Field Not So Glorious

The DMA hosts two exhibitions--one provocative, one pandering

The two videos by Allora and Calzadilla showing in Concentrations 50 are far more relevant to our contemporary moment. Though shot in disparate geographies, off the coast of Puerto Rico and in China, the videos both comment on the creative destruction of global modernization. In "Under Discussion" (2005), the camera trains above and alongside of Diego Zenón driving a boat made from an upside-down conference table jury-rigged with an outboard motor. Zenón circles around the island of Vieques in the table, an ingenious allegory for the topsy-turviness of global corporate and military power. An island six miles off the southeast corner of Puerto Rico appropriated by the U.S. Navy in 1941 for military training and to build a naval base, Vieques is the very real symbol of the folly of American empire. In 2003, the Navy gave ownership and management of the island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Viewers watch Zenón as he passes along the shore of the island. Perspectives of and from him are cut with aerial shots of craters and metal carcasses of military equipment, so many scars of past American ownership and the military. The video's descriptive and almost sociological nature is tempered by disjunctive narrative, engine sounds and the slap and splash of ocean waves.

"Amphibious (Login-Logout)" (2005) deploys the hum of white noise to greater effect. Viewers hear boat engines throttling, hydraulic lifts for shipping containers clanking and the Pearl River gurgling while following six turtles balanced on a log placidly floating downstream. Though staged by Allora and Calzadilla, the turtles read like an opportune found object, a natural guide in the manmade over-underworld of the Pearl River Delta—the fount of one-third of the world's manufactured commercial goods. It offers a lesson on the art of extreme opposition. Sooty shantytown houseboats abut sooty cargo ships. Residential towers and tumbledown tin-roofed houses stand side by side on the shoreline of the Delta. The sun sets on a shipping container outpost, and the red lights of a rising global superpower flicker forth from the velvety crepuscular backdrop of nightfall.

Van Gogh's "Women Crossing the Fields"
Van Gogh's "Women Crossing the Fields"


Van Gogh’s Sheaves of Wheat is on display through January 7 at the Dallas Museum of Art, 214-922-1200.

Concentrations 50 Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla is on display through February 18 at the Dallas Museum of Art, 214-922-1200.

Do we praise the DMA for offering an array of art forms catering to differing demographies? Or do we scold it for its not-so-subtle hierarchy, the way it privileges and panders by gallery placement and publicity, or lack thereof? Perhaps the fault lies with the public, who like a brood of chickens peck away in a feeding frenzy with a show such as Van Gogh's Sheaves of Wheat. But the duty of the museum is not merely to serve the public but to broaden and challenge it intellectually. There is a difference between education and entertainment. Perversely, the DMA has invented a new form of public communication: edutainment.

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