In This Issue: War and Other Disasters

Article excerpt

Sigmar Polke took the long view of history, of art, and of politics. The History of Everything was the modest title of one of his last major museum exhibitions. Opening with a giant image of die Sevendi Cavalry graves at Litde Bighorn, Polke tied the American West mythology to contemporary Texas life through images of shooring galleries and gun shows (the exhibition opened in Dallas) . Another axis drew together aerial surveillance imagery, ranging from spectators in nineteenth-century French and German hot-air balloons to American drone- plane videos of men on horseback in Afghanistan, targeted as Al-Qaeda suspects (taking the Western global). The latter are featured in die painting reproduced here, in various states of resolution and dissolution, interspersed with anonymous human figures walking and crouching, as well as the lurid kitsch of Western "civilization."

Polke died as we were putting this issue of Art Journal together, and it seemed fitting to begin it with him, as the authors and artists featured in these pages take die long view as well.Yun-Fei Ji, an artist with Polkesize ambition, wrestles with the enormity of the Three Gorges Dam. A subject surely large enough on its own, he connects it to older mythologies of theYangzi River, as well as to a century of political-economic planning. Joan Keé's essay provides a context for Ji 's project, in which the contemporary use of traditional means places contemporary art in a longer history, not as simple parody, but to make a variety of connections between past and present. Cultural-historical rift.s and breaks are not, in reality, as absolute as recent theoretical fashion insisted. As one of the characters in Kerry James Marshall's P-Van complains, why does die museum keep die African art so far from the modern?

We have shed the most recent decades of history with the greatest speed, too often without understanding mem. Polke was one of the first artists to address World War II directly in his art. …