march/april 2017

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Welcome to the March/April issue! I hope everybody had a great January and February! Inside these pages we have a lot of exciting … Okay, okay, hold on. Slow down … There’s a big brash orange elephant in the room. So we need to acknowledge it. The inauguration of a certain populist reality show host and real estate tycoon to a certain oval office (that implicitly carries with it leadership of a certain free world) has created, well, a certain anxiety the last few weeks. So, here we are. What now? Cultural institutions are not political institutions. But cultural institutions do have a deep and abiding interest in preserving the foundational principles of an open, supportive, and inclusive creative discourse. The “art world” is a tricky phrase, but if there’s one overarching theme, it’s the rich multiplicity of visions and voices that comprise it. Indeed from schools to art fairs to biennials, the art world is truly as global now as it’s ever been. So from both a professional and a human standpoint, putting up barriers to that exchange is very troubling. One of the most striking reactions to the contentious travel ban issued by the White House came from the Museum of Modern of Art in New York; in early February, MoMA rehung part of its permanent collection with works by artists from the seven Muslim-majority nations that were singled out. Among them were Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid and several artists from Iran, including Iranian-born LA-based painter Tala Madani; Sudanese painter Ibrahim El Salahi, who was imprisoned in Sudan in the 1970s (and in 2013 was the first African artist to receive a survey at the Tate Modern), was represented by seven pieces. Set among its galleries, the works interrupt and join the museum’s standard Western modernist narrative; wall texts note that each work was by an artist from a nation whose citizens were barred entry, adding, “This is one of several such artworks from the Museum’s collection installed throughout the fifth-floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum as they are to the United States.” The statement echoes well beyond the museum’s own halls.

Philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin also lived in turbulent times; tragically, he did not survive them. Yet even from 75 years ago, his voice retains its prescience. A new exhibition at the Jewish Museum examines Benjamin’s unfinished opus The Arcades Project, refracting it through the visions of numerous contemporary artists; we speak with the curator in this issue. We also talk with the curator of the Sackler Center for Feminist Art in Brooklyn, and with the new director of the Dallas Museum of Art, who is informing his position with his depth of scholarship on art from Mexico and Latin America. We look at the artwork being produced in San Francisco by this year’s SECA Art Award winners, and the hybrid blurring of mediums that defines these artists’ practices. We look at the emergence of the NY artists’ gallery scene in the 1950s and ’60s, and offer artist profiles on NY-LA painter Andy Moses and video-performance artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji, who lives and works between Austin, Texas, and Lagos, Nigeria. In our “On View” previews section, we give a glimpse of an installation by Syrian-born Ohio artist Diana Al-Hadid whose work suggests at once a construction site and a ruin. Is the world being built, or is it tumbling down? Perhaps it’s both at once.

There’s a lot of bridging worlds in this issue. As well there should be—between artists, nations, histories, genres, genders, perhaps even political aisles. If the art world is defined above all by its inclusiveness, any credible reflection of it should strive for no less. As writer Raisa Rexer notes in her article on Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, “the museum is a space of radical optimism.” I’d like to think a magazine can be as well.

—GEORGE MELROD