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Home of the Brave

Thursday morning’s press tour for Brave New Worlds brought out the heavy-hitters in Twin Cities arts journalism—City College News, MinnPost, yours truly. Not sure whether anyone donned the nametags awaiting reps from La Prensa or Arise! Bookstore. What struck me, beyond the ambition of the exhibition (more on that in a bit), were the no-surprise no-shows.

One stated reason–the unfortunate collision of timing with the press tour for the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Now, don’t take this as a knock on O’Keeffe, her art or the MIA exhibition, but if you’re a reporter tasked with learning something new, with seeing and hearing a little bit about something you’d otherwise have no chance to see or hear before the public, this is a no-brainer–you bag O’Keeffe and make it to Brave New Worlds.

O’Keeffe’s life and career are well-documented in books, catalogs, Web sites, film and museum and university collections. In short, you don’t need to personally tour the work alongside a curator to know it or get it. The opposite is so with the artists of Brave New Worlds–two dozen of them, from 17 countries–all unknown to most, perhaps everyone, in the Twin Cities to the runup of this show.

And this show is an ideal example of the Walker’s gift to the community. We send two curators–Yasmil Raymond and Doryun Chong–around the world to find living artists steeped in social and political consciousness, then deliver a range of them and their fiery work to Minneapolis. Some are creating new pieces right up to today’s scheduled opening.

It’s rarified and precious, yet crackling with energy and grit, and I feel privileged as an arts journalist to take a sneak peek, meet artists tackling serious issues with such force, grace and wit, and help interpret the work for people who, going in, otherwise have no clue about it.

Multimedia installations and screening rooms abound–installers created a surreal, raked-seating theater for Erik Van Lieshout‘s “ Homeland Security”–but some of the most penetrating work is simple in form and function.

Jorge Macchi of Buenos Aires recreated a world map through a random collage, tossing cutouts of the world’s countries onto a flat surface, then detailing the distances between them on the kind of charts anchoring the corners of traditional maps. One implication is that by, say, the United States’ new proximity to, say, Iran, the world falls under a new pecking order of politics and power.

Fernando Bryce, a Peruvian living in Germany, collects promotional material (i.e., propaganda) from the World Bank, USAID, the Department of International Development, food for peace programs–and juxtaposes their language with pen-and-ink drawings of iconic figures and world leaders. The interplay is stark and satirical, and Bryce has a knack for exposing the hypocrisy and motivational underbelly of organizations that operate under the auspice of world aid.

Gimhongsok of South Korea has reflected on his own rise as a contemporary artist to comment on the financial disparities between artists adopted by museums such as the Walker Art Center and those toiling without income. One of his pieces here is a raft fashioned as a blue boulder, embedded with objects–a fishing pole, lantern, empty soda bottles, books, a small kerosene stovetop, plastic moorings–he has collected along his museum-paid travels. In a brief conversation after the tour, Gimhongsok told me he still sees himself as a “community artist,” and this work represents the street-level survival of his fellow countrymen and peers and the guilt of his own emergence into the realm of pampered artist.

You can’t appreciate this show by just breezing through. You have to stand, take in the strings of images, walk the paths, sit on the rickety chairs, soak up the sounds, take in the text stamped into gold and, in one installation, allow the cold and heat to touch your skin. These artists force you to engage in the work, and if you’re paying attention, you can’t come away without a little better understanding of our own privileged access.

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