Since the early 1970s the contemporary art scene, here in Northern America and Western Europe, has multiplied manifold. Every year art schools churn out tens of thousands of graduates with diplomas of a professional artist. Hundreds of new museums have been built in every big and medium size American city, and the same goes for Europe. Thousands upon thousands of art galleries compete for the attention of the new generation of collectors with a disposable income. Affordable traveling allows most of us relatively easy access to exhibitions all over the world. This is good news. The bad news is that, in spite of all this proliferation, the ratio of good art to mediocre, is the same as ever. One or two great artists per generation, if we are lucky; then maybe a few dozen very good practitioners of their craft, who capture the hopes and frustrations of our time; after that - a huge army of hard working artists whose names will be forgotten. (However, their works are needed to meet the ever-increasing demand of all these galleries and museums for new exhibitions.)
Most exhibitions, like most of the art, are forgettable, and the case in point is the travelling exhibition, "Made in Mexico" organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and currently seen at the UCLA Hammer Museum, the only stop on it's short journey.
The idea behind the exhibition is to prove that the contemporary art scene in Mexico is thriving and capable to compete with other established centers on the international cultural circuit. To prove the point, the curators chose not only works by Mexican artists, but also foreign artists who live in Mexico, or at least stay there long enough to produce some artworks. A few artists in the exhibition had never set foot on Mexican soil, but their art is influenced by Mexican culture.
Trying to avoid the clich-s associated with public perception of Mexican culture, the curators opted for the kind of art they understand the best; conceptual and installation art, video and photography, with very little of traditional painting or sculpture. Shortly speaking, "Made in Mexico" is yet another of an endless variety of exhibitions which rehash the same fashionable, cool, avant-garde art, making it difficult to decipher the artist's cultural background, whether it's Japanese, Russian or Mexican. Large color photographs of rich and obviously bored young women in the midst of their over decorated and over stuffed living rooms, could be a portrait of a nouveau riche, here, there or anywhere. There is a video of a street scene showing the distribution of water from a local morgue to the street vendors, who use it to wash customer's cars. I was told that bubbles from this water were supposed to be blown inside the galleries during the exhibition, but at the opening, mercifully, I didn't encounter it. There is a big, clunky sculpture in the shape of a birdcage painted in eye-popping colors. Next to it, a small TV monitor showing a video of a street vendor entertaining a crowd with charming tricks performed by a trained little bird popping in and out of a tiny cage. For no particular reason I could explain or understand, this tiny cage is recreated by the artist on a gigantic scale. Another installation, made out of industrial neon lights made me think about the bygone era of disco. In the exhibition catalogue there is a photograph of the same artwork but installed in a much more interesting way. Some very good works seen in the catalogue unfortunately didn't travel from Boston to L.A., which is a pity.
The overall impression of the exhibition is not unlike observing a group of well-behaved, well-groomed guests having little in common, which makes for a rather dull party.
"Made In Mexico"
UCLA Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
310 443 7061
Ends September 12