T o suggest, as has recently been suggested, that William Pope.L's eRacism at PICA is an example of an artist preaching to the choir, is to grossly oversimplify his work, and is a knee-jerk reaction to sociopolitical artwork, which is typically aimed at educated, white, liberal audiences. If Pope.L is indeed preaching to the choir, please introduce me to this group because I have yet to meet a congregation of such fierce-minded contradictions and poetic furies. Surely the choir is not that flock of grinning white faces wearing J. Crew, kneeling on the pavement, eager to join the artist on one of his belly crawls through the inner city. To say that Pope.L is preaching to the choir is as ludicrous as making the same statement about Caravaggio, Rothko, or Warhol. That we wouldn't classify these dead white artists as such is not lost upon Pope.L, and this urge to reduce humans and cravings to categories is at the heart of the artist's work.
As a visual artist, Pope.L's approach is best put in a quote from the show's catalogue: "Manure smells and bronze doesn't, which makes manure more expressive." Three young women covered their noses and gagged audibly at the dizzying stench of Pope.L's rotting hot dog sculptures and peanut butter paintings (definitely not part of the choir). To view the artists' recent digital pieces, viewers are forced to stand on an image of Martin Luther King's face. This is a hymn to which I don't know the words. Videos of his street performances show the artist as a cross between a deranged lunatic, force-feeding aspirin to a plastic cow, and a visionary street preacher, with moments of startling lucidity. "I am white culture. Yet it's the Negro in me that makes me what I am."
Ultimately, Pope.L reminds us of a character from Beckett, doing absurd, tragic things, crying in downtempo staccato in the face of greed and conflicting consumption. And like any character from Beckett, there is no choir to back him up, no one to reaffirm his dubious position. He's just a lone monster from the swamp, dressed in a Superman costume, reeking of Thunderbird and rotting mayonnaise, crawling from Point A to Point Z. CHAS BOWIE