"One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now"

The artworks in this Blaffer show may have nothing in common, but everyone's Asian!

One of the funniest and most goofily subversive artists in the show is Xavier Cha. A series of videos records some of her antics. For Cha's 2003 series of works, Topiary Tags, Cha cut her name into hedges all over Los Angeles. Hedge after hedge is shown with a giant "xavier" carved into it. For her 2004 Human Advertisement Series, Cha dressed herself up like a giant shrimp and stood outside Sushi Roku dancing with a lot of pelvic thrusts. In another "ad," the artist dressed as a giant pink fingernail with French polish and boogied outside a nail salon. In yet another she crouched inside a huge plastic "crystal ball" in front of a tarot card reader's strip mall storefront. It's really great to see an artist who so warmly embraces her inner crackpot.

It's great "One Way or Another" is open to a broader range of work than its 1996 forebear, but that does bring up some curatorial complications. If the work included does not all speak to a central idea, then the only organizing principle of the exhibition that remains is the identity of the artists. For all the curator's good intentions and ideas, if you try to break the show's premise down, it becomes absurd. It seems to be based on some idea that people of tremendously varied cultural ancestry -- everything from Persian to Chinese -- but carrying genetic material originating on the continent of Asia, all have something in common. Obviously, this isn't the point the curators intend to make. Ultimately, they are operating as a kind of chamber of commerce for artists of Asian heritage.

Despite all those diverse shows in the 1990s, not much has changed -- the art world has pretty much remained predominantly white and predominantly male. In a discussion in the exhibition catalog, a curator observes that "the art world today is in many ways less conscious about issues of diversity than in the 1990s." I think that that is true, but instead of diversity as a fad, we need real and systemic change. We need to allow for a broad range of work by a broad range of people.

Mika Tajima's installation Extruded Plaid (Suicidal Desires) riffs on minimalism in hip, pop colors.
Photograph by Eileen Costa
Mika Tajima's installation Extruded Plaid (Suicidal Desires) riffs on minimalism in hip, pop colors.


Through March 31.
Blaffer Gallery, the University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building, 713-743-9530.

I'm really glad I got to see the work in "One Way or Another." I know the curators want to make sure that work by Asian American artists is seen and they want the art world to acknowledge the strong work they're producing. If catchall groupings of artists based on ethnicity are the only way I get to see it, that's still preferable to not seeing it at all.

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