May. 30, 2018 | Jeremy Benson


Artizenship: Shadow Work

Modest Proposal

On Friday, before Memorial day, I left work a few minutes early, and I was excited to get onto the Trail before the other vineyard and winery workers combined forces with the tourists to make my commute a drag—I was congratulating myself, when I got to Lincoln, where traffic was backed up: I had forgotten about BottleRock and its toll on the 5 Corners.

Three days and thousands of people later, I think we survived.

And, as the 6th BottleRock comes to a close, and its importance in the history of this valley is secure, I hereby propose that Allen Shepp’s mosaic on the fountain at the Napa Mill be changed ever so slightly: the right-hand corner currently depicting a cross-burning Ku Klux Klan rally should be replaced to feature a large crowd enjoying Snoop Dog and Warren G at the 2018 BottleRock music festival.

Be Not Still

Also this weekend, the diRosa Center for Contemporary Art closed Part 1 of their exhibition “Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times.” The exhibition featured installations by Allison Smith which borrowed imagery from the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA: Untitled (blunt instruments) depicted an empty pedestal, covered with a black tarp, with cast iron Tiki torches set at its base. Untitled (many sides, many sides) was a cement casting of a traffic cone found in Charlottesville, embedded with a collection of enamel pins.

I'm writing this on Memorial Day, and so I am thinking about what, why, and how we memorialize our history. Especially as artists, especially with history we might be ashamed of: what is our role in recording unsavory trends, attitudes, and events in our art?

I appreciated Allison Smith’s approach: when she appeared In Conversation at diRosa, she said she was resistant to sell the pieces, and hesitant to even to install them at a different gallery—lest they take on a meaning she did not intend. She even suggested she’d simply melt down the cast iron torches, and form them into some other art. (Which would be a kind of art performance in itself, if you ask me.)

Why am I doing this? Is this an appropriate subject for me to take on? What is the context of its display? What will happen to the piece in the future? Just asking the questions is to begin to approach a subject with some humility.

I don’t intend to re-hash the arguments for or against Shepp’s inclusion of the KKK in his collage, but I do want to note that there are no docents standing near to offer Shepp’s motivations, or to give a history lesson on racist clubs in the Napa Valley.


I'm reading Robert Bly’s Little Book on the Human Shadow--the “shadow” is the idea that we, as individuals and as a culture or nation, have a side that we don’t want to show, so we hide it away. I think both Shepp and Smith are trying to shine a light on our shadows through their art.

And I think that’s important, even if the art is open to interpretation, and even if it’s not what we want to see during brunch. Especially as a white person in Napa Valley, and in America, I want to hold that unfortunate history—I want to carry the weight of the past, so my neighbors who are black or Latinx or of Chinese-Californian descent don’t have to carry it themselves. Our art can help us do that, too.

comments powered by Disqus

Arts Council Napa Valley 501(c)3 is funded in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


Made with in Napa Valley, California