Pre-war cards from @prewarcards

One of my favorite Baseball Card Twitter people is Anson Whaley (@prewarcards). He specializes in pre-war* sports cards so his blog and twitter feed contains almost no overlap with mine; aside from my two Zeenuts, I have no pre-war cards. Yet I feel their call sirening away at me. At some level I suspect every collector of baseball cards does. It’s not just an age thing where old cards are always interesting, there’s something to getting in touch with the roots of the hobby which is deeply appealing.

*Generally defined as anything predating US involvement in World War 2.

I think every card collector is an amateur history geek. Cards connect you to over a century of collecting and the evolution of the hobby is something that you just eventually learn about. My sons, who have only just caught the collecting bug, already know about T206 and Honus Wagner. It’s just something that comes up when you get into the hobby.

Anyway, while I’m spending my time as a cheapskate collector who prefers getting cards via trade or for under a quarter on Sportlots, I’m also educating myself on pre-war issues and getting a sense of what kind of things I might one, day consider spending some money on. And I’m also educating myself on how I could do that responsibly as well as learning about what kinds of things to look for to make sure I don’t get fooled by any fakery.*

*Being a cheapskate collector does mean that my unwillingness to spend even medium money on any cards protects me from getting ripped off.

Anson’s website is one of my go-to locations for this kind of information. Plus he’s very friendly and helpful on twitter as well with regard to posting things, answering questions about them, and even discussing the best ways of storing them.

In the beginning of this month he tweeted out some photos of his set of 1928–29 John Player and Sons Footballers. It’s a beautiful set of cards. As a soccer fan there’s something about the early days of the game where everything is recognizable yet so so different. Despite the game having evolved tremendously from those days, the imagery from those decades is immensely powerful. Any team which can trace its history to those years makes damn sure sustain that visual connection to the past.

There’s also something extra special about seeing the early British uniforms since they’re the model that the rest of the world followed.* So in addition to the weight of history there’s a sense of seeing the source of the game in these old cigarette cards.

*Most famously perhaps with the connection Juventus has to Notts County.

I sent a very enthusiastic reply to Anson’s tweet observing how great the cards were and after we had had a conversation about pre-war soccer cards in general and how to find other examples.* No I’m not planning on getting into soccer cards. But you’re damn right I was curious.

*As a Barcelona fan, I was especially curious about whether there were old cards from Spain or Catalunya. Short answer, there most certainly are but they’re often chocolate cards not cigarette cards. 

Anyway during this conversation Anson asked me if I was interested in a few of his duplicates. I guess he could tell that I liked them for what they are and not as any sort of investment. I was very surprised. There’s a wonderful part of Card Twitter where people just offer to send you a plain white envelope with a few cards.* I never respond to people tweeting their cards with the idea that someone will send me things** so I’m always shocked and somewhat embarrassed*** when it happens to me.

*This is what happened with the 1954 Bowman earlier as well.

**There’s a much-less-wonderful portion of Card Twitter which presumes that anything you tweet is something you’re willing to trade or sell.

***I just respond to things which I like since Twitter is most-enjoyable when you respond positively to other people instead of succumbing to the temptation to tear everything down. I’m not in it for freebies—those are just icing on the cake—and I certainly try not to come across as a prize hound.

A couple weeks ago the plain white envelope arrived. And it was beautiful. Colors were bright and crisp. I love the brushy artwork for the backgrounds and the way the ball is always halfway out of the frame. That one of the cards is a Notts County player in that black and white kit is fantastic. Do I know anything about Paddy Mills? Nothing more than what the back of the card and his Wikipedia page tell me. But the story about those shirts and how they had become Juventus’s kit in the beginning of the century is more than enough to make this card interesting to me.

Given how two of the cards feature black and white kits, I’m glad that the Jimmy Oakes comes from a period of Port Vale’s history when they did not wear black and white. As a card this is probably my favorite of the batch since the colors and the pose with the ball coming directly out of the frame are especially striking.

John Priestley’s card is fun too. I love that all three of these feature dynamic poses which capture a certain sense of the movement of soccer’s gameplay which still feels appropriate to the modern game. I’m also enjoying that all three cards feature teams that are now in League Two since the reminder of how a team’s fortunes can change over the decades coupled with the reassurance that the teams are still in existence and playing soccer is everything that’s great about the game.

