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The Sign of Paradise

Mike Weiss Gallery

Installation shot from The Sign of Paradise. Courtesy of Mike Weiss Gallery.

In Pavlovian fashion, mention of globalization promptly weighs on the mind and (when concerning art) tapers the sight. Thanks to its vigilant testifiers who include curator Robert C. Morgan (who is also a frequent contributor to the Rail), artworks that are pinned between its parentheses often affect a common salivation, compelling us to think largely about centers and peripheries, cultures and identities. In The Sign of Paradise Morgan offers the work of Kuma and Made Wianta (one a Japanese artist, the other Balinese) to occasion, like ice cubes chipped off a lumbering glacier, a glimpse at instances of globalization’s personal impact. But far from being brought together to illustrate those heady art issues, they instead shed light on fresh alternatives.

Being an able-lunged miner of globalization’s deep-seated problematics, it’s with kid gloves that the curator delivers the two artists to their Chelsea debut, neither bearing hardly a scratch from the slippery pitfalls of fashion, it would appear. Morgan tells us that though their peers may mimic “what Western artists have done,” Kuma and Wianta “reject the stereotypical means of Western appropriation” without “renouncing their unique relationships to Modernism.” Given his vocal distaste for the mediated paradigms of the globalized art world, the criteria beneath these certifications are no great surprise—but nonetheless they’re gladly welcome. And after we note Kuma and Wianta’s divergent idiosyncrasies, Morgan’s assertions begin to hold water.

Kuma’s sculptures are loud, burly things, made of metal and rope and hypnotic shafts of glass. Each is undeniably flush with potential energy, all restrained by bound rope or knotted by tightened bolts, though between them exist considerable gaps in form. Over the noise made by a large spherical iron sculpture, “Connected Unity,” Kuma’s broad spike of encrusted blue glass, “Blue Precinct,” bathes the space in its elemental presence. A brutally fashioned relic, “Blue Precinct” is like some Neolithic spearhead plowing through space. “A Split Second,” a block of stacked cardboard pierced by beams of molded glass, interestingly distributes its heft by way of a careful, uneasy balance. Each work is a singular object. In a room together they feel pitted against each other.

Wianta’s work—some paintings, mostly works on paper—on the other hand draws its strength from his light, flicking, attenuated line. It’s employed to make calligraphic abstractions, vigorous arabesques and renditions of mythic beasts. Morgan praises both artists for sharing a common “innocence” and a “poetic vision,” and in the freedom of his line we can feel as much.

The show’s underpinnings are able to diffuse the onrush of questions introduced by incanting “globalization,” and allow for unburdened looking. But the term has broad currency, with a number of facets and discrete machinations. One of which in fact should not be discarded while in front of this work, Wianta’s in particular. Globalization suddenly became a darkly discriminating force for Balinese artist Made Wianta when in 2002 his idyllic home suffered a grave terrorist reprisal. An echo truncated from Bali’s memorial traditions, Wianta’s sculpture made of rice and bamboo and coconuts feels precisely calibrated to his community’s deeply swallowed grief, that its resonance as an installation seems purely incidental. Likewise it’s a sensitive example of these artists’ resistance, intended or otherwise, to repackaging ripe Western modes of art making; more importantly, it signals an unflinching encounter with a world changing at dizzying pace. And although Kuma’s output seems left out of Morgan’s thesis, its heedless abandon with respect to materials and form strangely rings true when bolstering Wianta’s often exuberant poetics.

—Roger Kamholz


Roger Kamholz


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2005

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