A Dialogue with Myself

A series of points and counterpoints to reflect my various views"€¦

Date July 31, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts

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I'd like to begin my comments about Lance Fung's seventh biennial at SITE Santa Fe by saying that I was prepared to hate it because the only biennial I have liked was the third one, Looking for a Place, curated by Rosa Martinez in 1999. There were a few wonderful works in Dave Hickey's Beau Monde in 2001 (notably Ken Price's slightly phallic ceramics and those fabulous creations from New Orleans), but I thought that the last two biennials were absolutely dreadful. Robert Storr's Grotesque show was little more than his longstanding curatorial hit list dragged out and re-installed with another theme. And Klaus Offman's 2006 Still Points of a Turning World was even more pretentious than its title, not to mention boring, boring, boring, to the point that my husband, Donald Woodman, and I took off to see The Devil Wears Prada, which was, at least, amusing.

That said, I still can't make up my mind about Lance Fung's exhibition-although I thought he was darling-so I decided to share my ambivalence by presenting a series of points and counterpoints to reflect my various views.

The effort to cross cultures by including artists from around the world is admirable. However, the effort to cross cultures also presented significant challenges, particularly in relationship to cultural symbols and meanings. In 2007, my husband and I were in an exhibition in Japan with international artists, one of whom configured an immense backwards swastika in a misguided effort to neutralize an exceedingly loaded form, even for secular Jews like us. In a comparable act of cultural insensitivity, the Turkish artist, Ahmet Ogut, selected phrases that he saw on nuclear warnings in The Black Hole, a surplus second-hand shop that sells discarded material from the Los Alamos labs. He had the warnings printed on red tote bags that viewers sported all over town in a stunning act of obliviousness about their connection to real-life suffering for the many victims of the nuclear age, especially Indian uranium miners here in New Mexico.

I appreciated the challenge to the commercialization of the art world, particularly in Santa Fe where it is all about commerce. This is what Scott Lyle was trying to communicate by smothering a colorful, collaborative mural with white translucent fabric-a metaphor for the notion that art in the City of Enchantment is almost swallowed up by the marketplace mentality. At the same time that Lance Fung insisted that he wanted to challenge the way in which the art marketplace has become dominant, he was also quick to point out that many of the artists in the show had already been picked up by commercial galleries.

I liked the idea that all the materials would be recycled, best exemplified by Hiroshi Fuji's plastic bottle sculptures installed at the Santa Fe Opera, and his wonderful Toy Exchange, which involved dozens of children and ended up hanging from the rafters at the International Folk Art Museum. I have nothing critical to say about the Hiroshi Fuji projects. I thought the drawings were beautiful, and his plan to give them to the project participants quite touching.

I admired Fung's goal of involving the community, especially since so many previous biennials have been based on the "plop"€ theory-that is, plop art into a community with little attention to the character, needs, or people in the town. In terms of involving the community, a few of the pieces have questionable ethics. For example, Ed Natiya's Navajo Roller Coaster, which was donated by the Mountain Trails Gallery (presumably with the artist's consent, although I could not confirm this) was melted down by Fabien Giraud and Raphael Siboni, who reconfigured the bronze into an extraterrestrial abduction scene. When I asked the gallery owner if the artist was going to be involved in recasting the piece into its original form, he avoided the question.

I found it interesting that Fung selected curators from institutions around the world, curators whose goals seemed to be similar to those of SITE Santa Fe, also with the expertise about local artists that comes from sharing a common culture and locale. I should have been a spy in Luchezar Boyadjiev's Art Squad as I heard many comments about the exhibition and the role of the curators-everything from the artist Terry Allen's view that it was a relief to see a show where the curators didn't dominate, to complaints by other artists that in the panel discussion the artists were obliterated by the curators.

It was admirable that instead of relying upon the same old cast of international characters that inhabit every biennial, emerging artists were chosen whose work-to quote the catalogue essay by Liza Statton-"has yet to be diminished by the overwhelming pressures of the marketplace..."€ The problem with emerging artists is that they are often inexperienced, naive, or shallow-not to mention their tendency to regurgitate once-vital ideas into meaningless forms.

The exhibition design by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien was unusual. Sometimes, the space was animated by the architecture and other times the resulting exhibition areas were confusing and disruptive, particularly in the dazzling video installation by the Italian team, Studio Abruzzo, which was one work that succeeded on every level in that it was aesthetically satisfying, site specific, connected to the community, and involved the audience.

I've been told by my assistant, Mayumi Nishida, who participated in the Plastic Bottle Project, that the SITE staff was very welcoming, the project coordinators made an effort to be inclusive of the community, and that she was credited for her work, which she appreciated. Nishida also told me that when she started working, she felt confused about what she was doing and thought that the process seemed disorganized.

It was great that Lance Fung selected Joseph Sanchez, curator of IAIA, because that terrific institution is often overlooked by the international celebrities who alight in our community. And I loved most of the Nora Naranjo-Morse, Eliza Naranjo-Morse, and Rose Bean Simpson collaborative installation, and the way it meandered through different institutions of the city. Also, the fact that much of it was made of panty hose and clay, thereby uniting an Indian tradition with female experience. Fabulous! I would be remiss if I did not point out that out of twenty-five artists, only five were women, three of whom worked on one project together.

Judy Chicago is an artist, author, and educator whose work has had a worldwide influence.

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