By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Another dismaying tendency in evidence is the packaging of aesthetically modest works as grandiose metaphors. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who installed a 20-foot-high "lighthouse" built from timber and detritus atop SITE Santa Fe's building, declares in an exhibited statement that his project "attempts to express what is between Heaven and Earth, the Past and the Future, Nature and Civilization, and the mutual calling of differing cultures." Yet his lighthouse is no more visually intriguing than the kind of run-of-the-mill outsider art that is sold by the truckload in New Mexico; its only distinguishing trait, in other words, is its inane pretension.
DOES GLOBAL ART NECESSARILY HAVE to evince such global ambitions? Ordinarily you'd assume that's not the case, yet something about these international biennials seems to breed a desire for making sweeping statements and grand utopian gestures. In a recent Artforum interview, Rosa Martinez announced that curators must "reinvent a new ethic of existence" -- a heady demand for people who organize mere art shows. But Martinez, like a number of her internationalist colleagues, is apparently working from the assumption that art and life can somehow merge.
It's an idea that has haunted much 20th-century art, and sits close to the heart of the modernist impulse. Essentially, it springs from a yearning to erase the difference between alienated spheres of activity, to fuse aesthetics and reality into a holistic existence. Presumably, this attitude explains why Martinez included photographs of Greenpeace agitprop actions -- such as 5,000 wooden crosses planted outside a nuclear-power plant in the Czech Republic -- as if they were documents of art installations.
Greenpeace's photographs make for bluntly eloquent propaganda, which is all you could ask for from a group tackling global environmental issues. At SITE Santa Fe, however, a plethora of Esperanto artworks are hardly more sophisticated in their approach, baldly declaring what they're about rather than showing us how they got there. And it is the how of art, the specific ways in which ideas and emotions are embodied and presented, that ultimately broadens our everyday experience and language, rather than simply blurring the boundaries between them. Without that dimension, exhibitions like this can do little more than celebrate internationalism for its own sake -- a worthy political goal, perhaps, but utterly bankrupt as an aesthetic proposition.
SITE SANTA FE: Biennial III | Through December 1999