When it comes to Modern art, exactly whose Modernism is it?
In recent years, a newer, so-called transnational approach to telling this story has emerged. Its practitioners have been making room in 20th-century art’s familiar narrative, which usually focuses on Western Europe and North America, for lesser-known artists, movements, ideas and events from other parts of the world.
Alexandra Munroe, the senior curator of Asian art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and its first “senior adviser, global arts,” is one of the most visibly active and influential scholars who have taken a transnational approach to her work.
Originally published in Liu Xiaodong: Hometown Boy. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Liu Xiaodong: Evidence
by Alexandra Munroe
Earlier this year, the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote a lengthy article challenging the “appalling narrowness of vision” evident in the exclusively post-minimal art shows dominating New York museums. Her controversial article urged curators to think more independently and look at work outside the reigning fashion for conceptual art. As I read her article, I found myself agreeing with Smith’s critique of the tyranny of taste that dictates what’s in or out of the hallowed halls of western contemporary art museums. A great case in point is Liu Xiaodong. Putting the newspaper down, I imagined standing to defend his painting, his mind, and his historical importance to my colleagues in New York. This essay is that defense.
Smith’s article, titled “Post-Minimal to the Max,” is worth quoting at length:
The goal in organizing museum exhibitions, as in collecting, running a gallery and—to cite the most obvious example—being an artist, should be individuation and difference, finding a voice of your own. Instead we’re getting example after example of squeaky-clean, well-made, intellectually decorous takes on that unruly early ‘70s mix of Conceptual, Process, Performance, installation and language-based art that is most associated with the label Post-Minimalism… But regardless of what you think about these artists individually, their shows share a visual austerity and coolness of temperature that are dispiritingly one-note. After encountering so many bare walls and open spaces, after examining so many amalgams of photography, altered objects, seductive materials and Conceptual puzzles awaiting deciphering, I started to feel as if it were all part of a big-box chain featuring only one brand… You’d never know from looking at museums that figurative painting, running the gamut from realist to quasi-expressionist, is on the rise.