Spotlight: Politics as usual

Henry L. Everett (publisher) and unidentified artist (designer), etching of Revolutionary War Battle at Lexington, Massachusetts c. 1890s. Courtesy Ackland Art Museum.

by Jessie Ammons

As state and national politics get ready to fully take over our airwaves, the Ackland Art Museum has taken on the interesting task of exploring how artists negotiate that thorny world. Politics as Usual, a three-part installation tucked into an L-shaped nook of the gallery, is a small but mighty exhibit worth devoting half an hour to on your next trip to Chapel Hill.

The fun of this small-scale display is that Ackland has turned to its own collection, which is known for its compendium of photography and other works on paper, including drawings and prints, to put it all together. Assistant curator Lauren Turner says she focused on “historic examples of artists engaging with political concerns.” In three 10-piece parts that will run through February, Politics as Usual examines the themes of challenging power, electing power, and maintaining power.

From 19th century European book illustrations with civil undertones to boldly emblazoned posters from the Cuban Revolution and photos of protests in 1960s America, government is detested, respected, and challenged.

It’s a modest celebration both of the museum’s collection and of art’s role in culture, and you’ll likely leave examining our current media with a closer eye.

George Cruikshank, “An Election Ball,” hand-colored etching. Courtesy Ackland Art Museum


Elizabeth Layton, “Censored,” 1989, lithograph with hand-coloring on paper

Part one of Politics as Usual, Challenging Power, is on display through August 21. Part two, Electing Power, runs August 26 through November 13; Part three, Maintaining Power, runs November 18 through February 5, 2017.

101 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill;