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On Museum Row: Aesthetics and the Politics of Exhibition Author(s): Chon A. Noriega Source: Daedalus, Vol. 128, No.

3, America's Museums (Summer, 1999), pp. 57-81 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences Stable URL: . Accessed: 15/04/2013 01:15
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A. Noriega

On Museum


Aesthetics and the Politics of Exhibition

am me the that


down Row forces so Next

the row of role

highway The the is on

when exit "miracle

the itself

"Museum combined And I had

Exit." cultural

sign further

appears: informs

that museum


I arrive

heritage, at the museum

mile," suggesting urban and renewal, for a panel discussion is to say, itself is in as honor a on often

a nominal

is well-placed my name an expression no way of my or as a curator. Such scholar museum row. But rather than Iwould intentions, ing my which such an event comes from those for exhibitions within institutional context

in putting which together, in the program but the event own intentions, things happen indict the museum

whether quite for not

like to sketch

together. reveal the proper, they nonetheless which notions of aesthetic, scien

the generic features by While somewhat different

to public exhibi value are determined tific, and historical prior is a composite tion. My brief of several sketch incidents. The phone call comes several weeks before the panel discus sion. The director to the explains "community" outreach the various rationales as part of a current the foundations toward gesture for the event: a exhibition; are footing

programming the bill; and artists, civic redemptive through

by requirement a public-relations and the leaders, of art, of new


power a discussion

"community." these rationales approaches

grant makers, In a nod to the be created explored by art

will being


California, 57

A. Noriega Los

is associate Angeles.







the University


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ists crease But

Chon A. Noriega
in the of face federal all of some relevant coupled crisis?in with a visual this support case, culture the de increas

ingly defined by global corporate media.

not be "aca the panel should else, I am told, a recurrent demic." This last point has been and annoying from both foundations since the early admonition and museums serve I am being In effect, what 1990s. told is that the panel will above various that cal social functions Such and that academics are anathema more within public sphere. consideration than a positioning I can provide requires sociologi to the since it speaks here, the university has been both isolated more called on private dependent I participate in because not as an academic per se,

in which way particular from public discourse and made interests. museum but as For and my part, foundation I am

activities, a curator, in the and writer involved advisor, actively as an exception, arts. But rather I believe than see myself that own work that the and founda museum, my proves academia, a common as social I tions share institutions. What ground me as a scholar as into these other know follows arenas, just what I know as a curator and advisor follows me back to the not be "academic." In any case, the panel will university. an incredible call itself evidences skill on the part The phone of the administrator, that of a calculated and strategic ambiva sure am event or I am never I if lence: the quite organizing merely a code groups, served the that providing for word some either on pull advice. the I do know that group other a single minority context. The in another "community" or all minority functions is

depending by this event that share The

to be

institutions also

provide a professional

to satisfy direction, namely, and political and support funding which culture within the museum a arena from moment. into account, I suggest construc in a voicing to listen content has within its own or this inter for

is merely "community" that the institutional context, meaning distinct nal demands and requirements operates. whomever Taking something tive. As dialogue, clear and a it may all of advocate these at a given considerations


bold, provocative, scholar who also means coherent

and thereby engaging, curates I believe exhibitions,


your audience, understanding and then being prepared position,

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On Museum
to and artists the engage whose work of of media far removed global responses. combines Toward that end,

I suggest


a critique aspects sector alone The

institutional culture, from

community-based artists spaces. These but do so within of

with practices also appropriate an alternative arts the art market, let

the machinations

media. corporate on within the the other "balance" hand, wants director, an event in In and for the itself. such administra process fact, is the event, since it is here that the institutional tor, the process network director artists limit apace. past bers, result been that notes I have of what After the and of sustains the museum and are all women can represent, is everything. comes into play. in an awkward suggested they self-conscious but of color, continues three the Thus, that the way as if that is the to names proceed are run

all, process the other funders, trustees these before


organizations the director

staff mem involved, me to returns with the three other artists have to do with

the selected, having an But rationales. the panel itself lacks original overarching is artist is coherence. The but each diverse, panel conceptual to a demographic much inter reduced the very niche, reflecting in the decision-making involved players not have avoided would this problem, process. My suggestion an underlying manifested but it did address assumption by the never more to final panel: minorities than their get represent of the various marginality. The interesting is that I am not taken about this process I am put into the loop, and it is the needs out of the loop; rather, of the loop that determine the final outcome. itself Indeed, thing they tors are as much presentations are the catalyst for dialogue. have more than autonomy being product Thus, while in the above the as dialogue cura exhibition of ests

conversations: many reasons for valid each


example?their of expression? implicitly by freedom protected is by no means If anything, such autonomy absolute. there are a few more to the loop, most added often players planning selections groups formal sources and basis. advisory These as committees, groups project which function aura: on a more satisfy a democratic humanities-based funding whether for

as well

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Chon A. Noriega
final an than the right people decisions. exhibition an looks individual or rational were more choice consulted like made an on Even the in

or representativeness, expertise the before the curator made this manner, instance of policy the basis of aesthetic if the curator parameters the steps the be internal the social seeks dict one the sional tem, press. In curating formation


a sense with operates for that autonomy have to the the

cognition. of complete autonomy, been determined already decision. Of

up leading curator breathes politics relevant groups), to establish of

necessity, "go-ahead" ether of political The contingency. to have been deemed the museum, plus what factors an (funders, arena within the and government, which the museum

external constitute

"balance" the extent To the museum

the product. To each other, extreme fact that

in the process in and "authority" contra that balance and authority

to the other.


