A full 40 years after Walt Disney debuted his "Small World" ride, the global village just keeps on shrinking. With Putumayo compilations at mall CD stores and falafel sandwiches at the food courts, multiculturalism is such a given that few outside of the Pat Buchanan brigade even bat an eye anymore. But how much do we really know about the cultures adding spice to our melting pot? And how much does their awareness of us (and each other) affect the purity of the ingredients in that spice?
"How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age," a new exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, might not have concrete answers to these questions, but it's sure to provide plenty of food for thought. The show's 28 artists live all over the globe -- in Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Africa, Turkey and the United States -- but they have at least one thing in common: Each is unavoidably influenced by the encroachments of international media, travel and technology. Not that this blurring of borders is a bad thing, mind you.
For example, step into Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Ozawa's Museum of Soy Sauce Art, a miniature museum within the museum. Inside, Ozawa makes a whimsical case for the aesthetic primacy of his country's most overexposed taste sensation. The pop-Warholian consumer humor of the work is clear, but it leaves one unprepared for the beauty and grace of the piece's construction.
By the same token, The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters, by Indian artist Anita Dube, impresses with its exquisite re-creation of the Francisco de Goya painting of the same name, but it also imparts the overwhelming feeling that you're being watched, which is understandable enough when you realize that it's constructed from hundreds of ceramic eyeballs.
Twentieth-century international art emissaries such as Diego Rivera created overtly political, didactic work, but there's a sense that many of the pieces in "How Latitudes Become Forms" are political by their mere existence, especially when presented in such a provocative context. This is a phenomenon CAMH curator Paolo Marsiani calls "making art politically rather than making political art."
Marsiani insists, though, that the exhibit, which originated at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, is much warmer than descriptions may make it sound. "It is definitely not some sort of scientific experiment," she says. "The presentation is homey, domestic funky, even. So many elements are in play: fabric, neon light, sequins. And the work is of such a rich variety. Drawings with a very personal, diaristic quality stand right next to state-of-the-art video documents. These are artists who are not afraid to look around them for fresh sources of inspiration."
Art lovers in the market for freshness and inspiration should make a point of showing up early for the 6:30 p.m. opening on July 16. That way they won't miss South African artist Robin Rhode, who will be on hand to create his own site-specific wall drawing as part of a brief, intense, one-time-only performance piece. Reversing the old activist maxim, many of these artists appear to be in a rare position to think locally while acting globally.