Starting March 21, 2018, the Schirn presents an extensive exhibition on the political art of the present day. It questions phenomena of and potential for political involvement.

Democracy appears to be in crisis, the era of post-democracy already dawned. The symptoms are manifold: populist leaders, fake news, autocratic backlash, totalitarian propaganda, and neoliberalism. For some time, however, society has also been experiencing the path of the art’s return to the political - a re-politicization is palpable. Images of demonstrations in the media have shaped public perception in recent years: waving flags, posters, or banners on streets and squares, at the Women’s March, in anti-Brexit campaigns, or in Occupy actions. 

There have been renewed waves of protest relating to very diverse contexts, countries, and political systems. This has affected artists as well. They create works that they regard as instruments of critique and explicitly motivated by politics. The exhibition Power to the People focuses on fundamental questions and examinations of the phenomena of and potential for political involvement. Stances are called into question, forms of protest depicted, and new stages of de-democratization considered. 

The question for political involvement concerns us worldwide

In doing so, the mechanisms and logic of political participation are addressed, even beyond concrete concerns. Through bringing together artistic positions from all manner of countries—from Germany, England, Belgium, and the United States to Turkey, Israel, or Libya—it hence encourages reflection not least on what political participation can look like and the consequences it entails in each case.

Julius von Bismarck, Fuguration #5 (May Day Riot Police), 2009 © The artist, Courtesy alexander levy, Berlin; Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf
Videostill: Halil Altındere, Ballerinas and Police, 2017 © the artist, Courtesy the artist and PİLOT Galeri, Istanbul

The exhibition brings together 43 works of different media, such as installations, photography, drawing, painting, and film, including artworks by, for instance, Guillaume Bijl, Adelita Husni-Bey or Ricarda Roggan. They take a critical look at the fragility of popular representation, the breakdown of public institutions, and the limits of parliamentary democracy. The works of Halil Altındere, Osman Bozkurt, or Ahmet Öğüt deal with structural inequality, state oppression and arbitrariness, but also with public protest as a form of political participation.

Osman Bozkurt, Marks of Democracy / Portraits of the Voters, 2002 © the artist

The active involvement of citizens in designing public life is, for instance, addressed in the works of Katie Holten, Rirkrit Tiravanija, or Nasan Tur—while the spectrum of artistic forms of resistance is shown in the works of Phyllida Barlow, Hiwa K, or Marinella Senatore. Works such as those by Jens Ullrich examine the poster as a medium of political protest, while artists such as Julius von Bismarck or Mark Flood deal with the manipulability of media images and new, primarily medial forms of political participation and production of opinion. The collective Forensic Architecture or Andrea Bowers merge artistic methods and activism in their works and pose the question of art as a politically productive force.

Jens Ullrich, Plakate 006, 2006/2018 © the artist and VG-Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2018, Courtesy the artist and VAN HORN, Düsseldorf