authority state agencies,

a tightrope from walks necessarily museum must with the deal start, across is already diffused the profes the sys representation political the social and trustees, groups, notion the of "balance" then,

foundations, corporations, a strategic As matter, these them

incorporates subordinates purpose. amount

within the exhibition but process groups to the imperatives of expertise, and order, an inordinate Even if one or another group acquires in the process, exhibi of influence the end result?the the museum's scholars tend to content of social as own look at authority. this situation in order to backwards, abstract the

tion?expresses Museum studying museum's museum the

exhibitions thereby

authority, a hierarchical

correspondence the museum emerge culture and many tural tions And for

little sense of the leaving an uneasy that bears organization in which it participates. with the world Instead, as a sort of "black out of which box" functions of material bourgeoisie, is wrong; of the cul in

exhibitions the


the fragments that orchestrate of the nation-state, the purposes It is not that such an approach control. histories

rather it produces ways, of the museum. "meaning" and do textual Did unanswered: how


insightful its methods?basically, But at least two major analysis?leave ever respond audiences these along to pass within the museum

ques lines? itself?



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On Museum
After all, the museum has


the and

loop decision-making museums more divided between the major that homogeneous, War after World international prominence, especially acquired museums the local elite that reflected smaller and II, municipal class. Since complicated role nificant humanities 1960s 1980s sures and and that the decision-making then, as the federal government in museums, funding as well 1970s 1990s also in large part The civil agencies. resulted more loop has become a more has played sig due to the rise of arts and movement backlash of of the the


years ago Forty changed. a lot different. It was smaller

rights as the neoconservative

impacted to censorship issues ployment more became so, too, important,

the day-to-day

in legislation and political pres life of museums, from em if government But struggles. did other sources rooted in the

and foundations. sector, corporate including family private to the late 1970s, Prior the Ford Foundation domi seemingly to assets assets one-sixth of the of the nated the field with equal U.S. thousand combined. foundations other twenty-five Today, a wide have be foundations and corporations range of both come The museums movements major past sources. funding have four decades and public up culture. the witnessed In the first a two-part part, and shift in




rights-based institu social

tions, culminating

in the Civil Rights Act

(1964) and Voting

were Act which followed (1965), by a state-sponsored Rights to accommodate which and -regulated within this public sphere most affirmative-action programs. inclusiveness, through notably intervention But this from the wider, actually spread much an to in support creation of public increase television for the arts, neither of which legislation civil-rights an equal role in expanding the state played the public now granted racial and sexual minorities incorporate of full tained class (NEA); hensive citizenship. and class artists went But racial to it did so in a calculated in effect, Endowment artists Act went stratification: the National was or inclusive. If diverse particularly in universal resulted and rights suffrage, to sphere the rights

that main way white middle for the Arts

and working-class minority and Training Employment broke down in the early

to the Compre these (CETA). When largely due to the



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Chon A. Noriega
of CETA the and legacy of economic even factors and these similar programs, the culture wars

dismantling began. While political the global be more wholesale movements tity-based network funded assets

continues, changes vanished almost support The if it has


in 1974.

overestimated, ideological

impact been overlooked in the 1980s.

underlying with overnight cannot of the recession in favor of


Quite originating simply, in that one year: took place changes rights-based were nationalism and iden by cultural supplanted on and diverse public-affairs politics; programming over time television ended, replaced by corporate -produced cut finance programs and conservative talk

and and

shows on public
to its more major media activist

television. The Ford Foundation

accordingly, for which programs, This change abrupt while

lost half its

its funding

with respect especially it was often the sole or

rights sector?the Given

supporter. reform movement, and community-based this very context

an end to the brought it required that minority civil turn to the organizations private arena to challenge. been created they had serves as perhaps in the arts, 1974 the best to mark with which to postmodernism.1 issues policy

year (and most materially consequential) the shift from the modernist avant-garde In the second emerged since the 1980s. its part, in the late a market-based 1970s and while has

to social approach state been official support


increased, significance over conflicts ideological minorities minorities received the

staging the public sphere. Racial lion's share of the attention the role of the federal

government as the serving

decreased, for ground and sexual in the press

and public debate,


but the real change had

less to do with

government serve a to To be in securing institutions nation. diverse public more to either accommodate the inclusion space blunt, required or new at that the door whites the groups accept knocking as their own the public sphere they once claimed domain. The former proved longer be their exclusive a in War Cold and what unsustainable economy economically is now a global untenable the latter proved economy; politically In the political that electorate. for a still largely white struggle an to answer. if But the looked the for everyone ensued, past that

se than with

possibility no might

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On Museum
Left looked back to a time when these


were these

looked and the Right autonomous, were institutions public homogenous, the same thing: two the American

institutions public to a time when back they both were and museum


at looking at mid which a two the 1960s, both other. the to a arena. Birth is

These why part Change social more With

I prefer shift rather

are intimately of nostalgia linked, as manifesting to see the past four decades forms over part Since the correlates

to privilege one than more is necessarily complicated. museum of the American function and to a more public as Tony to the public, diverse Bennett

diverse respect

institutional argues in The

of the Museum:
distinctive that have been demands political museum: to the modern the demand that there generated should be parity of representation for all groups and cultures within the collecting, exhibition and conservation activities of the and demand that the of all social groups members museums, as well as theoretical should have equal practical rights of access There in relation
to museums.2

are . . . two

In contrast, political such concerns. neither without the tion social the and

the museum

a itself within operates increasingly environment removed from corporate seemingly What bears is that however, special emphasis, identified have emerged by Bennett would came under wherein the museum the political representa of the corporate imperatives some analogy provides insight of


