Q&A with Guest Curator Ronnie Steine about "The Art of Politics"

Photo credit:  Hatcher & Fell Photography

Photo credit: Hatcher & Fell Photography

Alongside a lifetime of passion for public service, you’ve also had a lifetime of passion for collecting art.  Where did that passion originate?

My passion, which some call obsession, for collecting art clearly was inherited from my parents, Peggy and David Steine. Now both deceased, they would be consideredto be in Nashville’s “hall of fame” of arts supporters, promoters and collectors. They not only inspired my older sister and brother and me but a lot of today’s finest collectors and collections throughout Nashville and even around the country. Art was so infused into the fabric of our family life that IT became essential to our identity.

How did you start collecting political art specifically and where do you often go to find it?

I began collecting Campaign materials created by or involving artists and art with political/historical themes after years of just gathering practical political buttons and posters. I started running across actual Campaign items created by artists to support their favorite candidates. Artists like Ben Shahn, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, RB Kitaj and Shepard Fairey. Obviously this combined my two loves: politics and art. Then over time, I have been attracted to artists creating original works with historical or political themes. Outsider artists  Ned Cartledge, Rex Clawson, Andrea Badami and Leroy Almon come to mind. But also “fine” artists like Larry Rivers. On a regional and local level I adore works by Jim Sherraden, Chad Poovey, Sam Dunson, Mr. Hooper among many others.

Has the nature of collecting political art changed since you first begin to now? If so, how? 

Collecting political art has changed dramatically since 2008. Barack Obama sparked a wave of artistic expression and support. The only previous equivalent was inspired by George McGovern and Gene McCarthy. The Obama catalyst has continued  beyond him and has spilled into protest/cause art.

What qualifies a political piece as art?

For me, a piece of art is political if the artist chooses a theme or composition that involves a current or past political figure or focuses on an issue/problem/or cause. An  artist’s commentary on social conditions certainly falls into this category. My definition is broad enough to include historical icons like Lincoln and Washington who have been included in the work of virtually every Outsider artist from Finster to Mose Tolliver.

Why do you think artists are so often connected with politics? 

Many artists are connected to politics because they are connected to their environment and/or their community. Often times, they want to support a cause or a candidate. Some use their art as their “bully pulpit”. Satire and cartoon are traditional forms of political commentary. Others are simply choosing politics as part of popular culture.

Do you have a favorite piece in the collection and/or a favorite memory from acquiring one?

Picking a favorite is, as my Mother used say, “like choosing one’s favorite child”-   I do remember vividly being in a vintage art store in Chicago and running across Calder’s “McGovern for McGovernment” poster and its price was really good! I am also a huge fan of current artist Brian Campbell’s political work. He creates limited edition buttons from small originals using pop culture themes.

What is your advice to those interested in starting their own collection?

My advice to those starting is to try to choose a focus-  my tendency gravitated to quantity over quality for a long time. There are several reputable national auctions that can help in building collections and The American Political Items Collectors organization is  a must to join. It provides great contacts and information.