Exhibit Review: Art in the age of globalization

By Sophie Keane

Here at Mac we can instantly relate to Paul Valéry’s sentiment: “Nothing will be done anymore without the whole world meddling in it.” Here, everyone wants everyone else in their projects, volunteering for their campaigns, attending their meetings. Everyone knows who hooked up at the last Kagin, who’s smoking in their room, who’s stressing about their major. Mac is meddlesome, for better or worse. And so the world is, too. Valéry could have never imagined the degree to which his remarks would ring true, almost a hundred years after he made them. Our world is smaller today than it has ever been before. At the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, now through July 31st of next year, an exhibit called “Art in the Age of Globalization” attempts to show us all just how small our world has become, for better or worse. Layers of interlaced webs compose and connect the globe today, webs of commerce and economics, art, environmental issues, mass migrations and technologies. Distinguishing between these webs has become increasingly difficult. When we visit their exhibit, organized into seven sub-themes, the curators at the MIA show us this interconnectivity in a manner that teeters between pleasant surprise and shock—at times almost disgust. “Outsourced,” one of the sub-themes of the exhibit, asks questions about collaboration and mass production, both on a global and local scale. When artists mass produce their work, either locally or by sending it to other countries to be copied or even created, are they cheapening the creative process or participating in important global collaboration? The concept of fair trade sheds positive light on the idea of mass global collaboration. Artisans in developing nations sell their work to first-world retailers, which both seek to empower the artisans (particularly women) and supports them financially. Another seemingly positive global collaboration: Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and Marc Jacobs, to create the Louis Vuitton logo and designs. In his work, which incorporates the Luis Vuitton logo in carefully laid out, repetitive compositions, Murakami crosses national boundaries. However, he also crosses the boundaries that exist between art and commerce. This inter-continental creativity is as much borne out of profit as it is borne out of creating art for art’s sake. Passing by Murakami’s work we see a Thomas Kinkade painting, who when he died earlier this year, was among the most profitable artists ever. Kinkade wanted to mass produce his work, to make it available to as many as possible without cheapening it (and it is estimated that one out of every twenty American homes contains a Kinkade). Highly trained “Master Highlighters” reproduce his work, and although Kinkade’s signature appears on each of his pieces, are they even his? It is even art? We enter a spacious, high-ceilinged ballroom-type space to find another sub-theme of the exhibit, “A Drop to Drink.” Here the exhibit moves past the economic ties that bind us to explore the basic, ubiquitous human need for water. We browse past tranquil Dutch landscapes from the 1800’s, of windmills moving water from one area to another. And then we come across a black-and-white photograph of a Rwandan woman standing under a roof in a rain shower. She holds out a plastic container, hoping to catch some clean water, because her local water sources have been contaminated by human feces and the blood from genocides. The sun illuminates her face from behind, rimming her hollow expression with a holy light that seems out of place. Next to this image, we see another black-and-white, of a Peruvian boy picking through a mountain of plastic water bottles, sucking the last drops out of one of them. The diarrheal diseases carried in this bottle will kill more children in his country than anything else. A placard in this portion of the exhibit reminds the viewers of the seemingly limitless supply of fresh, clean water we have here in the U.S., and the mountains of waste that each of us produces every day. Incidentally, another sub-theme, “Regeneration,” highlights art created from trash and other found materials. One of the most surprising among these: a Willie Cole sculpture that at first glance appears to be an ancient African tribal piece depicting a pregnant woman, but is in fact a modern statue made from discarded Anna Klein heels. The world is connected in mysterious ways that transcend time and space. These are just a few of the threads that the artists of the world – ancient, modern, and everything in between – have noticed, and brought to our attention in a myriad of unusual, poignant and beautiful works. Especially amidst the digitization of our world, it may be easier for us to see some of these connections, as we become increasingly entangled with each other. And yet, one of the final works that I viewed in the exhibit “Art in the Age of Globalization” highlighted the new boundaries that technology erects between human beings. It’s a photograph of a photograph: Doug Rickard uses a 360-degree Google Street View camera first, then uploads the image and uses another camera to capture it on the computer, in all of its pixelated glory. The subject is a young boy biking through a low-income neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia; his face is unrecognizable, the background only a few stark shacks with plywood windows. Directly below the boy’s bicycle tires on the sidewalk there is a message; the only line I can decipher reads “4 LIFE.” Does it refer to the boy’s situation? Or the motivation behind all of Rickard’s work, perhaps? It’s impossible to say by looking. The image is simplistic and distant, a boy on a bike on a screen on a screen. It holds truth, but is difficult to grasp onto emotionally. It is real, undoubtedly, and so close to us, even in the microcosm of Mac. It is so close, but worlds away. refresh –>