increased system

loss of autonomy, administrative and Here the



my policy to the period before these changes. If policy articu as lates a commitment of resources, scientist then, political H. K. Cokbatch "the most form of commit notes, important ment is inertia."3 What to is the Cokbatch is calling attention in which to the reinforces the status Prior way quo. policy marketplace. with respect 1960s, museums twentieth exhibited of a similar the American inertia. museum institutional Whatever the de mocratizing and early including termanded function in the nineteenth

its policy either parity

its centuries, of assimilation of

configuration? edification?coun through or rights of access representation


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Chon A. Noriega
are things different. has The become result their plays different, more that has in large part be

groups. minority Today cause are the resources The American income respect the way ing, with and more to public museums museum funds.


on earned dependent is the right word?with been a drastic in change Rather than edify in competition book centers, exhibition the same has way itself and

approach increasingly amusement malls.4


the museum tourist and sites,

to the masses cultural the museum


stores, become as motion now activities

shopping more much

As such, event-oriented?in

pictures a wide offers

during that

beyond are witnessing the a museum between Similarly, the past for The the ethnic the three different group

range of the and all

roughly this period?while the museum of revenue-generating services exhibition of other the sites the art,


In a sense, we proper. traditional distinctions of exhibition. public created during boundaries and science.

newer decades

ethnic-specific tend to blur of museums:


traditional history, over and


takes precedence unites the to museums are more Such also approaches knowledge. since they seek transcendence within instrumental, transparently the context of an exclusionary national rather culture than the universal demands of I do have some realm also or history. of art, science, become commodities. Even so,

types itself

within their

By way museum.

I would like to focus on the art examples, so because the function of art in contemporary one U.S. has been of the major focal points for public society as the symbolic in the last decade, debate in many ways serving battleground and ship, now often for identity.5 defined underlying questions of these community, citizen issues Unfortunately, by entrenched are complex "us-versus-them" positions: versus conservatives the art liberals,

quality world

diversity, the state, and so on. Within this context, "minor are seen as not an issues of national part ity" catego integral as an unsettling set of outside ries and debates, but rather In the process, demands. the exhibition spaces being fought over are assumed to be homogeneous entities. debate Thus, a consideration unfolds without of the wide range of exhibition versus spaces, intended audiences, and aesthetic orientations. Indeed,


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On Museum
debate can often unfolds remain as if it were constant limited to two





But in order politics. to look issues, we need and related institutions. social local and federal government Iwill In each of the three case studies that follows, clarify ways economic in which contexts. of art museums

terrain of Ameri the shifting despite to appreciate of these the complexity at the museum of the filters through the

different and

the governance predominantly In the second, attempt plore the university, installation. are not to

their political engage with over In the first, I consider the struggle museum a municipal in a city in which the population a private has acquired institution power. political and its periodic art. Finally, I ex

nonwhite I examine

American contemporary museum and tensions and public, between private a recent visible that were made during site-specific What makes to each these is that they instructive examples in social If art participates other. are museums as as the that different



it does so in ways conflicts, it appears. within which OURS AND THEIRS


in mind that I turn to the most radical point a an Lomas Carmen Chicana artist, Garza, artist, a museum's artist so dangerous down that she brought cultural over as reveals the debate aesthetic value elite. Her example It is with this shift within local and government cities since the

of a power symptomatic museum within governance Lomas late 1980s. Garza

minority-dominant called paintings produces gouache a chronicle monitos that provide of communal, histori familial, as refracted memory. cal, and cultural practices through personal to Her monitos the institutional histories of Texas?of respond the Alamo documenting they tell of and the Texas racial traditional Rangers?although or political oppression not at the resistance. Instead

level of

communal and local customs, events, are the product or folk heroes. The monitos of a compromiso a no to for is remember that her community, promise project by means and one whose and deceptively finished, pleasing simple appearances institutional bear histories. the weight of more Her retrospective, violent then, and provides exclusionary a strik

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Chon A. Noriega

of an art exhibition that became the site of political ing instance at the level. Gloria struggle municipal Organized by the Laguna

Art Museum
mi coraz?n Paso Museum The the one role

in Austin, Texas,

in the fall of 1991, Pedacito

traveled display power of art was of first from shift in civil of less to December


of my heart) (a little piece on of Art, where it was came was "aesthetic changes?of the internal of trustees, came amid and a national the function debated

the El

14, 1991 until February 2, 1992.6

exhibition of of which versus these regarding society, "cultural reported the museum



in terms

diversity" was how



cies?impacted that the board curatorial

demographics, structure of the the museum to have

flicting, The previous new museum for change 100 percent the made seum seum out local

departments constituencies.

poli funding art museum, such and the various director, con and often different,

in El Paso. And this is what happened as the Reese had been hired year, Becky Duvall a to director and was mandate given bring about was museum the first time in twenty-five years. The to and yet was not responsible funded municipally the Mexican-Americans population. elite, which Association. Instead, oversaw who the mu the mu

community, especially of the local up 70 percent reflected the city's cultural via the El Paso Art Museum up the museum of Mexican

to open an exhibition

followed lection, tions: the Lomas nized Chicano exhibitions by Art:

in quick Garza retrospective; Saxon around Resistance

set Duvall Reese to the general with public, starting art from the permanent colonial col succession exhibi by three Chicano Chicano in Los & Latino, and Gallery and Affirmation museum declining Angeles; exhibition.7 orga the

the Daniel turned

These which

attendance, a day, boosting to a hun attendance twenty averaged people a day, with a Garza dred the Lomas retrospective setting run in its record attendance of 6,500 six-week and the people Art: Resistance Chicano and Affirmation exhibition attracting four The thousand Lomas to the opening alone. people an all-out Garza initiated however, retrospective, In a between the director and the Association. in late January of 1992, Association announced

battle public front page newspaper story published the president of the El Paso Art Museum

