William Powhida, “Seditions,” at The MAC (2012)

The chief difficulty of teaching art appreciation, especially to non-majors, is an embedded hermeneutics of suspicion. They smell a game being played. They are largely correct. And William Powhida’s “Seditions” at The McKinney Avenue Contemporary (The MAC) tells us why.

At some point early or late most artists realize the deck has been stacked against them. Everything has been done already. Naïve notions of novelty, authenticity, and uniqueness are quickly abandoned as they come to see the mythology of art for what it is: mythology. And to top it all off they inevitably discover that the art world is in fact not their friend. Once all this becomes known, how should they then proceed?

Enter the irony, satire, and parody of William Powhida. He seems to know what it’s like to be an artist brimming with ideas, yet he also knows most conceptual work doesn’t pay the light bill. He appears to know what it’s like to be both “in” and “out” of favor with the powers that be. He shows us that he understands the game of art. Not art in the essential or mythological sense, rather art that galleries and critics like, art that sells. So with all the tools of wit and humor he games the system.

“Seditions” in the main offers up prints representing the arc of Powhida’s work (and yes, an exhibition of prints parodying the art world is its own little irony). He draws out the complications of capitalism’s role in the commoditization of art. He indicts galleries and museums on charges of cronyism. He lays bare the plutocracy behind certain curatorial choices and valuations. But he does not do it seriously. That would be pointless.

Powhida’s work entertains while it criticizes. He realizes that it’s not that artists are the only group being controlled or disenfranchised. Genuine agency and the power to affect change in a world run by big money and big institutions is a problem for all. Still, artists experience this phenomenon quite sharply: they produce a luxury commodity that only the rich and well to do can afford. His work thus smartly parades at the intersection of selling out and being sold out. It’s a comedic criticism filled with painful truths, inside jokes, and self-deprecation.

—Andy Amato, PhD

Andy Amato is a Dallas-based artist, writer and teacher

(This originally appeared in Arts+Cultural Magazine)

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