Monday, July 12, 2010

OhMI, Be Nice!

Sunday night, presentations by Naomi Beckwith, Assistant Curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Priyanka Mathew, Director at the Aicon Gallery, left a hangover of questions served for breakfast the next morning.

Naomi presented the exhibition she curated at the Museum, entitled 30 Seconds Off an Inch, November 12, 2009 – March 14, 2010. (OhMI had seen the show and wasn’t upset by it.) In her presentation, Naomi framed the exhibition in two ways — first, through the use of material (dematerialization, transformation, readymade) and second, through the art-historical references. The first framing, although pedestrian, didn’t hurt the show or the presentation much. While the second framing, not detectible in the exhibition, raised hairs on OhMI’s skin and curled them into question marks during the presentation. Each section of the exhibition was introduced via the figurehead of one of the mainstream post-war Euro-American art movements, from Joseph Kosuth to Joseph Beuys. Selections of contemporary artists of black descent followed, as if they were adopted children of white fathers, without mothers. There was no attempt to differentiate or mix-up the canon. How about Barkley L. Hendricks single-parenting Mickalene Thomas, Yoko Ono (s)mothering Xaviera Simmons, or Mario Montez wet-nursing toothy Kalup Linzy? Naomi agreed, at least on the first count (Barkley and Micky), but only after this possibility has been politely offered to her during Q&A. She agreed that her framing was wrong politically, but right aesthetically. Kalup sings softly into Naomi’s ear, if it don’t fit… make it look nice.

Priyanka, who runs a gallery in New York devoted to Indian contemporary art, gave us a nice overview of its recent history. She expressed her passion for expanding the gallery’s program into Pakistan (via Omi of course, as last year’s Sana Arjumand just had a solo show there, and this season, we have Irfan to offer). At breakfast, some people, not from India or Pakistan or even MENASA, but from nearby, objected to a gallery program devoted to a specific region, even using the “r-cist” word. These said people maintain that art is not like any other commodity, and should not be branded by its origin, but taken for what it is. These same people, however, took part in shows devoted exclusively to the presentation of their own people to other people, and were OK with it. It seems that in this case, different standards concerning self-determination are applied to different entities of the art world, such as artists, curators, and gallerists. There are many ways to make it right, for example: Francis G. offered a keen observation that there are many more people interested in identity groups than in art, and therefore their interests can be utilized in art marketing to benefit the artists. Comments, anyone, do you read me, OhMI?

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