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On Museum
that he had no one liked taken a personal it. "I've asked survey of the show

found from



one people to ten," he told the El Paso Herald-Post, "and didn't find a a one. To me, it's an embar it above rated single person who about the Association the record, rassment."8 Off complained mu now filled the "brown that art" faces" and the "brown to rate the exhibit seum. Lomas of Garza racism is a strain to the press "There statements, responded in that attitude, is also a form of which it's sad."9 threatened by it. I think this went low story would ideals and one road not be that expressions. If the Associa step further. held of eternal values by a unusual, But Duvall a

I'm not censorship. it to end there, Were sad-but-true Reese tion cultural They leaders Garza and would Lomas take

tale of thwarted Garza the

elite, they to Freddy's went would worked meet the

high took the in



of political representation. is where That the town before session. Lomas

members, explaining a long story short, contin the Association That franchise the Association. is, while the it no longer governed the museum. ued to exist, Instead, an now and the and council mayor board, appoint advisory city museum worse, public To director the museum institution look It at that is not can this reports lost served case could to the mayor. directly the facade of autonomy private interests. in terms "reverse of of censorship or misses about even the how For better or a by which

the mayor and council room, To make her work, answering questions. to legally disen moved the city government

the mornings with meeting

something point. expression who gets

strictly be called a matter

to governance, to that is, in relation In this light, then, decisions. administrative we need recent to ask why in the arts anticensorship struggles on the assumption that expression and censor have proceeded not of each other, just in a given images ship are the mirror censors In other words, all would-be case, but in all instances. to make are the other. alike art and can be lined "community" is an There it for is not control up on is all alike side of the border, while can be lined up on the to this sce and Manichaean quality and in and the subsequent funds. federal one

just correlate

censorship" but expression,

nario?and struggles

epic without effectiveness over exhibition spaces

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Chon A. Noriega
happens as m?tonymie and censorship levels?and of can events in the process of the national free expression. is that any case is censorship between the forces and intra-institu can point struggles to the extent that nation. What

But what read of

struggle The local that lost these

tional local

in a number

the possibility directions?are serve as

does but happened allegory, an case it does over of local the provide exemplary struggle museums. of The of aesthetic value governance public question does not precipitate these struggles. itmarks the boundary Instead, between their institutional and public manifestations, between governance the situation and exhibition. Such different is somewhat a phenomenon is a local at the national level. one;

in El Paso

except of the allegory not work as a national an

ART AS CURATOR For major museums that represent on about aesthetic value focus the nation the to itself, exhibited

objects in the museum's but their final locus resides viewed, authority to select in the first place. and present in Established objects Exhibition of the Whitney the Biennial Museum of Ameri 1932, can Art the arbiter of "cultural value" for contem represents art. While American there are other and older annuals porary and art biennials critic in the United Smith's States, the Whitney's the has Roberta its words, of contemporary existence is taken of much often notes, "informative, art."10 Indeed, within for granted. And yet scorn even contention, "The Show in become, if hardly the each and

questions and re

infallible, art world, exhibition ridicule. Loves The read


is the object It is, as the press to Hate."

the Art World

over the Whitney must intense public debate Biennial be as a sign of the high stakes?both commer and ideological or otherwise to define in the effort measure cial?involved the notion of of "American" the impossibility that no such thing the ensuing debate tified it is, at the same time, also a sign consensus. of achieving argue Still, few will as "American" art exists. And yet, ironically, means that each definition of "American," Biennial, or point inevitably of view. becomes Thus, iden the Bien art. But


of the Whitney edition as a particular position

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On Museum
nial debate. can set That the terms of the debate, but



it cannot


the universal high ground

implied or assumed by that

is reserved for the museum itself. right as In 1993, the Biennial itself the first significant presented it also broke while of sexual and racial minorities, inclusion the

and sculpture" of past biennials, "painting dichotomy an on mixed-media and installations, video, placing emphasis In fact, single-channel video was projected within performance. were dispersed a main gallery, while video installations throughout from the museum. The Biennial also featured many literary Ronell fewer of whom and were artists were to one hundred), eighty as opposed or thirties. In addition, twenties Bhabha and Avital such as Homi tribute studies position confirm Dubbed tion became News In U.S. to had that even the the solicited.11 (about in their theorists to con had been a to cultural

cultural invited writers ascendant


the first time outside catalog, as though an it seemed

(or vanquished the subsequent further. "Multicultural the target & World Martinez of both

the art market, "hybridized") in the press fire storm seemed Biennial" in the press, the exhibi and liberal critics.


tural War artists?Daniel

Report, at the Whitney."12 As and

a "Cul John Leo proclaimed two Latino in other critiques, Osorio?took the brunt of Pep?n

criticism the author's of the show's Con ostensible diatribe. an account on "replac of the catalog's cluding with emphasis on the avowed the margin," Leo mused ing the center with a to "In of the other it's Biennial: cultural war purpose words, destabilize institutions selves in." and of break the center the mainstream. should join this The is why question to do them crusade

