Walker Art Center
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Musings on Globalism and Institutional Change


Many of them came back saying, "I started to say we were doing a global show and immediately felt like I had plunged a knife into my heart." I do think institutional intentions--again, these abstractions--need to be made particular, human, intimate when the curators take them out into the field.

VND: Absolutely. We initially thought that Traditions/Tensions would encompass all of Asia, but we quickly realized that it didn't need to be all-inclusive. So we decided to use five countries (India, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Korea) as emblematic of the kinds of changes that were taking place in the region. We wanted to make it very clear that it was not the show, but a show, the first part of a long-term commitment to the study and presentation of contemporary Asian art. This one show couldn't do everything that needed to be done for this major endeavor.

KH: One of the terms that Apinan uses is cultural syncretism, which he considers to be a fundamental concept that is not new to Asian societies. I began to wonder if, in fact, this offers a new paradigm for Western institutions, and if these ideas of connectivity, synchronization, partnership are something that we can benefit from.

VND: Increasingly, the kinds of partnerships we are talking about question the authorial, singular power of the individual. I've begun to realize that, ultimately, you need to build relationships and partnerships if you want to do long-term work. You can't do it by yourself. One thing the Walker's initiative has done for me is to raise questions, in my own mind, about how we think about "Asian-ness" or "Western-ness." It's not just about Asian-ness over there, or Asian-American-ness over here; increasingly it's an issue of how Asian-ness has seeped into Western-ness, and vice versa. People asked me a decade ago why I wasn't doing a show of Western artists who are deeply affected by Asian art, such as Brice Marden or Francesco Clemente. I was very adamant at the time that if I was going to do contemporary-art projects, I needed first to give voice to those who had not yet been seen or heard.

Today, however, that argument doesn't hold. I am interested now in mixing it up completely, so that you begin to think about Asian-ness or Western-ness not in a racial sense, or in a geographical sense, but in a conceptual sense. It is a kind of cultural syncretism that can break the binary definitions of East/West and allow for a greater understanding of the elasticity that artists bring to their work, whether here or in Asia.

KH: Isn't that, again, the remarkable outcome of a benign definition of globalism, where it truly is not about import/export but about exchange and infusion? Not that we lose our identity, but the ways in which we can define and represent ourselves become richer. I don't mean to be romantic about globalism. I realize, painfully, that some people in the world can see me only as a symbol, as a member of a dominant culture and of the superpower. Most of us are all too aware of the pernicious underbelly of it. But what we have tried to do in this initiative is to find some of the grace notes, to discover ways of moving forward with an appropriate mix of skepticism and optimism.