But Anson did not stop there with those three Players Cigarettes card as he included some duplicate 1938 Churchman’s Cigarettes Association Footballers cards in the envelope as well. These aren’t as graphically exciting as the colorful Players cards but they do feature early action photography. This is pretty cool and the cards are printed at a fine-enough line screen that you can see that the photos are better than newsprint quality.

As a baseball card guy I’m not used to cards featuring players running or jumping. Maybe a follow-through. Maybe. But action photos on cards were pretty rare except when used as background images, special in-action cards, or World Series highlights.

The standout card here is Sir Stanley Matthews, inaugural member of the National Football Hall of Fame and the first active player to be knighted. There’s no obvious reason why should I recognize his name as being important except that he’s just one of those guys who you end up hearing about as you follow the game. Reading about him now when writing this post and it’s clear he was one of the all-time greats of the game who retired right when the modern era really got going.

Harry Goslin is an interesting card which captures certain poignancy in focusing on pre-war cards. In 1943 he was killed in action in Italy so these pre-war issues end up representing what could’ve been had there been no war. Reading the Wikipedia article gives me the impression that many of his Bolton teammates were in the same regiment as him too and while Goslin is the only one to die in the war, it’s kind of a scary thought for me as a fan that you could have your whole team wiped out in one bad battle.

George Mutch meanwhile is notable for 1938 reasons by being the game-winning goal scorer in the first FA Cup to be televised. Yes a bit of obscure trivia. But also a fun factoid to attach to this card.

That’s not all though. That plain white envelope also included a Sanella soccer “card” from the 1932 Sanella Margarine multi-sport set. It’s not exactly a card since it’s printed on thin paper but that doesn’t make it any less cool. As a type geek I appreciate seeing the blackletter fonts since I find the whole Antiqua-Fraktur debate about fonts and national identity to be incredibly fascinating. The idea that I could have printed ephemera from less than a century ago which is printed in my native language yet uses standard letterforms I can’t easily recognize is an amazing thought.

Along with letterform change that occurs in World War 2, this card also has other interesting pre/post war implications. It features Hanne Sobek whose English-language Wikipedia page is a stub but whose German page is fascinating. He ended up in East Germany after the war. In 1950 when the team he was coaching was barred from competing in West Germany, it defected to West Berlin and founded a new club.

Thanks for a wonderful, generous, beautiful mailing!

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Mailday from Bru!

So it seems like the end of the school year is peak mailday season. The same week I got packages from Mark, Otto, and Tim, I found a package from Marc (@marcbrubaker) in my mailbox. This package was very similar in composition to his previous package in that it was mostly Giants odds and ends but also a dozen Stanford guys.

We’ll go in the opposite order this time and start with the Stanford guys. Well. Stanford guys and Jay Bell who’s not a Stanford guy but now that I have an autographed card of him milking a cow I guess I’ve been marked as a Jay Bell collector. That Classic 4-Sport of Andrew Lorraine is a card and set I’ve never seen before. I don’t go out of my way to get cards in Stanford uniforms but it’s certainly fun to have a couple of them in my album.

And it’s not surprising that I get a lot of Stanford Astros. Al Osuna, being from peak junk wax years has a ton of cards that I’m sure just multiply in Marc’s boxes. I’m especially digging the 93 Ultra card even though for a moment I thought it was a 92 Ultra card that I already had.*

*92 and 93 Ultra as well as 93 Donruss correspond to the “we just got computers so check out these computer-generated bevelled edges” school of early-90s card design. This is not to be confused with the “we just got computers so check out these computer-generated rock textures,” the “we just got computers so check out these computer-generated gradients” or the “we just got computers so check out these computer-generated drop shadows” schools. Those years when any ray-tracing was amazing just because a computer could do it are important to remember at how we were so easily overawed by the esthetics of technology.

1990s Giants. Some junk wax but a lot of post-strike stuff as well as a few samples from sets I liked but never acquired a lot of. I’m looking at 1993 Studio here since I really like the design with the cap logo background and the foil signature. Looking at those also makes me wistful for those old Giants caps with the flat-stitched cap logos.

Believe it or not this is my first 1997 Topps Giants card. I’ve been super negligent on filling in post-strike holes so almost everything here 1994-on is new to me. That 1995 Score design is wonderfully 1990s and totally brings me back to high school.

