But the movements that Opie is photographing have had successes. The gay-rights movement has prompted some states to approve gay marriage, and in December, Congress voted to end the 17-year ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military. Obama's inauguration marked a gigantic victory in America's centuries-long struggle toward racial equality. The Tea Party — a movement on the opposite side of the divide from Opie — has made taxes and government spending the center of government debate, and in the 2010 elections it claimed some four dozen seats in Congress.
At Obama's inauguration, Opie isolates African-Americans in the crowd. A woman seems annoyed that Opie is taking her picture. A man appears in serious contemplation. Then Opie expands her scope for an image showing the backs of people in the dwindling crowd on the littered National Mall after the inauguration was over, watching a giant TV broadcasting the Obamas smiling and waving in a parade. It feels like the morning after in America.
One way to define art is as antiquated and supplanted communications technologies that refuse to die. This definition doesn't hold for everything, but consider painting, letterpress printing, etching, large-format photography, and the ICA's "The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl." Now that phonograph records have been all but replaced by digital media, they can be rediscovered as art. The show was organized by Trevor Schoonmaker of Duke University's Nasher Museum, who insists he's no record geek and didn't until recently own a turntable.
You can tell. The exhibit doesn't have the screaming passion of teenybopper fans or the erudite obsessiveness of the 33 1/3 book series. Instead, it feels like a show by and for people who never spent hours staring at album covers, who never put on music to set the mood for spending the night together. It's about records as, I don't know, home furnishings? See Moyra Davey's photos of record collections that are more concerned with the surface look of the objects than with their heart-grabbing power.
Which may be why the show has an appetite for the destruction of rare vinyl. Yukio Fujimoto sands off the grooves of copies of John Lennon, David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen records. Tim Lee chops up Public Enemy's 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet and reassembles the vinyl rings into a '50s modern atomic diagram. Sean Duffy turns Sun records of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis into a mid-century modern satellite chandelier. Even as sculptures, they feel like covers of '50s greatest hits.
There's an undeniable voodoo power in Dario Robleto's Sometimes Billie Is All That Holds Me Together (1998-'99), for which he melted down Billie Holiday records to turn them into buttons for found or thrift-store shirts that he returned, with the new buttons, to where he got them. Robleto's idea is that the spirit of the records would be alchemically transferred to this cast-off clothing, and there's something to it, but if you really love vinyl, it feels like heartbreaking vandalism.
Certainly pop music has its own passion for destruction — but it's the ecstatic, cathartic guitar smashing of youth rebellion, of imagined revolutions. Taiya Kimura gets closest to this in his slapstick video Haunted by You. He replaces the arm on a record player with a raw turkey leg. He fastens a rope around his neck to a spinning turntable, which then strangles him.