"Ciphers of Identity." (University of Maryland Fine Arts Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland)

Article excerpt


It's a bold move to follow an internationally recognized exhibition that occurs every other year in New York with one that travels primarily to regional cities "Ciphers of Identity," curated by Maurice Berger, is an afterimage of the Whitney Biennial's boisterous multiculti fest, and therein lies its strength. Instead of creating display density, Berger resists the impulse to build Babylo and steers toward a more harmonious environment in which works of art speak about the conflicts and ambiguities of the self as a social construction. Withi this setting, the anxiety of political correctness is subdued and the opportunity emerges to consider the effectiveness of symbolic representation, not simply to articulate difference, but to "make" a difference.

Twenty artists, each working within the margins of cultural disenfranchisement, point fingers at the viewer as perpetrator, or elegize the voiceless, nameless, faceless Other. As we've come to expect from the theatricality of multiculturalism, viewers must deliver their subjectivity as host to this eucharist event.

With hurricane force, Barbara Kruger's billboard-sized graphic confronts us wit an accusatory "WHO do you think you are?" (Untitled, 1993). This rhetorical question couldn't be more appropriate as we enter Adrian Piper's installation, Vote/Emote, 1991, which consists of a series of booths, each housing a differen black and white photograph depicting African-Americans, and a notebook whose blank pages are printed with provocative headings such as "List Your Fears of How We Might Treat You." Viewers are encouraged to record their responses, although the speaking subject of these headings is never clearly identified as belonging to either the people in the photographs, or to those who enter the "polling" booth. In recognition of this ambiguity, the viewer potentially occupies both subject positions; yet, whatever compassion the fiction of knowin what it feels like on the "other" side might generate, the exhibition's visitor profile posited by this piece is deeply ingrained with racist attitudes. …