And most of these names are all names I remember from my youth. Yes even Rikkert Faneyte. Kirt Manwaring never had a bad baseball card. Royce Clayton and Jose Uribe are sentimental favorites. Greg Litton was briefly relevant again for being the most-recent Giants position player to pitch before Pablo Sandoval did it this season.

A batch of early-2000s cards (plus some 1999s that didn’t fit in the previous photo). That these are mostly Jeff Kent makes me sense a Texas connection. The Pacific Omega is a brand new set to me. As is that 1980s-feeling Fleer Platinum (which I kind of dig) and that weird Upper Deck Play Ball card (which just weirds me out).

A big batch of 2015 and 2016 cards. The 2015 set is seriously growing on me. It gave me big time HDR vibes when I first saw them but compared to the sets which have followed it, I’m loving it more and more each day. That’s also a nice sample of players with Scutaro being a Giants legend based on the 2012 playoffs and Petit and Vogelsong being heroes of the 2014 playoff run.

Those Panini/Donruss cards are my first examples of that set. Non-licensing is weird and while I like the references to classic Donruss these feel like a super-glossy oddball release rather than a real set. Opening Day is nice to have since I never buy it. Same with Archives though I do love that 1991 design. I wish Heritage avoided the colored jerseys* since this would otherwise look pretty sharp. I also just noticed that—and am really confused at how—Topps didn’t print a keyline around the photo on the Fence Busters card.

*Something Topps finally figured out this year.

Moving on to a few cards of special interest. Metal Universe is a set I’ve seen pictures of but was thoroughly confused by. I’m kind of happy to have one in person to confirm that the photos were mostly accurate. Mostly because they fail to demonstrate how rainbowy and shiny this card is in person. But other than that they do capture the general WTFness of this set.

I have no idea WTF is going on with this card. It’s so bad that it’s good and I can see how people want more of them even while the rational part of my brain recoils at the thought.

The MLB Showdown collectible card game card really interests me as a concept. In many ways this is what should’ve become the Living Set as a set of cards that’s released like Pokémon and intended to either be played or collected as part of a never-ending set of new releases.

In reality it appears that this game was released each year as a new set. The card backs are different from year to year and as a result, the idea of being able to put a multi-year deck together isn’t something this product does. In other words, it’s more like a set of baseball cards than a set of game cards. Una lástima.

I’m including the 2014 Allen & Ginter card here because, while I don’t care too much for Ginter in general, I do find myself liking this particular set. I’ve finally figured out that it’s because of the gold spot ink that Topps used for the detailing. In most of the Ginter sets, Topps does the text and linework with process inks—this works mostly well with stochastic screening, very much less well with traditional—so it’s nice to see them do it right with a spot ink. Using the gold ink is just a nice extra touch.

My first 2016 Stadium Clubs. Yeah this is a nice set. The cards just feel so much nicer than anything else aside from perhaps the Panini Diamond Kings. The photography is nice too although based on these samples, 2017 looks to be extraordinarily good even among Stadium Club releases.

The main thing I like here is that Topps adjusted the design to be somewhat centered (actually just a half-inch left-hand margin) on vertical cards and aligned left on horizontal cards. While I’m not one of those guys who hates mixed-orientation sets, I do like it when the difference in the layouts feels considered rather than an awkward attempt to make the vertical design work in a different layout.

Also I do like it when cards are willing to show the player in positions where we can’t see his face. The Duffy card doesn’t work as well as the Crawford card here but the variety is a nice change of pace from the standard baseball card look.

And last but not least, a few 2018 Bowmans including two of the newest Giants. Neither McCutchen or Longoria made it into the flagship set as Giants. Longoria has shown up in a few sets since but this is Cutch‘s first official Giants card from Topps. He’s definitely found his footing in San Francisco and I can see how he was a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.

Thanks Bru! This was a fun way to end the school year and start my summer.

Tim Jenkins Mailday

In a similar vein to Mark Hoyle, Tim Jenkins is another collector from the generation before me who helpfully offered to send me some 1978 duplicates for my set build. Tim’s a prolific blogger over at SABR, is extremely helpful in terms of just being aware of sets and weird card-related items, and his personal collection is intimidatingly impressive.

