DRIVEN   2007

A portrait of American angst develops like a negative from the bath of billboards, sound bites, and banner ads we live in. Advertisers offer us beauty, because we feel ugly. They show us family, because we are lonely. And they proffer military-style SUVs because we fear invasion. For the past twenty years, the multi-talented artist Johanna Poethig has been showing up the contradictions in this exchange with works that challenge reactive consumers to become responsible citizens. In this exhibition, she satirizes the American propensity to seek safety in ways that endanger us. The ceramic tile sound installation Hummer Security opposes advertising claims that SUVs equal security. Hummer, the answer to global disaster? This car gets 10 miles per gallon on a good day. If war-for-oil doesn’t get us, global warming will. Poethig’s Guzzlers are on a joyless ride, haunted by the incongruities of their “safe” choices. Driven showcases Poethig’s edgy side. Her activist instincts place her in the great tradition of political artists that runs from Jacques Louis David through Diego Rivera to contemporary practitioners such as Barbara Kruger. Although Poethig is best-known as a public artist, with more than 50 major murals and installations around the country to her credit, she has had a continuous practice as a performer and painter, with digital video and sound enriching the mix in recent years. In this work, she is free to unleash the full force of her sarcasm, celebrating our “horrific and ridiculous times.” Driven mixes the idealist and caustic aspects of her oeuvre in an effective antidote for angst.

Meredith Tromble