& Auction

indeed? Though Leo did not offer any speculations, Art

out that the move toward had did, pointing diversity as much to do with as the contentious it climate did political art market the weak with of the early 1990s.13 As proof, Art & Auction under a meet years before, twenty providing In civil and the recession. 1993, ing ground rights there was even speculation that Elisabeth the museum's Sussman, on the her initial decisions had made and selections curator, of sorts for to an pointed similar conditions earlier "diverse" biennial that occurred

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Chon A. Noriega
that that President the culture would censorship hence, the Biennial against arts. the George wars Bush would would continue be reekcted, unabated.

assumption and, Thus,

struggle for the Beneath however, Whitney aesthetic not

as a new in the focal point emerge and decreased government funding oppositions transformation that as of political partisanship, was in the taking place Latino and theoretical and mestizaje, but

accepted a more subtle Museum, concepts one such

required "border culture" or the

Latino artists (necessarily) the articles book-sized catalog, in the Biennial Latino presence

in the Indeed, a of give impression larger in fact, the case. In than was, art not in Latino the citation of and included writers, concepts, a document became for a future the exhibition, the catalog New York Times One before the the year exhibition, agenda. announced the Biennial.14 theme, Sussman that "borders" the informed had me been selected never it would as the theme an for While exhibition that acquired be quite explicit

art works.

to apparent as an that "borders" served the organiz catalog people reading to me which she described for the exhibition, (and ing concept new sense commu as in her catalog of with "the essay) dealing out of the plurality of cultures." nity emerging But why The evolving role of the Whitney Museum borders? to in of much the three years prior the subject had been press time the museum the 1993 Biennial, articulated during which the notion of a homogeneous national (1) to dismiss to revised notion of the (but unspecified) (2) culture, place a to art achieve American and context, (3) against "global" "in of examination international the these two goals through three goals: fluences." myth done merely context. the much To go "global" that one has undone the suggests one a not if But American has cultural of identity. single arena if the myth then the international remains, that,

a chance to place in a broader that myth provides to define for "influences" One ends up trying foreign on same old categories, influences other and "American" arts. as an Nothing "aesthetics undercuts of influence" the notion that, by of as hybridity its very nature, to pos in order the exploration


discrete and requires tulate that one affects

noncontingent categories In other words, the other.

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On Museum
of "influences" reinforces "American" are rather art, than a homogeneous and heterogeneity that occur provides the United States competitive In the Whitney's cept of "borders" a more it also




refigured nations rather for

of the notion challenges as insofar especially hybridity as international phenomena than within exhibiting adapts works its original them. That from said, outside to

a rationale

as the museum environment. move to exhibit an

mission art, the con toward open


step intermediary provided to international Latin American art, especially ing the door a document As that end, resituates toward the catalog concept of "borders" within an universal, Biennial the theorists tity framework. In other

art. the if not

international, global, if art critics feel that the words, has made and within race, "class, gender" hegemonic art world, the catalog's renowned literary-cum-cultural reassure be us the that case As passage' such Bhabha of coherence of ideology and iden cannot in our postcolonial, explains contemporary poststructural, cata in the Biennial culture, as with

postmodern log, "The

moment. 'middle

is a process of displacement and disjunction."15 itself, slavery I True but within the of the catalog, suppose, pages enough, such insights merely the for the curatorial provide groundwork to reassert in museum's the role the "social agenda rebuilding fabric" the than up the These sulted of a national itself?the the fabric important machine?the takes Museum?that sewing Whitney of task the "decentered whole." together binding re institutional cultural within maneuverings politics expedient and notions structural conflation of cultural assimilation this of "new genre" Thus, diversity. and of sexual exhibition served art, political rather than racial to mark moment. was mi the In of communities." "community 1993 Biennial?becomes In the end, less

in the

thematics, the presaging norities within ongoing fact, excluded video. the civil

the art world, for cultural struggles from


came hence, the various civil tinuity,

rights generation largely in the area of film and the exhibition, except of the minority artists were born after 1954, and, of age after Watergate, and Vietnam, Stonewall, Without crossings" this historical of multiculturalism con

as a stylistic equity of minority artists

rights movements. the metaphorical "border

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Chon A. No riega
be as the end of the swing refigured soon to be replaced by something museums?seemingly embrace suddenly anti it in the to all in

could postcolonialism an aesthetic of pendulum, else?internationalism. Critics thetical should to such have


political 1990s. the curatorial Instead, early the art itself?not just the works

why art?should

art. And this response "minority" one. Consider of art history professor

was attributed agenda in these exhibitions, but was not just a neoconservative Hal Foster's to to of a alike: comments

a roundtable
editorial dency] away content;

on the 1993 Whitney

He of calls art attention and


by the October
"pervasive a certain [ten turn of to a

collective. in contemporary from questions a certain all



representation a politics from all

iconographies the signifier

notion signifiers,

of the signified."16 Having

that expression, a continual deferral

just got

the hang of the

that the referent)?and tion, unconscious and society?we to this some art is attentive this "other" art

a play involves of language of the signified (and by implica as goes so go both the language are now informed while process, in fact, that, art is not. other

the nature of lan goes against Apparently, an as Foster raises issue While this aesthetic obser itself. guage as an so ties academic he does group with vation, part of deep a group to the Whitney semiotic Museum whose and itself, was the of definition ig "political" seemingly psychoanalytic to see the So it is not too difficult nored by the 1993 Biennial. roundtable curators nial.17 roundtable as more than of an insider few for as an outside dialogue of critique close their with the other undertaken formalism?that critics and in the artists in the Bien

is, of a work, the rest portions deeming at work here is an assumption that there Still, Foster the curators and critics he takes to task (and shares with even It is an critics both sides oppose). the neoconservative they engage "irrelevant."18 only selected assumption spectrum patch would go and together of privilege various a that unites them across the If we professional statement out of like this: moorings. these different ideological were to it

