I Reviewed the Work of the Artist Formerly Known as Governor Cuomo

Many blue-chip artists work with text on canvas: On Kawara, Mel Bochner, Deborah Kass, Glenn Ligon, Christopher Wool, Ed Ruscha, Robert Indiana, John Baldessari—the list goes on. A new artist recently joined these ranks, and his name is Governor Andrew Cuomo. Like any blue-chip artist, the governor is flanked by his equivalent of studio assistants: his comms team, referred to below heretofore as the artist collective. Cuomo’s career-defining medium is the slideshow. Like any potent work of art, the Cuomo slideshow evokes a reaction from the viewer on multiple levels: the intellectual, the emotional, the visceral.

In artist Ben Shahn’s seminal book, The Shape of Content, Shahn states, “Form is not just the intention of content. It is the embodiment of content…. Form is thus a discipline, an ordering, according to the needs of content.” In their work, Cuomo and the Cuomo artist collective clear a hurdle that stymies most artists for years: their form fits the content.

By superimposing firm, unflinching language over an image, Cuomo and the artist collective’s work follows an aesthetic formula that is sure to produce visual catnip. Cuomo and the artist collective’s process is iterative and the slideshows, released at each press conference, are serial in nature—editioned works if you will. His sentences and statements per slide are so pithy, they make 280 character tweets look like War and Peace. (Cuomo does compensate for this with discursive oral anecdotes.) The work teases, dances around, and transcends the very notion of contradiction. It is both easily meme-able (appealing to those who flock to aesthetic irony), while messaging the most heartfelt sincerity and assuaging our mostly deeply entrenched fears.

Like all artists, Cuomo and the artist collective have their high-visibility successes and their sleeper hits. In their brief career as artists on a national stage, they’ve created three iconic works that stand apart from the rest:

1. “I am going there today”

2. “? Reopening ?”

3. “Today is Saturday.”

When Cuomo’s works are published midday, they instantly crystallize as historical and cultural artifacts of a certain time, graphically capturing the zeitgeist with such precision—whether in its recognition of the universal experience of weekdays losing all shape, or the question marks that flutter around our heads, like a cartoon character seeing stars, when we consider the idea of reopening.

In the spirit of the art-school critique, a tradition all emerging artists ought to experience, I asked some designers what they thought of Cuomo and his artist collectives’ slides.

Carly Ayres, whose hectic resume can tell you she works at Google Design, responded to my request for comment. Ayres applauded the underlying, orderly slide template the Cuomo artist collective uses: “Here, we see a design system attempting to do what it does best: bring order to chaos.”

She finds the design, or lack thereof, appropriate and comforting in this context. “Laboriously designed graphics are for subway ads and projects where time and money are in copious supply. The government is in supply of neither. A presentation that communicated otherwise would be disconcerting. We’d ask: “Why is his team spending so much time on slide decks? Don’t they have more important things to do?” This has just enough design to feel considered, without putting too much energy into the details. It works.”

Designer Noemie Le Coz agreed, drawing connections between the “almost undesigned” nature of the slideshow to the way he presents himself and leads: “That’s his style—dry, to the point, and with some levity.”

Ayres reaffirms the idea that Cuomo’s work passes the final test, that the form fits the content: “Could [the slideshow decks] be improved? Sure. But, at the end of the day, they get the job done—which is what we all hope for Cuomo to do, too.”

All jokes aside, Cuomo’s work is ultimately in conversation with a subject that few artists’ oeuvres converse with: immense gratitude.

Slides via NBC News.

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