Escultura Social is the Spanish translation of Joseph Beuys's social sculpture. According to the press for the show, the various artists are connected via this "...multivalent point of reference" and have some connection to the Mexico City art scene. The trouble is that the connection to social sculpture seems forced at best and the real point of reference is the stratospheric success of Gabriel Orozco. In a Time Out Chicago article, the curator (Julie Rodrigues Widholm) says, "He’s kind of the father figure artistically." The artists in the show are making work less in Beuys's utopian social sculpture vein, and more in Orozco's art market biennial/fair mode.
Widholm also dubiously offers that the work in the show seeks to "...expand the field of art" and that it "questions the function of art." She breaks the work down into four shopworn categories: transformation of everyday materials; social engagement; language and text; music. popular media, and performance. A quick survey of the gallery scene in most major cities will show that none of this is new. In fact a survey of the last 80 years of art history should quickly dispel any notion that these artists are expanding or questioning much of anything. The work in the show fits neatly within the global art market, conforming to its current fashion, not challenging it. Widholm admits as much, noting that "an engagement with conceptualism is part of a worldwide trend." So what makes this show matter? The fact that the artists are connected to the Mexico City scene? If so, this show is yet another reminder of the simultaneous trivialization and fetishization of place within the globalized art economy.
Our problem, of course, is not so much with the work, but how it is being contextualized. There are some nice things in the show, and they are things. Despite Widholm's claim that "the artists here demonstrate approaches that go beyond making objects," the show is filled with objects (weavings, photos, sculpture, etc.). She's not alone among curators and gallerists who proclaim a world beyond objects presented to us via a room full of them. Maybe it's an ironic gesture to display Mario García Torres's faux text piece in a vitrine of individually mounted pages of paper and situate it as beyond the object, or to display a huge banner of The School of Panamerican Unrest alongside framed and mounted images/text, but it seems as if the MCA doesn't understand how inscribing these projects within the logic of museum display undermines the supposed "new vocabulary" the show seeks to present. Widholm's closing remarks in the pamphlet for the show note that Beuys's notion of social sculpture "challenges us to imagine how we shape, mold, and carve the global, social, and environmental infrastructures of our lives today." This is laudable. We only wish that the MCA, as an extension of the gloabl art market, considered how it too carves and molds ideas, often to the detriment of intellectual and cultural expansion.
That leads us back to our introduction. We have thought all along that the arts were salvageable, but this show is symptomatic of our growing cynicism. Perhaps Leisure