We inhabit a world in which the speed of modern travel and the expanding reach of the digital revolution have replaced distance and isolation with a new era of global connectivity. As a result, cities like New Delhi, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Johannesburg, and Shanghai are not simply the places of origin of many of today’s most innovative contemporary artists but have also become sites of vital artistic production in their own right. Over the past few years, the Walker has been actively intensifying its acquisition of works by artists from around the world. Many of these new additions to the collection are on view in the exhibition Urban Cocktail.
Borrowing its title from a monumental collage by Kay Hassan—an image of a crowd created from bits of discarded billboards, commercial flyers, and street posters—Urban Cocktail brings together 15 multidisciplinary artists who span a wide range of generations and locales. “These artists are part of a new breed of cartographers who, rather than attempting to map the physical territory of the urban experience, seek to chart the contours of its heart, its diverse cultures, and its shifting social dynamics,” says exhibition curator Douglas Fogle. “The means they employ are amazingly diverse, reflecting their use of a variety of common materials and their interest in exploring forgotten, repressed, or marginalized moments of our personal or cultural history.”
Some offer alternative kinds of maps. In Rivane Neuenschwander’s Carta Faminta (Starving Letters) (2000), for example, a colony of snails was set free to eat its way through sheets of rice paper, leaving the imprint of fantastic, undiscovered continents in its wake. Gabriel Orozco creates another measure of the urban experience in his work Piedra que cede (Yielding Stone) (1992), a ball of gray plasticine the same weight as his body that he rolled through the streets of a city, recording the memory of his travel in its collected debris.
Other artists remap historical terrain. In his painting Gulf Stream (2003), Kerry James Marshall rethinks the social iniquities of racism in America from the deck of a sailboat. His reinterpretation of Winslow Homer’s 1899 painting of the same title—in which a runaway slave is stranded in shark-infested waters—depicts a quartet of affluent African Americans listening to music as their yacht sails smoothly through calm waters, offering a complex picture of the relationship of race and class in America today. John Bock employs a more performative approach. His sculpture FoetusGott in MeMMe (Fetus God in Sissy) (2002) takes the form of a low-brow reliquary or an archaeological fragment from an absurdist version of a medieval passion play. In works by Sheela Gowda and Jac Leirner, who employ materials such as the traditional pigment kumkum or devalued banknotes, the elaborately organic forms that result belie their connection to the social worlds in which they were found, whether it be the gender politics of contemporary India or the economic travails of Brazil’s developing economy.
In their recycling of materials and images scavenged from the dustbins of both high and low culture, these artists invoke a human measure in their work. Their overarching desire to objectively chart our environment confronts their equally strong wish to create poetic meditations on the heartbreakingly fragile nature of our everyday lives. It is this suggestive and at times volatile mixture of objects and subject matter that makes up the contemporary flavor of our own urban cocktail.
Artists in the Exhibition
Glenn Brown/United Kingdom
Kay Hassan/South Africa
Mike Kelley/United States
Kerry James Marshall/United States
Raymond Pettibon/United States