Tim’s mailday was indeed 1978-focused. Lou Piniella needs a better-fitting cap. I like that Fregosi card even if the two-tone pinstripes on the 1970s Pirates uniforms weird me out. In any case they’re not as bad as those White Sox uniforms with the floppy collars, circus lettering on the jerseys, and futuristic lettering on the caps.

I also just noticed that Larry Hisle is missing the stitches on his ball. As a Rick Reuschel fan it always amuses me to come across a card of his brother. And the Elias Sosa card is a nice shot of Candlestick.

Tim’s mailday resulted in my first two complete pages too. It’s always fun to turn the corner on a set project and reach the point where any new acquisitions have a decent chance of completing a page.

The fist page got completed by Chris Knapp and is pretty pedestrian. A nice spring training shot of Dave May. A nice Candlestick shot of Jerry Turner. Larry Milbourne’s photo features the 1977 Mariners first-year road jerseys which got changed in 1978. Rick Dempsey is probably the best card here and I like how it looks like he’s about to swing the bat at his position.

The second page—completed by Buzz Capra—is mainly notable for the Rod Carew card. The position-indicator baseball is so generic that it’s the reason why for a long time, I found the 1978 set to be boring. The cards with the All Star shield show how awesome the rest of the design is and as I’ve looked at the set more and more I’ve found myself just appreciating other aspects of the design as well—in particular, the photography is frequently nice and the custom lettering is very well done.

Tim also sent a bunch of 1986 Topps cards. This was a set from which I accumulated a number of cards when I was a kid and have also decided to try and build. It’s one of Topps’s most-distinct designs and very much reminds me of my first year in the hobby in 1987 when packs of 1986 were still readily available.*

*One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the current incarnation of the hobby is how products are all designed to sell out in a few weeks rather than be ever-present on shelves.

Robin Yount and Keith Hernandez are big names here. I also appreciate the Hernandez Record Breaker with his helmet levitating off his head. The most interesting card to me though is the Valenzuela Turn Back the Clock card since it features a 1981 Topps card that never existed. His flagship card was a multi-player rookie card and his Traded card featured a different pose.

Tim threw in some additional unexpected bonus items as well. There was a handful of well-loved vintage Topps. 1963 is a set I really like in its peak-60s nature. 1967 is classic. The 1968 Topps game is always fun. And 1972 In Actions are a fun reminder of how far we’ve come with sports and baseball card photography.

A bunch of more-recent oddballs and things. I always had a soft spot for those oversized 1989 Bowmans even though the Bowman logo is goofy and the red border a bit much. But I like the big photo and having just the signature without ay player name.* I’m just trying to remember if the printing always looked like it had been left out in the sun a tad too long.

*As someone who generally dislikes signatures on the fronts of cards this is one of the few sets which I like in spite of myself.

The 1981 Drake’s Jack Clark is one I do not have. Being a West Coast kid I never encountered Drake’s Cakes. Heck, when Wreck-it Ralph made a Devil Dogs joke I just thought that was something they’d made up. The Ted Williams sets are likewise something I never encountered as a kid. I love the McCovey Post food-issue card (bring back food issues!) and the Panini Cooperstown cards are a lot of fun. Yes, Cepeda is technically a Cardinal on the checklist but he’ll always be a Giant to me.

Saving the best for last. The two black and white cards are something about which Tim knows nothing. This does not happen.* It’s kind of cool that such a thing can still happen nowadays since everything appears to be documented online now. That one of those cards is Dan Ortmeier suggests that these have to be from 2005–2008** but other than that I’ve been able to turn up nothing online.

*We’re just talking about cards here folks.

**I’m making the assumption that no one would make an Ortmeier card unless he was currently playing for the team.

Which brings us to the Alan Gallagher. At first glance this looks like another well-loved vintage card. That “200” though means that this is no mere baseball card but is instead a part of Tim’s childhood game of Free Agent Draft. I loved reading about the creativity in rolling his own board game like this and I’m quite flattered to be entrusted with part of Tim’s childhood. It’s one thing to give away cards you pulled from packs way back then. It’s quite another to dispose of something you made.

High Line

After taking in the Whitney I walked back to Penn Station via the High Line and took a bunch of photos like a proper tourist.

