‘Dmytryk on Stand’ oil on canvas 79 x 61 cm 2013
February 4th – 28th 2016
Contemporary Art Space Chester
Kingsway Buildings, University of Chester CH2 2LB.
Curated by Mike Chavez-Dawson
Imagine a time when immigration was seen as a potential source of radicalism and sectors of the population were regarded as a dire threat to the State. At the start of the cold war in the USA, the communist threat was perceived as imminent and even Hollywood stars were not above suspicion.
McCarthyism is an exhibition of paintings by David Gledhill based on American press photographs of the ‘House Un-American Activities Committee’ hearings of the 1940’s and 50’s. The committee was dedicated to the exposure and elimination of the communist threat in every branch of American life. Trades unionists, teachers, secretaries, janitors, artists, actors, writers and directors were amongst those forced out of their jobs.
Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin did not sit on the committee himself, but his virulently anti-communist speeches of the early 1950’s gave rise to the term ‘McCarthyism’ which has become synonymous with the ‘red scare’ of the post-war years in the USA.
The source photographs used for the project were bought online from Detroit and Chicago newspaper archives using the search terms ‘communism’ and ‘photograph’. The backs of the photographs are covered with editor’s remarks and filing references which reflect general attitudes to the perceived communist threat, and these have been used for the titles of the paintings.
At a time of increasing surveillance and renewed talk of the ‘enemy within’, McCarthyism is a timely reminder of the dangers implicit in the narrowing of political life, and the risks to civil liberties of scapegoating minority groups in society.