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Danny Tisdale
Photo: Reneé Cox


An Artist for a 
Change in NYC


Wallpaper Wall 

The Danny 

Harriet Tubman

Malcom X

vote for an
artist for 
a change

by Yasmin Ramirez
Danny Tisdale takes the idea of political 

art to a new plateau by turning his

exhibitions into campaign headquarters 

for his bid for a city council seat in 

1997. Billing himself as "An Artist 

for a Change in New York City," Tisdale 

creates installations that seem to 

have as much to do with exposing the 

chameleon-like nature of politicians as 

they do with promoting a comprehensive 

political platform.

Tisdale's most recent headquarters office 

was located at Lombard-Freid Fine Arts in 

SoHo. In the large gallery was a podium, 

a campaign flag and numerous photographs 

of the very presentable candidate. A 

smaller back gallery, designed on the 

education-department model of an inter-

active exhibition, was dubbed the "Danny 

Tisdale Library." There a visitor could 

read anything from de Tocqueville's 

Democracy in America to Colin Powell's My 

American Journey. Voter registration 

cards are on hand as is a computer 

station that can be used to register 

suggestions for "change." Tisdale relies 

on the responses gathered by his computer 

to create guidelines for "community 

legislators," even though the Harlem 

community that he calls home has few 

citizens with PCs. Things are not that 

much more wired downtown, in fact, since 

the computer used in the gallery 

installation was an old IBM without 

graphic capabilities. When I asked the 

artist about his program for building an 

infrastructure to get Harlem citizens on 

the road to the information superhighway 

he was noncommittal but envisioned a 

day when apartment buildings would have 

computers in their basements alongside 

the washing machines. That was about as 

close to a solid vision for the future as 

Tisdale got all night.

While Tisdale's campaign rhetoric vaguely 

champions "contact with the community," 

the campaign photographs give away the 

artist's cynical perspective. Tisdale's 

image changes with every "community" he 

meets. Appropriately enough his SoHo 

headshots show him sporting a black 

turtleneck and goatee--a far cry from the 

suited, clean-shaven image that Tisdale 

fronts in the working-class community of 

Harlem, where he holds a seat on his 

community board. A close look at the 

photographic history of his political 

trajectory--he mounted an earlier version 

of this project a few years ago at Real 

Art Ways in Hartford, Conn.--was on view 

in a display called The Journey, and it 

reveals a host of different Tisdale types 

vying for public approval. On the one 

hand there is the All-American flag-

waving Tisdale and on the other there is 

the pseudo-radical Tisdale copping a 

Malcolm X pose in Egypt.

Tisdale hails the late German artist 

Josef Beuys, who launched his own 

political party, and playwright and 

former Czech Republic president Vaclav 

Havel as his spiritual mentors in the 

cause for uniting politics and art. But 

the functional level of his campaign may 

well be closer to the that of Ciccolina, 

the Italian porn star who won a seat in 

the Italian parliament (and who subse- 

quently married and separated from 

Neo-Pop artist Jeff Koons). At this point 

in the campaign, the solid image that 

Tisdale projects on camera presents the 

most convincing reason to lend him 

artistic, if not political, support.

"Tisdale `96" at Lombard/Freid Fine Arts, 

470 Broome Street, NYC, NY 10013, Sept. 

7-Oct. 5, 1996.

YASMIN RAMIREZ is a New York art 

historian and critic.