Protest and Promise: Selections from the Contemporary Art Collection, 1963–2019

September 5, 2020–February 21, 2021

Artworks in the exhibition

Artists of every era have engaged with politics through various means, and the Wadsworth Atheneum has been collecting politically engaged art since 1842 beginning with its founding collection of Hudson River School paintings. And yet, from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, artists have challenged and addressed social and political issues with a new directness as activists and visionaries.

Newly acquired by the Wadsworth, Zoe Leonard’s I want a president … (1992/2018) inspired this installation. This text-based work of art calls for a different kind of national leader, one who has experienced some of the real-life struggles depicted and addressed in Protest and Promise. Movements demanding racial, gender, and sexual orientation equity strive for legal rights. Gun violence, strict immigration laws, and the AIDS crisis incite demands for policy change. Using art as a form of activism, criticism, and empowerment, the work on view confronts longstanding injustices and social disparities with an eye to systemic transformations and a more hopeful future.

Images: Hank Willis Thomas, Basketball and Chain, 2003. Digital C-Print. Gift of Jean Crutchfield & Robert Hobbs in honor of Susan Talbott. © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Emma Amos, Baggage, 1993. Acrylic and silkscreen on linen. The Ella Gallup Sumer and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund; Pepón Osorio, En la barbería no se llora (No Crying Allowed in the Barbershop), 1994. Mixed media. Purchased through a gift from Southern New England Telephone in recognition of the vitality of Connecticut’s Puerto Rican community, and through the Alexander A. Goldfarb Contemporary Art Acquisition Fund; Originally commissioned as a RAW Specifics public art project organized by Real Art Ways