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Getting into Bowman

When I started to collect cards in the late 1980s, Topps was clearly the card of record. Having a set every year back to 1952 was extremely impressive to me and the idea that I could own a piece of the game’s history by getting cards from each year was my first real baseball card project.

I was vaguely aware of Bowman but didn’t think anything of it until Topps relaunched the brand in 1989. Bowman in those years was a smaller set than Topps but didn’t really offer much different aside from the interesting statistics on the back which showed how the player did against each team.* It’s only been in the past year that I’ve really learned about how Topps and Bowman were rivals in the 1950s and that players might appear in only one of the sets each year.

*Something that’s impossible to do now with interleague play. And I do like the way that Topps’s different brands in the junk wax era had distinctly different statistics on the backs. Flagship had the traditional stat line. Bowman had its per-team breakdown. Stadium Club had that neat strike zone performance which presaged a lot of SABRmetric stuff.

As I’ve been filling out my 1960s Giants sets I’ve been moving back into the 1950s and Bowman is looming on the horizon. It’s pretty fun. I get to learn about new sets and whenever I get a new Bowman card there’s a decent chance it’s my first from that set.

I picked up my first 1950s Bowmans when I started my Stanford Project. Lloyd Merriman was a Bowman-only guy and his 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1955 cards were my first exemplars from each of those sets. I remember being struck by the crispness of the art in the 1950–1952 cards—that keyline around the player really makes things pop—as well as the way the backs are completely biographical. I also didn’t quite realize how small they were. They’re not exactly mini/tobacco sized but they definitely feel different than modern cards.

Because Merriman was in the Marines in 1952 and 1953 he didn’t have any cards those years. Which is a shame since those years are gloriously photography-centered designs. Without seeing those years it’s hard to see how Bowman got to the 1955 design from the 1952 one. Knowing that Bowman went all-photography in 1953, then all color in 1954, makes the jump to “let’s pretend it’s on TV” make more sense.*

*Joke about how Topps has been playing with HDTV graphics ever since 2016 goes here.

Anyway I was talking on Twitter a couple weeks ago about how I planned to get into Bowman and had yet to acquire any 1953 or 1954 cards when Otto Lehmann popped into my mentions offering to send me an off-condition 1954 Bowman.

A few days later this card arrived in my mailbox. It’s pretty cool and the crease is way more visible in the scan than it is in person. I very much like the big photo thing. I also enjoy that this is a first-year Orioles card—making it the oldest example in my moves and expansion project.

At first the absence of a keyline around the photo kind of weirded me out. I’m coming around on it though as it makes the whole thing look more more like a photo to me.

I’ve also been eyeing some of the pre-1950s Bowmans. The 1948s are interesting because of them being Bowman’s first issue. But the 1949s have been calling my name since the pseudo-color is something I really wanted to check out in person.

A month or so ago I came across a nicely-priced lot of 1949 Giants cards. So I pounced.* They’re every bit as nice as I hoped they’d be and I love the printing and the way the black and white photographs were colorized. I was a little surprised to find that the background was not just a solid ink but also included some black screening though that also makes some sense to me photographically. I was also surprised and pleased to see that the yellow ink in the skin tones was actually screened as well—making those real duotones.

*For a few months these were my oldest Giants cards but Mark Hoyle’s Play Ball card is the new champion.

The rest of the details like how the orange color has been stripped in to give things a pop of color are similarly fun. This is a set I very much like as a print and design geek.

Going forward, I will no doubt be on the look out for more Bowman cards—and more pre-1960 cards in general— as my collecting branches into vintage sets about which I know very little. I’ve been enjoying it so far.

Zoe Leonard

My favorite thing I saw at The Whitney was Zoe Leonard. By far. It’s rare when I see an artist whose work is this much my kind of thing but in gallery after gallery I found myself just nodding my head and appreciating just how much this was my jam.

I’ve encountered her photography before at SFMOMA where her Analogue portfolio was used in conversation with Janet Delaney and Eugene Atget as a way of documenting the changing city as it develops and redevelops. I liked it then but I like it even better seeing the same portfolio with the rest of her work.

For a medium which is often about a fraction of second* Leonard’s work consistently comes back to issues of slow evolution. Windows in buildings that have been bricked up and painted over. Trees which have grown around man-made infrastructure.** In this context Analogue becomes more about change as a natural evolution in the city instead of reflecting any explicit moment of time and development.

