Tim Rollins – Political Commentator
Sometime in the early 1990s—the details are lost in the mist of time—I was asked by PBS or some such public television program to comment on the work of Tim Rollins and K.O.S. I enthusiastically shared my admiration for the collective’s brilliant synthesis of pedagogy and art. Shortly after that I got a call from Tim, whom I had never met, suggesting that I come to the Bronx to meet him and the Kids. That was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. I wrote about Tim and his group for various books and publications, we spoke together on panels, he helped me on various projects, and we shared many a tipsy conversation on the meaning of art, the messed-up-ness of the world and beauty of the spirit. I will just share one remembrance: in 2008 I was curating an election themed exhibition for Pratt Manhattan Gallery. It was set to open on election night—this was the political revolution that would bring us Barack Obama. I had long been a fan of K.O.S.’s Animal Farm series that matched caricatures of Reagan era politicians with animal bodies. I asked Tim if K.O.S. would like to do some kind of update for the show. He agreed and promised they would make something special. As the opening day approached, we still hadn’t gotten the work, and we began to get a little nervous. We had reserved a big space for the work on the wall and the clock was ticking. Then, at the last minute, literally just hours before the doors opened, the work arrived. Painted over the pages of Orwell’s Animal Farm was a hilarious caricature of Sarah Palin as a preening moose. She dwarfed a tiny John McCain puppy sheepishly sitting in a puddle of pee. It stole the show, of course. It also earned us a snarky mention in the Daily News Entertainment section—my one and only appearance on those pages. And the whole thing was quintessentially Tim—the generosity, the insouciant wit and the ability to get exactly to the heart of a text or situation. No wonder they lost the election!
ELEANOR HEARTNEY is a New York-based art critic and the author of numerous books about contemporary art. Eleanor Heartney's Postmodern Heretics: The Catholic Imagination in Contemporary Art has just been reissued by Silver Hollow Press.