In addition, the are curious

readings selective



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The We



are at the gate with demand. their multicultural barbarians must but at the same time tolerate their necessary inclusion, is politically is different?it their work correct, identity-oriented,
as an aesthetic matter, merely illustrative. In some ways, it


is not really art as we have come to know art (as an aside, it is here that everyone's Greenbergian premises peek through), and, hence, it is work that cannot sustain a close reading. The else lines were in the drawn between even as artist the minority a civil libertarian and everyone

art world,

in a strategic coalition together against If censorship and reduced federal served as censorship funding. it did so at the expense issue for the Biennial, the burning of a more in the quality national found of the art allegory informing everything world's to look own at arts professionals, These while response. claiming an the art, were eye on each other, really keeping themselves against change. SPACES consideration, at Cornell Iwould like to talk about Herbert the an exhibition Mu and rela

held overlay the forces of


AESTHETIC As a final and

I co-curated seum public tionship recent cluded specific to the series

University's its consequences within interest sphere. Of particular between debates museums over Latino the public

F. Johnson university structural

private is the here insofar

and universities

as it informs

Revelaciones/Revelations: eight

The exhibition, sphere. Art in Hispanic of Evanescence, in the genre artists who work of site

to the cultural from the personal ranging want to In I Daniel discuss J. particular, political.19 on the main at Cornell?a Martinez's installation Arts Quad installation, eight-foot-tall plywood sides of the pathways. lining both mounted ing, Martinez Styrofoam These "In the The were taken from house his of walls On with painted the day before on at the to tar and the open top of the 1993 Bien

statements installation

walls. b.c.:

nial and included one by Greek philosopher

rich man's Castle the best place

spit the

in 380
is in his course and Hal of

Titled Parents'

is Burning, Homecoming,



over Weekend,



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Chon A. Noriega

it became loween, to Prior its opening,

on campus. for heated debate catalyst art students used the installa repeatedly as a "blackboard" tion walls Later for their own expressions. became the target of vandalism on, the installation expressing In essence, Martinez's class bias and racial hatred. served piece as a blank installation screen and that made had visible many of the students complained a Latino student rally inspired to the administration students marched then faculty about problems for years. the against

Latino The vandalism.

The building a to in with the order address the meeting seeking president a issues. denied initiated meeting, Upon they underlying being an impromptu sit-in that lasted for four days. The sit-in ended with dents. to negotiate with the stu administration promising contact In the meantime, established with the students across the United States. student and alumni other Latino groups a perfect was for such a In many Martinez ways, catalyst as a contro In the early 1990s, he emerged of events. sequence the versial racial in the "new" figure class discrimination and public art, drawing attention interventions to strategic through in the New York Times, space. Michael Kimmelman, art this as "a new for [in which] paradigm public come communities with that will collaborate directly with the process the work, of collaboration as as important the end result."20 cases, of art is not new as becom Needless two

in public to refers artists

into contact ing, in many to say, this extremes, the fact, conscious art of the

earlier type (consider, movement in and the happenings), the mural and, art is notable current in public for its self trend the political, and performance with process, dialogue 1960s. art, Martinez poses a site that within sidewalks installations, little more of urban a simple question?"What is answer: be its obvious should centers. What happens the public access in the space between of of the the

In his public public?"?from the streets and course of these as is exposed or private At Arts Cornell,

is that however, a conduit or than

institutional Martinez

its pathways Quad, which life path cut by a university, provides sense of class status and a but a refined

spaces.21 to the quasi-public turned space between classrooms metaphoric not lifelong

just knowledge, set of social

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networks. Rather than focus on



Martinez raised the "public," was terms. Cornell a unique issue of "privilege" within spatial as it is a hybrid site insofar In institution. private-and-public to note it is that few students and interesting hindsight, faculty of the Arts Quad in terms of its pathways, members thought feature (and also the focus of although they are its predominant Martinez's at least with twelve distinct installation), paths the otherwise space. criss-crossing "open" As the numerous letters to the editor of the Cornell Sun Daily an each relied about the revealed, upon critique assumption essential argued on characteristic of spatial the basis of a violated the quad-as-nature. of majority rule Those who Those who Quad: that they assumed "beauty" Those who about complained the Arts

about spoke the violation public

space. had paid assumed parents and that tuition granted land-lease right. And, finally, asked, that the quad tive protocols Because letters aspects the voluminous?with that "Who approved was an and

a that the quad was the outrageous tuition their a private that the quad was space some basic property or them rights, assumed invoked those or who pointed fingers in charge here?" assumed to administra space subject the installation was so

this? Who's institutional

accountability. articles, in Ithaca newspapers alone?I some into Martinez's insight surrounding three hundred and editorials, will highlight

controversy over

to the editor

give for the museum.22 significance was a high-profile Martinez because

work and its In the course of his installation, on campus, in large part figure and with their techniques communitarianism.

emphasis This in a sense of shared ownership resulted adaptation among the dozens of students who turned out each day to help Martinez

his project adapted mural-making on large-scale collaboration

the walls of his structure. But because Martinez withheld paint or iconographie content narrative until the last day, the stu sense of or dents' a self not in rested allegiance patrimony artwork but in their apparent their encounter with Martinez, them about the artwork. words and became others the object on the of exegesis a meaning to assign Thus, Martinez's part of art students participation and in what in the project, he was saying in to