*Garry Winogrand’s quip answer of “around 1/125th of second” in response to being asked “how long did it take you to make that photo?” is the go-to snark here.

**Both of these are subjects I’ve found myself drawn to as well.

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Her photos of Niagara Falls coupled by the two huge installations of postcards extend the slow evolution theme beyond what happens in-camera and adds elements about how humanity has documented the evolution over a century of time. That Niagara Falls is moving upstream by like a foot a year coupled with the sheer number of photos of the falls means that the archive of postcards that Leonard has assembled is working on numerous levels with regard to evolution.

In addition to the basic level of how each photo shows a moment of Niagara Falls’ erosion, they also show both how our views of the falls have changed in popularity and how our printing itself of postcards has changed.

As a print geek I could just look at the evolution of printing technology and stare at this wall for hours. But it’s fascinating to see how certain views are popular and what vintage of postcard they seem to be mostly composed of. It’s also a wonderful demonstration of how even with dozens of different views, each photograph feels like a trope.

I also love the Fae Richards archive where Leonard and Cheryl Dunye have created a fictional archive of photographs and ephemera for a black actress. If you didn’t know it was fake you’d swear it was real since the degree of accuracy in the materials is astonishingly good. Without any obvious tells for being fictional it’s able to comment on all kinds of things in how women evolve as they age, how actresses evolve as they age, how black women evolve as they age, how black people evolve as they age, how the roles that Hollywood puts people into changes as they age, how society has changed over the past 70 decades, etc. etc.

This is, again, a piece where I appreciate the craft both because of the craft and the way that craft enables so many things to see and take note of. You can seize on any thread and follow it through. That there are so many threads to follow is just amazing to see and stretch your brain with.

Not everything on display shows evolution. Unfortunately. The most powerful piece in the exhibition for me was I Want a President precisely because it shows how little things have changed in two-dozen years. The entire poem is a punch to the gut.

It hurts to read it. It hurts to recognize how this is how liberals felt after the 1980s yet the supposed left-leaning political party has failed to really address any of this during my entire lifetime of being eligible to vote. It hurts that every single fucking line outlines the things that gave us our current disaster in office. It hurts that every single fucking line describes the people that that current disaster will kill through his policies.

Notes

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One of Leonard’s pieces is a sculpture of blue suitcases to which she adds another suitcase each year she lives. While I appreciate the concept of a piece where the artist’s mortality is a defined part of the concept, I just wish there was a bit more information about whether the suitcases get reordered each year or each installation. It doesn’t look like a chronological view of suitcase fashion over Leonard’s lifetime (I noted the absence of any roller bags) so I couldn’t help wondering if there was some method to the ordering.

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The installation of Kodak books, while an interesting comment on the evolution of mass-market photographic education, was another highlight of my visit because I got to watch another visitor cross the DO NOT CROSS tape, ignore repeated warnings from the security guard to move away from the art, and blithely pick up a book. It was only after she picked it up and the guard’s tone changed from “stay away from the art” to “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH THE ART” that she sheepishly put the book “back.”

Actually, that wasn’t the highlight. The highlight was getting to watch the guard call in the art handlers to have them repair the installation. Which meant that I also got to see how the piece is actually assembled.

It turns out that each pile of books has a hole drilled through it and there’s a post keeping everything together. The topmost book has a hole only drilled part-way through and so masks the construction.

Incomplete History of Protest

Toyo Miyatake (1895–1979), Untitled, 1944

The Whitney also had an exhibition featuring protest artworks in its collection. This was much better as it both allowed the museum to address its own role in protests in the past as well as to position itself politically in the current climate.

It’s not a greatest hits exhibition but instead features a number of pieces that, despite all being dated, still hold significant relevance to today’s issues.

That the first room started off with photos by Toyo Miyatake and Gordon Parks immediately put me at ease. Miyatake is frequently overlooked and few of his photos are even online.* With the way the USA is putting Latino migrants in concentration camps and trying to round up Muslims refugees I’ve seen Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange’s photos of Japanese Internment hit the web every couple of weeks. I’ve only seen one Miyatake and he didn’t even get a photocredit.

*It’s great that the Whitney has seven of them on their website.

