The rise of globalism has created tremendous challenges to old economic, political, and cultural paradigms, and these changes are reflected in artistic practices. Disciplinary boundaries are crossed as easily as geographical ones. How does the new internationalism that we are facing affect aesthetics and artistic production? Is there a link, for example, between the rise of video works and the global availability of the digital medium? Does the global information age facilitate an "international language of art" and an alternative reading of art history, toward art histories?
From the perspective of a museum of modern and contemporary art, the institution has to overcome a major contradiction: between its mission of permanence and its mission of change. How can cultural institutions contribute to the revamping of their own structures now that the hegemony of western modernity is being challenged? How can museums connect with new audiences through different practices, different scholarship, and different interpretative strategies growing out of the sedimentation of their history?
Minneapolis is one of the nation's most rapidly changing cities and is now more culturally, ethnically, and economically diverse than ever before. Demographic changes have provided an ideal opportunity (indeed, an ethical imperative) for the Walker to act in new ways upon its mission--to "examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, communities, and cultures"--and the makeup of our programs and staff reflects these changes. To be a more locally engaged institution, we need to become more sensitive to the increasingly interconnected world reflected in the demographics of our own community: a world in which social, political, economic, and cultural boundaries are recalculated daily by both ancient and new definitions of home, history, and hierarchy. One of our main challenges as an institution is to identify and pose the questions arising from such a shift in our community (and in our profession) in order to better understand the global issues that unite and divide cultures.
Thanks to the enormously generous support of the Bush Foundation, we launched in 1999 a global initiative that included among its components a three-year partnership with a global advisory committee. Representing a breadth of expertise in international artistic and intellectual programming from Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States, the global advisory committee consists of: Walter K. Chakela, artistic director of the Windybrow Centre for the Arts in Johannesburg, South Africa; Vishakha N. Desai, senior vice president and director of the Museum at the Asia Society, New York; Paulo Herkenhoff, independent curator, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and former adjunct curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hou Hanru, a Chinese-born curator and critic now living in Paris; Vasif Kortun, director of Proje4L, Istanbul's first museum of contemporary art; Otori Hidenaga, a theater scholar and critic from Tokyo; and Baraka Sele, curator and producer of the World Festival at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark. Twice each year, this group met for five days with our curators, designers, and educators to critique our existing global programs, to help expand the global and disciplinary range of our permanent collection, and to assist us in planning a yearlong series of multidisciplinary programs, including the exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age. Our colleagues risked a lot in sharing with us an unusual willingness to challenge our curatorial routines and broaden our understanding of the different criteria and traditions by which artistic decisions might be made. The ongoing conversations, punctuated by the arguments and the humor that grow out of trust, led to new realms of research and, indeed, resulted in a refreshed sense of multiple histories and definitions not proscribed by a Eurocentric context. Deviating from the linearity that dominated so much Western modernist thinking in the twentieth century, we began to visualize a metaphor more appropriate to the 21st century: a network of connections with open spaces for cultural, historical, and political debate. Such a network is what we are also attempting to implement within the institution itself as we forge a series of connections between and among the departments, from education and community programs to design, from film and video to visual arts, from performing arts to new media . . . and back again.
The Walker's global initiative and the exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms provide us with unique opportunities for institutional change. Our efforts to refine and perhaps reformulate the multidisciplinary mission of the Walker Art Center reflect our experiences in dealing with a greater hybridity of practices and elasticity of definitions (pertaining, for example, to the history of taste, the determination of quality as well as of expertise, and such criteria as permanence). Our conversations here and abroad have forced us to experiment with a method of programming that values the conversations that occur between the lines--between the disciplines--allowing the way one form is practiced to influence another. As we move forward, I hope the Walker will be increasingly shaped by a process described by Sarat Maharaj as involving the "translation of identities, translation of cultures, translation of ethnicities . . . Translation [being] not so much an exceptional moment in our lives but a condition of being and becoming."
How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age is made possible by generous support from The Bush Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, American Express Philanthropic Program, the Rockefeller Foundation, Peggy and Ralph Burnet, Matthew O. Fitzmaurice, The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, Colección Jumex, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Peter C. and Annie Remes, and Shiseido. Promotional assistance provided by MPLS.ST.PAUL Magazine.