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Chon A. Noriega
that the as justified installation. their In able active short, to deny

a meaning to the piece?in particular, interaction with and involvement Martinez's actions established him


structure within the university itself. This authority permission was an important None of privilege. aspect of his investigation a as in him also this strategy put theless, position problematic an artist an earlier insofar as his heroic battle of earth generation at Cornell exhibition seum-sponsored against artists?who had the university and their first mu

in 1969?was University to the up-and-coming that in opposition itself placed generation art students, in the wings Several of his performance.23 stood women felt that Martinez had and black men, white mostly them permission given board" for their own to use artistic the tar-covered statements. walls as a "black as Thus, began an art a question elite institution and world within of privilege class and generational conflicts raised about also questions was at the In both Martinez artists. instances, among minority what of After Angeles. unusual default that questions. to Los Martinez returned of the exhibition the opening in an had changed By the time of the sit-in, his position Martinez became the the With gone, way. university and its "artistic of his installation steward integrity"? intention. and the an In idea this manner, of him based "Martinez" exegesis) as university the against on these


is, of Martinez's person (both the actual was into incorporated to officials attempted


loop decision-making to the vandalism

his troubling with absence, coupled piece. Martinez's physical to have discursive presence (he seemed just about expressed a stand to officials intention), every possible university brought still. In the midst academic ardship messages act of students sit-in, ship of the and sit-in, Larry Palmer, vice the president issue of for stew

campus affairs, put programs on public the conflicting "We could not?given record: As an of the piece." art?take of public stewardship be seen as the the initial rally must symbolic politics, of the installation. stewardship taking an act the of then, became expanding include the university curriculum. The students' This subsequent steward done


act was

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more effect While to draw an attention to an administrative




power improbable Martinez defines his he fails on to mention

shift. installation in terms own the of the viewer's privilege, installation was who one in

privilege, that is based

getting the installation, the first place. During with essential outsider, negotiating

its flip side?his to make permission Martinez officials

the quint some had

In the end, his project made the space he occupied. claim upon in which flow chart for the university, visible the organizational seven units under for academic the vice president there were programs and campus affairs, each with different claims to the

space of the Arts Quad:

American Studies Program Hispanic F. Johnson Museum of Art Herbert Risk Management (liability) Grounds Department (maintenance) Health and Office of Environmental Construction and Planning, Design, Facilities Jos? panic with lations especially Ithaca. no of Arts and and Sciences I, as Studies the (funding and implementation) (aesthetics)

Safety (safety) soundness") ("structural (access) were from located where we in the His

Piedra American the other



Program, negotiated six departments up, with and, as things heated re the vice president for university himself. Finally, a crucial in framing role the student takeover, played before the regional and national was based press on could the fact reach that the set

Martinez's permission Ironically, one ever asked what he was The installation that people involved the institutional

installation. by their and his partment,

up to really within remained As of bailiwick

in making the limits

position, satisfied

their bailiwick.

long as Martinez a particular de

was to assume not about the larger department as as all of and the seven ask, "Why?" And, long responsibility were of vice the office the for satisfied, president departments not about to ask and campus affairs was academic programs

to come situation seemed either. This about because "Why?" in the name of art. (Earlier, the project was undertaken students a similar, been denied when had permission they proposed

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Chon A. Noriega
non-art, use of holistic refigured the from installation As the such, Quad.) larger over the or synthetic level of control con terms. In this instance, in aesthetic the Arts bottom

responsibility?the space?was trol worked What the

just deep-rooted communications

than the top down. up, rather was to to not the surface did, then, bring and lines of but the hierarchies social conflicts that defined the campus racism relations. power and the decision-making sit-in and the installation the following editorial

In making visible both on structure that existed implicated in the Cornell Mr. the one Review: we

campus, in the other. Consider


brained fiend, you twit. You whining,

construction paper

snot for you. You have a special message little strutting galavanting, flighty, warbling, sniggering, paste-and moaning, kvetching,
excuse for an artist. You puerile non-entity, you

in the woods, you slobbering lapdog of the putrid prattling art establishment. You've both ruined our campus, international and with the furies with your pitiable attempt at aesthetic moment, in Rot has released. of political your troublemaking stupidity babe hell!24 While sentiments walls of The this excess are not, Castle is so laughable as especially as to be beyond parody, on in graffiti expressed Chavez is Dead" its the

(with a smiley "Kill the Illegals," and "White face drawn beneath), were the student Pride." grate protesters enough, Interestingly now the administration it for would be because ful, impossible on campus. to deny that existed the racist climate Clearly, versity despite decisive be more takes and the The Castle public is Burning But sphere. and was is effective within the uni piece, is a there of categories, blurring to art ends and politics takes over?or, and the students' his art ends, politics was located it art? In Martinez's

is Burning:


overlapping moment when precise, over. The when

between the midway was museum it under and the administration produced building; to impact the latter. And but aspired of the former, the auspices sent a letter to President so, on November 29, 1993, Martinez installation Frank Rhodes:

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On Museum



students and all concerned, Given the response from the University that represent the it seems there is a great need for the symbols and expression and a forum that of speech, thought, freedoms has concluded, allows all voices to be heard. After the exhibition Iwould like to offer in donation the artwork The Castle is Burning to Cornell University. Iwould like to make this temporary artwork a permanent for of students and fac generations public sculpture ulty to experience

and feel proud

of our great country

and what


In the end, sity president due changes. If it had an ated Arts within

the museum


with the negotiated A few weeks later, the it was because impact, institutional to made the

the offer, while students for some installation the museum that and was

the univer long over torn down.

