Magazine article Artforum International

"The Crystal Stopper." (Art Exhibit of Various Artists at the Lehmann Maupin, New York)

Magazine article Artforum International

"The Crystal Stopper." (Art Exhibit of Various Artists at the Lehmann Maupin, New York)

Article excerpt

LEHMANN MAUPIN

In the '80s, both the art market and the institutions that supported it expressed a sudden interest in the marginal, embracing a plethora of critical viewpoints on race, class, and gender. What was political and social in art was also what made it relevant and hence "real." But with the recent move away from "multiculturalism" toward "globalization," the affirmation of difference has been shown to mask a propensity to traffic in stereotypes, raising oddly nagging questions. Is there really an "African-American" or "Latino" art? Are "artists of color" required to speak about ethnic experience? If much was wedged into place - who is licensed to speak for whom and about what - hard-edged debate over the desirability of assimilation rages again.

Into this fray Carlos Basualdo introduced "The Crystal Stopper," an exhibition that one might be tempted to read through the veil of multicultural politics; after all he worked with a number of relatively unknown artists from South America and Cuba, as well as some headline politicos like Alfredo Jaar and Felix Gonzalez-Torres. And the thematic thread of the exhibition was built around "the mirror," the virtual leitmotif of identity politics. Certainly, in the hands of a lesser curator such elements would have left us choking on a miasma of cliches. What Basualdo delivered in "The Crystal Stopper," however, was provocative in its refusal to accept absolutes, as the singular, stream-of-consciousness narrative of his catalogue text, coauthored with Reinaldo Laddaga, makes clear.

More than anything, the exhibition seemed bent on contesting stereotypes engendered by standard, art-world discourse on the "Other." To this end, Basualdo staged an event in which what is Northern and what is Southern, what is center and what is margin merged imperceptibly across a fault line best described by the lines from Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas cited in the catalogue essay: "In the mirror where you look at yourself/ there is no one." Thus, for Basualdo, the mirror possesses the power to conspire against the viewer, by at once summoning and withholding, seducing and defeating, in short toying with our desire for the most comforting of images - our own. …

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