Walker Art Center
Globalization from the Rear: "Would You Care to Dance, Mr. Malevich?"

Amazingly or not, institutions, museums, and art centers have been slow to react, having embraced these ideas only very recently and having learned a great deal from practices outside their purview. For example, it is fair to say that a project such as the XXIV Bienal de São Paulo introduced a very large range of art-historical scholarship stemming from a history of ideas and movements barely known within the Eurocentric perspective.[8] This biennial offered an alternative history of art, not an institutionalized art history. Although many of the artists were familiar to an art-educated audience, the methodology implied that there are as many art histories as there are art historians, as many cultures as there are cultural lenses. In terms of methodology and exhibition practices, this biennial also broke new ground by aggressively developing educational strategies oriented toward a very broad range of audiences who were not only unfamiliar with the notion of modern and contemporary art but who also had their first encounter with a "museum" exhibition by attending the biennial.[9] This focus on educational strategies in the context of art institutions is seminal if such institutions have an ambition to challenge their own protocols at every level. To borrow from Rosalind Krauss' essay on experimental sculpture in the 1960s, it might be time for art institutions to think of themselves in an "expanded field."[10] In such a field, the institution, rather than being the figurehead or the voice of authority acting on another, becomes a voice working in concert with others, including plural audiences and plural cultures. Such a nonhegemonic conception of the institution places the emphasis on conversation as a strategy for promoting, among other things, the idea of education as liberation that Brazilian educator Paulo Freire developed (not so surprisingly) as early as 1968.[11]

To invite and encourage such dialogue is at the heart of How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age. The project began by asking such questions as: How can the Walker Art Center as an institution contribute to are vamping of its own structures? How can we build an institution that generates at every level of its activities different practices, different scholarship, and different interpretative strategies growing out of the sedimentation of our history? The aim was not to replace one dominating model with a new one, in an antagonistic way, but to affirm at a structural level the inherent support and complementarity that different views and traditions provide. How can we acknowledge in our everyday practice that now more than ever "we are in the epoch of simultaneity ... the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and the far, of the side by side, of the dispersed"?[12] In the context of a museum of modern and contemporary art, it means that the institution has to overcome a major contradiction: between its mission of preservation and permanence and its mission of change. The notion of "permanent change" might be the solution; it is also what distinguishes an art center from a strictly collection-based institution.

The location of culture is shifting. As Homi K. Bhabha has written, in his attempt to relocate the notion of Western modernity, "What must be mapped as a new international space of discontinuous historical realities is, in fact, the problem of signifying the interstitial passages and processes of cultural difference that are inscribed in the 'in-between,' in the temporal break-up that weaves the 'global' text."[13] The relationship of globalization and the arts is not about "ecumenism or good will,"[14] or about political correctness, or even worse, guilt. Nor is it about finding an "insurance policy on humanness."[15] The complexity of the issue resides in the terminology of the issue itself. The minute one pronounces the words global art or global exhibition, one is already part of the problem, positioning oneself as the other, as a First-World protagonist, as a dominant signifier. The question of globalization and art is about transforming the structure of Western modernity so that one is able to write other histories of forms and practices, other art histories.[16]

8 The XXIV Bienal de São Paulo (1998) was curated by Paulo Herkenhoff on the theme of cultural anthropophagy.

9 Conversation with Paulo Herkenhoff, 2000.

10 See Rosalind Krauss, "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press, 1985), pp. 276-290.

11 See Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: The Continuum Publishing Corporation, 1983).

12 Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," in Documenta X, The Book, p. 262. Originally published in Diacritics 16, no. 1 (spring 1986).

13 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 217.

14 Arjun Appadurai, Globalization (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001), p. 15.

15 "The presence of the Negroes beside the whites is in a way an insurance policy on humanness. When the whites feel that they have become too mechanized, they turn to the men of color and ask them for a little human sustenance." Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967), p. 129.

16 On this topic it is important to study the seminar that Jean-François Chevrier has developed since 1994 at L'École Nationale Supérieure desBeaux Arts in Paris, which is formalized in the exhibition and the box/book Des Territoires (Paris: École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, 1999-2001). Art Historian Sarat Maharaj has also developed a series of seminars at Berlin's Humboldt-Universität that challenges the methodologies of art history and art practices in light of philosophy, biology, and literature. Both Chevrier and Maharaj espouse a history of art that integrates heterogeneity and cultural diversity and embraces the voice of the "subaltern," the "oppressed."