With the advent of Modernism in the late 19th – early 20th century, differing movements, schools, and networks sprang up internationally—some were generative and sustainable, others dead-ended, though unbeknownst to most of us, traces of these persist or return. This cross-fertilization drove Modernism’s evolution until the post-World War II era the new art made in the U.S. came to dominate the narrative. The triumph of the NY School (AbEx) corresponded to the new political and economic order. In this scenario the vanguards that emerged from the rubble and detritus of the War such as C.O.B.R.A., Nouveau Realisme, Lettrist, Zero, Arte Povera, etc. were trivialized, marginalized, or came to be appropriated. To this day, the European artists whose works come to be acknowledged in the States tend to be those whose works are used to typify the whole of a critical discourse, or style. This has reduced post-War European art to a short list that includes Pierre Soulages, Antonio Tapies, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Gerhardt Richter, Anselm Keifer, etc. In this manner, the illusionary status of the U.S. as the cultural leader of the free world is sustained, while European art is made to appear to be broken, fragmented, or at best sporadically relevant, rather than constituting a network of competing histories, practices, and critical discourses.
The exhibition no existe un mundo poshuracán: Puerto Rican Art in the Wake of Hurricane Maria, though it includes 50 works by 20 artists, seems overwhelmed given it has been installed in an enormous space. With the exception of two lounge-like areas in which billboard-sized video projections are installed, most of the works, modest in scale, seem to be scattered through the space, or enigmatically clustered together. Ironically, where the Wake of Maria is sparsely installed and attended, the Edward Hopper NY exhibition, given its scale and popularity, would definitely benefit from more space than the half floor it has been jammed into. Another oddity is the disparity in the number and scale of works each artist is represented by. I can only suspect the budget of this show was insufficient to achieve its stated ambition of “presenting artworks made over the last five years by an inter-generational group of artists from Puerto Rico and its diaspora.”
Walt Disney has taught us that cartoons can be used to distract us while conveying the most serious of subjects. Understanding this Emily Mae Smith in 2014, introduced into her developing iconography an anthropomorphized, androgynist broom consisting of a featureless phallic shaft attached to a twig brush. This broom, a descendant of the demonic mops portrayed in sorcerer’s apprentice section of Disney’s Fantasia (1940), has become a signature image in her work. Joined with icons associated with desire and fear, Smith has used this figure as both a male and female trope, as well as an alter-ego. To greater and lesser degrees Smith uses her glossary of icons in some cases to engage in heady meditations on such topics as death, vanity, desire, history, etc. and at other times to enigmatically introduce such subjects with little or no commentary.