So it’s fantastic to recognize his photography as protest and resistance instead of just documentation. And it’s just as important to do the same with Gordon Parks’s and Louis Draper’s work. These aren’t just photos documenting the community. They’re a statement of resistance and protest and I can’t help but see #BlackLivesMatter as the subtext of Draper’s photo of Fannie Lou Hamer or Colin Kaepernick in the subtext of Parks’s photo of Muhammed Ali.

The photos are 50+ years old. The struggle is even older. Yet the same issues are still going on today.

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), Hate Is a Sin Flag, 2007.

What I like best about this exhibition though is that Whitney points the lens at itself—both in how it’s curated its exhibitions in the past and its place as a tastemaker in the art world. It’s refreshing to see a museum critique its power and how its used, or abused, that power in terms of which artists it champions and what kind of political statement it’s willing to make with art.

I get the sense that for much of its life, The Whitney, while not representing The Establishment,* was instead like much of academia and the art world and still only accessible to people with connections and as a result, wasn’t as cutting edge as it thought it was. Owning up to that legacy is an important first step in recognizing why many communities and artists don’t trust museum institutions in general and becoming a museum which is accessible to everyone.

*Hence all the complaints about non-representational painting also on display in this section.

Ad Reinhardt, NO WAR, 1967

I’m also fascinated by all the discussion about art’s role and how it should, or should not, be involved in politics. Much of the protest art on display is heavily anti-War and colonization and while I appreciate the sentiment, I was also reminded of Taryn Simon’s work—specifically her photograph of the CIA’s art gallery and how the US used modern art of the type championed by The Whitney and MoMA as a form of cultural imperialism.

It’s a weird thing to recognize how the complaints to The Whitney about too much Abstract Expressionism and not enough representational paintings result in the same goals as Ad Reinhardt’s No War list.

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The huge gallery of Vietnam War protest art is very good but also gave me an uneasy feeling. I love seeing all the posters. I also couldn’t help but notice how heavily they emphasize US war casualties as the singular reason to not be involved.*

*Of all the posters on display the ones by Women Strike for Peace are the only ones which consistently mention civilian casualties as being a reason to be against the war.

To be clear, I totally understand why this is the case. It’s the most-immediate and selfishly most-important reason to not wage war. My uneasy feeling comes from the realization that, given the increased use of drone warfare, focusing on US casualties was entirely the wrong reason to be against war. 50 years later and we’re still casually killing civilians in other countries. There’s just not nearly enough outrage or protest about it because the US bodycounts are so low now.

Guerrilla Girls (active 1985–), Guerrilla Girls Review the Whitney, 1987

Moving on into the 80s and we get to another round of The Whitney critiquing itself—this time with the Guerrilla Girls.* This wasn’t as pointed as the previous critiques since it involved pretty much every gallery in New York City as well. But as before it’s a welcome thing to see an institution critique itself.

*Every time I see Guerrilla Girls pieces hanging in a museum I do a quick count of the other artists on display in the gallery. Since The Whitney’s room was on feminist art it avoided the trap of having Guerrilla Girls pieces up in a room which is predominantly male artists.

There was also a gallery of AIDS-related artwork. I’m beginning to see the answer to my question from a few years ago when I realized and wondered how museums would deal with the intensity of the AIDS epidemic. This room is especially effective and was a major punch to the gut in its combination of anger and despair. I don’t have an image of AA Bronson’s portrait of Felix Partz up because I can’t bear to look at it again. It’s a brutally effective piece that forces us all to think about whose deaths we’re complicit in.

Carl Pope (b. 1961), Some of the Greatest Hits of the New York City Police Department: A Celebration of Meritorious Achievement in the Community, 1994.

Speaking of deaths we’re complicit in, the galley about power is also a major punch in the gut that feels distressingly modern. That Carl Pope’s trophy case (one award per incident of police violence) is 24 years old is an absolutely appalling indictment of how fucked up the policing system continues to be.

The other pieces in this room are similarly timely and the only thing which marks them as being dated is the absence of the new horrors that have occurred since the piece was made. Everything else is still relevant.

That so much of this exhibition is still relevant today shows both the importance and impotence of protest art. Did any of these pieces change things for the better? I’m not so sure. But the fact that they exist and show that we have to continue voicing our opposition to things is notable. As is the way they demonstrate how much of a mistake it was for people to sit back and think that things have gotten better since we fought all those battles in the 60s.