Quad installation

relationships office president's connections

oper already across reached the Martinez's hence, visible

beyond. and,




the aesthetic is as variable studies, as the museum sites themselves. So, too, are the relationships between the art exhibition and a larger body politic. Perhaps are never street there why explain signs row. Arrival that you are leaving museum is every announcing In the end, aesthetic value and the politics of thing in America! these connections exhibition other. are not the same And the dynamic them will be different contexts. and For its part, the local and national, private, public museum come as occasion the which provides by they together, a product of and catalyst for dialogue, and debate, change. can never not have parity Such a process of be pure. We will representation plicating things, and rights too. of access without having other com thing. between One cannot be reduced to the across

the public space. case In each of the above

T examine these changes in Chon Foundation, and Chicano Cinema, forthcoming). in greater A. attention with detail, in America: Shot University to the role of the Ford

Noriega, the State (Minneapolis:

Telecommunications, of Minnesota


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Chon A. Noriega
Theory, Politics (London:

2Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Routledge, 1995), 9.

3H.K. Colebatch, Policy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

4See Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture:

Press, 1998), 10.



and Heritage
5For an excellent Sharon

(Berkeley: University
anthology ed., on The science Politics

of California
and technology

Press, 1998).
museum Museums, Science, see exhibitions, Culture


of Display:

(London: Routledge,


6Carmen Lomas Garza, A Piece of My HeartIP edacito de mi coraz?n: The Art of Carmen Lomas Garza (New York: The New Press, 1991). See also Carmen Lomas Garza, Family PictureslCuadros de familia (San Francisco: Children's Book Press, 1990). 7SeeChicano & Latino: Parallels and Divergence IO ne Heritage, Two Paths (Los Angeles andWashington, D.C.: Daniel Saxon Gallery and Kimberly Gallery, 1992); Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna, and Yvonne Yarbro
Bejarano, eds., Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985 (Los

Angeles: UCLA Wight Art Gallery, 1991); and 1993 Biennial Exhibition of American Art, 1993). For an insightful (New York: Whitney Museum study of the Chicano Art exhibition, see Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Chicano Art theMaster's House: Cultural Politics and the CARA Exhibi Inside/Outside tion (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998).
8Robbie Farley-Villalobos, 1992, Al. "Museum President Embarrassed: 'Personal' Survey

Shows Public Doesn't

ary 9Ibid. 10New York Times, 28

Like Current Exhibit," El Paso Herald-Post,

25 Janu




Sussman, ed., 2993 Biennial Exhibition

Art and Harry N. Abrams,

(New York: Whitney



of American

l2U.S.News & World Report, 22 March uArt & Auction, March uNew York Times, 15Homi K. Bhabha,
tion," in Sussman,



19 April 1992. "Beyond the Pale: Art in the Age of Multicultural

ed., 1993 Biennial Exhibition, 67.


16HalFoster et al., "The Politics of the Signifier: A Conversation Biennial," October 66 (Fall 1993): 3.
17I am not arguing for some sort discrete bers an but categories, to locate themselves advisor not for rather

on theWhitney


as if inside were of critical and outside purity, mem to the failure of the roundtable pointing To be fair, Iwas of the museum. within their critique a different to the Biennial, I had quite while of critique "minority" of "minority" artists with a limited Chon understand

the museum, nified the

including selection

ing of the signifier (as if the two were the same thing), but for the politics
by limited artists. Noriega, letter



Sussman, 5 September


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On Museum
18See especially itself. pieces Rosalind Krauss's reading of Lorna Simpson's one wall another

installation with with Hypo

the art
mouth a photo

thetical? (1992) inwhich

she essentially equates the catalog texts with

walls: opposite covered wall

consists of three piece Simpson's instruments various brass from

graph of the lips of a black person; on the third wall is a newspaper clipping in which Tom Bradley is asked whether, as a black man, he would be afraid after
if he were the Rodney verdict King I'd be angry." wouldn't be afraid; the piece" in order For the signifier." point she extends to redirect the Krauss, later when not also Ironically, the mayor. Bradley Krauss insists on replies, attention I "No, to the of a

"material level of the piece," and yet dismisses the third wall as "irrelevant to
to "the play its "meaning" from "black rage" is "profoundly former reading unpolitical," that blacks minorities she implies and other images occur from to a this to text,

should be grateful to modernism

modernism instrumental, Krauss's repeated about signifiers fier," 4-6, certain are 11. and Jos? Piedra, Hispanic a battle fought illustrative task,

for ending (aesthetic) slavery: "The fact that

slavery doesn't generation." a code word to a totally In the end, for not talking Some Signi

to liberate

call for "multiplicity" becomes no matter to a piece. like race, how material things, not allowed to signify. et al., "The Politics Foster of the

19Chon A. Noriega of Evanescence City.


eds., Revelaciones/Revelations: American Studies Program,


Art Hispanic A docu

mentary on the exhibition

is available through the Cinema Guild inNew York 1993.

20New York Times, 26 September

21See Daniel J.Martinez, The Things You See When You Don't Have a Grenade! (SantaMonica: Smart Art Press, 1996).
22Exhibition tions 13Earth Dickson documents and at the Department Art press Stanford clippings University are archived libraries. White Museum. Museum of Art, 1969). in the Special Collec

N.Y.: Andrew Dickson (Ithaca, was to the Johnson the precursor

^Editorial, Cornell Review, 29 November


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