“My Work is More Art Than Activism”: Jonathan Horowitz on Bringing the Election to U.S. Museums

“My Work is More Art Than Activism”: Jonathan Horowitz on Bringing the Election to U.S. Museums
Jonathan Horowitz's "November 4, 2008," installation view, Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York
(Courtesy the Artist and Gavin Brown's enterprise; © Jonathan Horowitz)

In 2008 Jonathan Horowitz created an installation for the U.S. presidential election that was part poll returns party and part visual metaphor for a politically divided nation. The result was a viewing room swathed in the red and blue of the U.S.’s two major political parties. The starkly divided space doubled as a stage for debate and discussion, and a reflection of the extreme poles created by the American media — in one of the most eloquent and neutral forms imaginable.

Originally shown at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, this election season Horowitz will do it again, installing an updated version, “Your Land/My Land ‘12,” at the New Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Hammer Museum, and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as a few others spread far and wide across the country’s red and blue states.


What are the differences between the 2008 version and this year's? “In 2008, race and gender were at the forefront,” Horowitz told ARTINFO via email. “This year, the election seems to be more about economic issues and economic inequity. I tried to inflect that in the installation.”

His electoral-map inspired installation consists of red and blue carpets that will divide each space in two, with two monitors hanging in the center — one tuned to right-leaning network Fox News, while the other will show its more liberal competitor CNN. The artist is also taking into consideration the role that each institution can have in democratic processes this time around. “The installation ends up being like a container or stage for people and debate,” he said.

In another update for the 2012 election version, Horowitz plans to hang a portrait of President Barack Obama from the ceiling in the center of the room, while a portrait of his opponent, Mitt Romney, will sit on the floor. Depending on the outcome of the election, President Obama’s likeness will remain hanging, or it will be replaced with the Republican nominee's image if Romney prevails.

This pointed installation may be timely now, but what will it mean when we look back on it ten years? “You can never know what something will look like and mean in the future,” Horowitz said. “One thing art can do is mark and record a time.” He added: “I also don't mind when some of the meaning of an artwork falls away — perhaps different things become revealed.”

While some may find that it’s nearly impossible not to take a side — indeed, we wonder whether or not Horowitz's piece inadvertently alludes to one — he assured us: “My work is more art than activism.”

Jonathan Horowitz's "Your Land/My Land: Election ’12" is on view at the New Museum from October 10-November 18.