Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Let Guest Blogger Alli Cochrane Handle the Hard Topics

Meet my friend Alli. She's really smart. 

[This one time, we went to a show at the MCA, 
and neither one of us liked it very much, 
but we took this pretty funny pic underneath the word "shovel."]

Alli was just accepted into a graduate program at the University of Chicago, meaning that she's about to become unstoppable. Go Alli!

I recently asked Alli if she wanted to be a guest writer on this blog A.) because I miss her and wanted an excuse to talk to her like in the good ol' days and B.) because I know, from taking several art history classes with her and just from being generally good friends with her, that anything she had to say on any topic would likely be thought-provoking and relevant in some way to this blog. It just so happened that the topic she was interested in writing about was one I've been thinking about recently, leading me to further solidify my conviction that having her as a guest blogger was a really good idea.

So without further ado, Blogger history will now be made as I inject the thoughts of Alli Cochrane into cyberspace.


I recently made a trip to Pilsen. Pilsen is a very hip neighborhood in Chicago (and hip usually goes hand in hand with gentrification, in Chicago at least).
At this point in my post, I kept erasing a sentence that I was writing: “Pilsen is a mix of artists and Hispanic people” for the obvious reason that the sentence assumes that Hispanic people aren’t artists. I also couldn’t get around being politically incorrect in some way or another. For instance, I’m not sure if the current politically correct term is Hispanic or Latino.
Since Rachele is the queen/king/non-gendered-term-of-royalty of political incorrectness, I thought that this non-PC post would fit on the blog.  So please excuse, or better yet, respond to anything that I write that is offensive. Being politically correct can be paralyzing sometimes (and thus counter-productive), and I’d rather start a conversation.
In Pilsen, I visited the National Museum of Mexican Art. I hadn’t been to the museum since middle school and have been meaning to go for some time. I usually head to the MCA if I want to go to a museum, but I thought it would be nice to diversify.

Part I: Pilar Acevedo

Here is some of what I saw: 

Pilar Acevedo, XOXO Daddy's Little Trophies, 2011

Pilar Acevedo, Spider Princess, 2011

Pilar Acevedo, Monkey Love, 2011

These three images were in a separate room from the main exhibit (which I thought was less thought provoking). One artist was being featured in the room, and while there were separate paintings and small sculptures/combines, the room functioned as an installation. There was an eerie, whispered poem being played on speakers and the paintings were like illustrations out of the same book. 
These three pieces were perhaps the most dissimilar in the series, and yet they are connected in terms of narrative and tone. Acevedo writes that her work deals with loss, abuse, and childhood perceptions. While the paintings (Spider Princess and Monkey Love) appear flat, the works are multi-layered and are the products of a process of collage. Acevedo’s process mirrors her notion of ‘memory as layers.’
My first thought was that the work seemed very psychoanalytic, especially in light of her Surrealist influences. However, I think that the work is more in the vein of magical realism than Surrealism.  I keep coming back to the comparison of the films of Guillermo Del Toro. (No, not the Hobbit). In particular, "Pan’s Labyrinth" and "The Devil’s Backbone." In both of those films, there is an obsession with a child’s perspective of the world that is simultaneously very real and fantastically embellished. In both films, the story is more meaningful and important than the truth.
The difference between these art works and film is that the narrative in the gallery is truncated between each work. The viewer is asked to imagine or glimpse a suggested narrative rather than consume a continuous one.  However, I think that the emphasis on narrative and the fantastical may translate better to film. There seemed to be too many holes to be fully enchanted or scared by Acevedo’s works.
Or maybe, I was distracted by the museum itself, which brings me to…

Part II. The Museum

Here are some of the issues that I encountered:
1. The room was poorly curated. It looked as though the artist really had to conform to the space (the garish white lights glared off the glass on the frames rendering some of the paintings blinding). It felt as though the artist was a temporary guest in the space. It just seemed very slapshod. My first instinct was to excuse it. Why did I want to excuse it? Because I wanted to be sensitive to the fact that maybe the museum wasn’t making enough money. Why? Because it was in a Hispanic neighborhood. There were all sorts of instincts that I had that I was aware of that I ended up being unable to even say anything.
2. The text that accompanied the work was full of grammar mistakes (which I excused at first because I figured it was a poor translation but it was also poorly written). The blurbs were highly unintellectual. At first I thought, "Is this because of a cultural difference?" Maybe I place a higher value on the text than Mexican artists do? Maybe I value different aspects of the text? Do I judge as I would elsewhere?

Finally, I liked the pieces. I certainly did not love them. I also think I just flat out didn’t understand them. There were undoubtedly allusions to Mexican folklore that I couldn’t hope to grasp.

So does this mean that aspiring art historians should stick to studying artists within their culture? Doesn’t that go against the trend of globalization and intercultural thinking?

I’m sure there is a politically correct answer that you could undoubtedly find.
Yes I could research the other culture (as I would have to research any artist, even one within my culture). But being an outsider biases me, and I could also never learn the art as someone could who is from the culture. (Some politically correct person out there might be saying ‘that’s the point!).

I come to the same conclusion as always: Art is frustrating.

To end: I don’t know why, but the graffiti and murals were more provocative and less paralyzing to me. The art on abandoned chapel doors was more powerful to me than the (sometimes blinding) art inside the museum. Maybe that’s because my white self was brainwashed to think Mexican art...“real” Mexican art... "belongs on the streets.” It’s so raw. Anyways, here is some other art.

Thank you for hosting me on your amazing blog Rachele. 


I'd like to complement what Alli is saying with an article on white privilege in museums that I recently came across on Nina Simon's blog "Museum 2.0." If you read it I think you'll find a lot of parallels between Alli's piece and hers. The article was written about a year ago, but is still very relevant, and shows that many scholars are thinking about these issues at this point in time.

As to where I stand on the whole thing: As Alli mentioned, I've certainly had my head on the chopping block a few times with regards to "political correctness," but that's mostly because I don't care for the terms and sugarcoated phrases that so-called "politically correct" people have deemed to be "politically correct." I also like to challenge the way people think. It gets me excited. But, like I said, I was happy to hand this topic off to Alli, who's well-equipped to talk about it. On my part, I'm too eager to deflect all the serious topics with humor. If I wrote about this museum I probably would have ended up describing the way I accidentally farted in the gallery or something, and would have completely avoided the obvious issues at hand. [Thought: Rename this blog to "Looking for Fart in all the Wrong Places."] See, I just can't help myself.

Thanks again, Alli!