If a work of art reflects the time it was created, what are we to make of the NBMAA’s recent acquisition, Patented Pigs by Marcus Jansen?
The painting was inspired by an article that appeared in Greenpeace Magazine titled “Monsanto Files Patent for New Invention: The Pig.” The article addresses this multinational agricultural biotecnology company’s attempt in 2004 to patent two processes designed to control the breeding of pigs with a specific marker gene.
Greenpeace and other opponents claimed Monsanto was trying to patent the breeding of all pigs. The company, on the other hand, said the patents would apply only to pigs bred using a specific process capable of locating genes which increase pig size.
One patent was ultimately rejected, but the second was granted. That, in turn, generated demonstrations in Europe over the safety of genetically modified food.
In Patented Pigs, Jansen picks up where the magazine left off. He portrays the pig as yet another corporate moneymaking product, with additional references to the piggy bank. There’s a bulls eye on the animal’s backside, which not only references Monsanto’s target, but also another corporate entity, the retail giant Target. Why would Jansen take on such a subject? And why would he address it in the manner in which he did?
Born in 1968, Jansen spent his early years in the Bronx where he was exposed to and influenced by New York City’s raw, in-your-face graffiti art. He spent his teens in Germany, where he was further influenced by German Expressionism.
Today he is the driving force behind what he calls “urban expressionism,” a style of art that’s generally viewed as one of rebellion. In urban expressionism, Jansen has combined his studies of the turn of the century Expressionist movement in Germany with the abstract expressionism and graffiti art he experienced earlier in his life.
At an exhibit in Miami last year, curators described Jansen’s works as creating “subconscious revelations that foretell of a future fraught with consequence… Jansen reminds us that progress has a price.”
The ongoing debate over genetically modified food continues to gather steam. A study released in early 2011, for example, indicates biotech companies and food patent holders have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying to ease regulatory oversight in the US.
What do you think?
Does work that expresses such an overt socio-political message appeal to you? Does the rebellion behind urban expressionism capture your imagination? How will Patented Pigs be viewed 50 or 100 years from now? Will its concerns be seen as naive and over-wrought? Or, will it be viewed as an early harbinger of things to come?
Either way, Patented Pigs surely reflects the times in which we live.
By NBMAA Docent Scott Gawlicki