Proximities, piecemeal

World on puzzle pieces

Pulling together a multi-part exhibition is an interesting animal, the notions of time and linkages don’t operate in the traditional manner—particularly when there’s a summer hiatus with another exhibition (the fascinating Cyrus Cylinder presentation)  in between. We are more accustomed to quick hits, in getting our curatorial premises out there in one shot. Allowing something to unfold in component parts requires trust and commitment on both sides of the equation—institution and audience—of being able to imagine how things will resonate over time, and space. I like the way SFMOMA’s current SECA exhibition takes place in different locations, allowing for the idea of a group of works to make sense the more pieces you encounter.

In a way, this reflects the challenge of considering Asia as a totality—the term itself encompasses multiple nations, borders, styles, land masses, terrains, religions, ethnicities, languages, foods—the list goes on. The term/concept doesn’t make sense with just one.

Similarly, the Asian Art Museum is an institution that serves a range of publics, each approaching the contents with different filters and expectations. It’s not an easy location to occupy. At the end of the run of the first Proximities show, it was exciting to see a flurry of web and social media conversations that raised some key issues. Questions about the museum’s mission were raised, these bringing to the surface the complicated expectations that audiences place upon the Asian. It was rewarding, though not always easy to parse the implications attached to the project. This was part of the plan, though each show is always a surprise when it makes the shift from something on paper to actual artwork in a space. The component parts bounce off each other in surprising, wonderful ways.

The intention of the Proximities series is that each show stand alone visually, but also that each will add aesthetic, social, and thematic concerns as well as deepening and complicating the questions raised previously. From the back end of the project, it’s an intriguing, shifting view, trying to anticipate how the series will create a complete picture. It’s exciting to see it happen.

Proximities 2: Knowing Me, Knowing You, which opens in a little over a month, will have a very different feeling than the first show. Where What Time Is It There? was purposefully colorful, hallucinogenic and clouded by the fantastical, Knowing Me is more retro in feel, nodding to ideas of nostalgia as a way in which we know each other. It’s a very different group of artists, with a whole other range of ‘proximities’ to the show’s themes. Further discussions will be raised, but also there will be the opportunity for some celebration—in honor of the show’s title, and its reference to ABBA, we’re celebrating the show with a karaoke afternoon on October 19. It will add a soundtrack to the exhibition, the set list something that may not reveal its meaning until all the voices have sung. Stay tuned!

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