The Arab world has recently jumped on the global art bandwagon with a spate of new fairs, biennials and galleries, but Walid Raad is less than enthusiastic. His jam-packed résumé makes him an unlikely candidate to critique the forces of globalization, but surprisingly, this show of new sculpture and work on paper—subtitled “A History of Art in the Arab World/Part I_Volume 1_Chapter 1 (Beirut: 1992–2005)”—cynically argues the powerlessness and conflicted interests of artists.
In text accompanying a sculpture of a miniature exhibition space installed with pint-size versions of his work, Raad asserts that his entire oeuvre mysteriously shrank the moment he agreed to show it in his vast Beirut gallery. The premise is absurd, but the message cautionary: Participation in the system comes at the cost of meaning.
Artists are bypassed as active parties in the exhibit’s two other main pieces. A wall text and photo essay are based on telepathic communication from misguided future artists, who long for an authoritative, editing hand. Elsewhere, a collection of pages from various publications purports to demonstrate the fanciful notion that during the Lebanese wars, compositional elements—color, line, shape—became refugees, hiding in the text and format of various documents and ephemera.
Raad’s critiques are so tangential, his story lines so elaborate, that he doesn’t quite get around to concrete hypotheses on how conflict shapes aesthetics. But if his own resistance is a catalyst for other artists to ignite a new flurry of art activity, one couldn’t hope for more.
Originally published in Time Out New York, issue 740, December 3-9, 2009.