From the Tate to the Guggenheim, institutional mandates are genuinely turning toward the global — but it’s not due to altruism. Centres of economic might are shifting, and the geographic catchments of the Guggenheim’s UBS-sponsored MAP programme are not defined as much by shared cultural context as they are by their markets; ‘Under the Same Sun’, an exhibition of ‘Latin American Art’, appears between projects focussed on ‘South and Southeast Asia’ and ‘The Middle East and North Africa’. When addressed lazily, these constraints can replicate globalisation’s most mundane consequences: a flattening of referents, sacrificing nuance in favour of overview. Representation can be trapped in a token gloss, sticking the proverbial pin in the map.
Curator Leon de la Barra does not overcome these problems entirely; they’re endemic to the form of the regional exhibition, which demands a streamlining of ideas around the link between culture and geography. But the forty-odd works are lively and complex, and de la Barra’s organising principles resist idealism and homogeneity. Any desire to present these works in a resistant framework — against or outside the Western cultural imaginary, for example — is suppressed. Instead, the exhibition is powerfully pragmatic; where it concedes to the brief of its corporate sponsorship and the paradigmatic Eurocentrism of its global audience, it picks up in a nervy examination of the conditions which make it possible. Mario García Torres’ ‘Open Letter to Dr. Atl’ (2005) works as a lynchpin for this troubled mandate, mulling over the interdependency of art and commerce over lushly romantic shots of the Mexican landscape. It’s a meditation on what persists in the face of a totalising international market, a self-contained critique of conflicting goals in the Guggenheim mandate — and, more largely, in the state of art today, where hyper-localised activities of documentation, preservation, and exploration are simultaneously sustained and subsumed by multinational interests.
In David Lamelas & Hildegarde Duane’s ‘The Dictator’ (1978), a falsely-unified Latin American ‘reality’ is literally interrogated through a staged interview. As a dictator of ambiguous heritage plays cat-and-mouse with an American reporter, a journalistic framework of presupposed corruption, authoritarianism and violence is revealed. It is hard to ignore that the exhibition, as a whole, is marketed with a similar rubric: press material backgrounds “repressive governmental politics, economic crisis, and social inequality,” and one wonders how much de la Barra allows for the seduction of the violent, post-colonial narrative to deliver what the people want to hear. A ‘culture-jamming’ installation by Minerva Cuevas, ‘Del Montte-Bananeras’ (2003), gestures lazily toward subversion with a couple of live banana trees and a rejigged Del Monte logo, and Carla Zaccagnini’s ‘Evidence of A Farce: “Time” and “The Economist”’ (2011) is little more than the filler caricatures found between the mounted magazines’ pages.
But resistance appears more earnestly, and in more complicated ways, too. After Argentina’s 1970 revolution, both elementary set theory and after-dark parties were prohibited because of the potential to couch subversion in the domestic; performers of Amalia Pica’s ‘A Ώ B Ώ C’ (2013) bring bright Plexiglas shapes together to conjure this historical catalyst with lightness and grace. Tania Bruguera’s ‘Tatlin’s Whisper #6 (Havana Version)’ (2009) sees citizens seize one minute of free speech on a temporary stage in Cuba. A frisson between what’s scripted and what isn’t makes the work sing — the participants are surprised by the appearance of a dove on their shoulders (an allusion to the one which landed on Castro during his victory speech in Havana), and plainly fear the military guards, who aren’t revealed as actors when they strong-arm each speaker offstage. As the set-up makes oppression visible, there is also laughter, tears, and hope: a genuine break from apathy emerges as a far cry from the rhetoric orated from such podiums. These junctures, where politics and form interweave to become more than their objective, are the exhibition’s greatest strength. ‘Under the Same Sun’ makes a case for an active, as opposed to activist, art, which lives long beyond its moment.