Walker Art Center
The Local Tango and the Global Dance

So the truth of the matter is that the "local tango" is far more resilient than the global dance. At least in the international arena, audiences are forced to eat the cake with the theoretical crust. So of course I am inclined to believe that you, like me, are involved in some kind of misrepresentation of "local art." Of what kind?



Dear Cuauhtémoc,

I was talking about an emancipation from the local elites' interpretation of modernism, a break from the carcass of the acquisitions of modernity, the nationalist will, the economic and administrative class base. I know it sounds arrogant, even deceptive, to seal it off like that, but how else can the actuality be negotiated without compromise? Should we not admit that the tussle has been more with the institutions of local culture than with the center? From the late 1980s, for about a decade, the translating agencies--the middle-men--involuntarily had to illustrate the locatable energies of their places of so-called origin. This, of course, intensified the rupture between the local elites' interpretation of modernism and the specificity of local contemporary work in the displaced discourse of international syntax. Who won, and what was lost? You know we can't dig trenches or act as snipers any more. There is a triple caveat here: one has to do with the vestige of local archaic power, an archaic power that lacks the idealism of its origins; the second deals with the naiveté of many international institutions; and finally, there is the terribly sobering realization that we now have the power to make choices. The first position is weak; gone is the thrust of the local academic discourse, its monopoly on information and the privileging translations! Gone are the days of the "splendors of Mexico"![5] Regarding international institutions, they have shown remarkable flexibility, have helped artists and curators pay their bills, have provided tickets for travel, and we in turn have provided them with the critique they need to extend their license! Let's discuss the third caveat. If we go back to your favorite hobby-horse, Mr. Orozco, is not "art for export"--if I can express it in the most banal way--locked in the reciprocity of the local's imagination of what the center desires and the center's imagination of what the local should desire? I don't think this is a self-conscious process but an interpersonal, collective one. In fact, it collapses the strategic difference between Orozco and Kcho. If one issue deals with how we negotiate our arguments into the center and then air them out, another deals with the situatedness of our reading. Twice in the last two years, an artist from Istanbul has put me in a deep quandary. The first instance was when we were doing a critique of a project I had curated. This artist said that she was no longer interested in what she wanted to say to the world, but instead cared about what she wanted to say to herself. And, not long ago, during an exhibition planning conversation for Becoming a Place,[6] she said that I was looking inside from the outside, and that instead I could be looking at the inside from the inside. The ins and outs referred simply to the situatedness of her work. Then, in a recent interview, she said, "The look at the inside from within is an attempt to understand, transform, and produce the context that is inhabited. It's a preference to remain within, in pursuit of genuineness and credibility. And despite misunderstandings, ill-definitions, and prejudices against it, it can also work critically."[7]


Dear Vasif,

Months have passed, deadlines falling on our heads, and I finally come back to your last letter. I would like to say that if my answer has taken so long it is because you instilled in me the very anxieties you referred to, for the simple reason that I feel more and more that a perspective of "the inside from the inside" has become completely impossible for me. This of course may involve my inability to interact with some works and artists properly because they seem to me to project an "inside" (both geographical and emotional/psychological/personal)

5 Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries was a blockbuster exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 10, 1990-January 13, 1991, and one of the first "selling of nations" exhibitions.

6 Becoming a Place was the inaugural exhibition of Proje4L Istanbul Museum of Contemporary Art and opened September 21, 2001. 7 Aydan Murtezaoglu, unpublished interview with Erden Kusova.