Political Art in a Fractious Election Year

"One of the major things limiting our democracy is the narrow way we now frame our values," said Hank Willis Thomas, a New York artist who conceived of the booth with the artists Ryan Alexiev and Jim Ricks. Mr. Thomas, an African-American artist whose work often delves into advertising and race, added: "There are a lot of false dichotomies out there. This piece is about trying to get to common denominators."

Another piece bound for the conventions will also use words not quite taken at face value: giant ice sculptures spelling the phrase "The American Dream." The work of the artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, the sculptures will be left outside to melt, and the dissolution will be live-streamed (starting in Cleveland on Tuesday) while poets and writers compose short pieces near the sculptures.

The artists, who call the installations "temporary monuments," have previously melted down "Middle Class," "Economy," "Future" and "Democracy," a version of which made it about six hours on a steamy day during the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul.

Photo
"The Truth Booth" by the Brooklyn Bridge. The booth, by the Cause Collective, is heading to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. Credit Ben Pettey

"Part of this is to examine an overused term in political discourse," Mr. Reese said, adding that discussion around their pieces tends to be about stagnant incomes, concentration of wealth and dwindling opportunity for working-class people. "We've found that these types of events and installation suspend disbelief. They break a hole in things, and people talk and think while they watch the words go away."

He added: "Even though they're very ephemeral, they do have meaning for the people who see them. I don't think we'd be spending so much energy to organize this project if we didn't feel that way."

But the works' fragile nature seems to nod to an underlying warines s about political language and symbolism that has grown more prevalent. Sheila Pree Bright, an Atlanta photographer documenting the Black Lives Matter protests with support from the public art organization Creative Time, said one reason the movement has produced few memorable visuals is a general distrust of the idea of logos or graphic identities.

"The movement wants to be faceless, not to have a group of leaders or to have something you see that boils it all down to one idea," she said.

Mr. Thomas and Mr. Gottesman explore a similar conviction in a joint project that will be hinted at during the Republican convention but gain more visibility in the fall leading up to the election. Called "For Freedoms," a riff on Norman Rockwell's all-American series "Four Freedoms," the conceptual art project is a nonpartisan "super PAC" that has raised about $100,000. It plans to place works by contemporary artists in spaces typically reserved for advertisements — billboards, transit stations, bus stops — in cities around the country.

The works, by artists like Alec Soth, Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Tomaselli and Pablo Helguera, are for the most part not politically pointed but suggestive and open-ended.

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Rashid Johnson's "Run" (2016), part of the conceptual art project "For Freedoms." Credit Rashid Johnson

"What we're hoping to do is reintroduce the idea of nuance into some very polarized conversations," Mr. Gottesman said. "We started a super PAC because we didn't just want to be cynical about the process but to be involved, to have skin in the game."

Ad space in Cleveland and Philadelphia is beyond the PAC's budget, but one of the project's most provocative pieces, the artist Dread Scott's update of a 1930s N.A.A.C.P. flag — from "A Man Was Lynched Yesterday" to "A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday" — is scheduled to fly in Cleveland outside Spaces, a civically engaged art gallery that is planning a spate of convention programming.

Mr. Gottesman added, "M arketing and advertising govern politics now, so our conception is that advertising is really the most potent way to reach people."

If there is any common ground left in America, it might be that belief, shared even by those who do not share the artists' hopeful conviction that the system is salvageable. Recently, bumper stickers and T-shirts began showing up around the country with a logo not for Hillary Clinton or Donald J. Trump but for a long-shot campaign: "Giant Meteor 2016: Just End It Already."

The graphic, by Preston Whited, a production planner at a kayak-paddle company north of Seattle, was a lark that grew out of a Facebook chat among Mr. Whited and his friends. "We have a pretty dark sense of humor," he said in a phone interview. "We came up with it, and I just took a Bernie ad a nd redid it on Excel and put it out there." He added that, besides having no real graphic art experience, "I really don't have any political faith in anything."

A few weeks after he put the logo on Facebook, enterprising souls elsewhere on the web picked it up and began selling it on bumper stickers, shirts and hats. "Which is cool with me," Mr. Whited, 30, said. "If I'd tried to copyright it and claim it, it never would have had the exposure it's had. Now I see it all over. And I can go buy it and put it on my car."

Correction: July 17, 2016

An earlier version of this article misstated a location of the "Truth Booth" in Cleveland. It will appear at the Transformer Station, not the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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