to show up on the shores of Lake Michigan, win
or lose.


Chicago DNC Riots 1968

Pacific Street Film, Court TV, 1999


The turbulent 1960s have defined our American culture for the past 40 years,
and in selecting Grant Park a line in the sand has been drawn for those
adhering to the old labels that have polarized Americana. To say that the last century
will not define this new one
is to shed liberal and conservative
identities, but not to be reactionary. That doesn’t mean watching a video of
protesters colliding with police and not picking a side. Or to admire Bobby
Seale in court, to feel pride in his defiance of authority, without hating
those who tied him to a chair and gagged him during the Chicago 8 trial. Rather, it is the
canonization of these polarizing 60s images, used so frequently in art, that
can bring a pragmatism to ideological division.


Courtroom Sketch; Bobby Seale bound and gagged with federal marshall holding his hand over Seale’s mouth, Andy Austin, 1969


There were race riots in April of 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr. was
shot. Just four months later the anti-war movement would be standing on the debris of the 1837 fire, trash to
be taken out by the old guard of the Democratic party. During
the Democratic National Convention, network newscasters juxtaposed Dem insider
Hubert Humphrey’s acceptance speech with police beating protesters across the
street from the convention center. Before Democrats took up the traditionally
Republican mantle of ethnic and gender equality for good, they would lose one
final time with outdated ideas and a divided base. George McGovern’s losses in
’68 and ’72, to Humphrey and Nixon respectively, are not where the Democratic Party
is hanging its hat, making amends for the past. The driving force today will
look beyond the history of the last generations. When history is superflat it does not disappear
(sorry po-mo), it comes closer. How the artworld treated May 1968 was cold and demeaning, but art’s interpretation of today will be radically different.

If Obama wins or loses, his audience may take it in relation to the old divisions, a victory when defeat once stood or a crushing blow in the same spot where violence flared 50 years ago over representation of youth and liberalism in government. They may instead look to the 21st century, new communication and society to see not a binary system, but a balkanization of topical analysis, localism and internationalism that brought together groups with wildly divergent mores that are now energized and organized to advance separate and competing themes in politics. I can’t wait for today to be over.


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