February 8, 2008
Felicia Feaster, Creative Loafing Atlanta

I have to admit I didn't go into TRANSactions at the High Museum - which opens tomorrow, Feb. 9 - especially revved up for incredible art. The show's subhead is Contemporary Latin American and Latino Art, a phrase that doesn't exactly get my art-going juices flowing. Shows organized around topics that vast and potentially formulaic tend to trigger my "issue art" gag reflex. I love political art and I love art about race, but art grouped into huge subsets of gender or sexual orientation or ethnicity can turn out to be grown-up versions of an "After School Special": art to help you reach packaged, superficial epiphanies along the lines of "oh, I didn't know Latinos had feelings, too..."

TRANSactions had the additional burden of one of those fussy, "academic" titles (half caps, half lowercase) that can really stick in my craw. But the show is actually a knockout despite those red flags. For anyone interested in contemporary art or just life in 21st-century America, it's a must-see. It deals with things all of us should care about, from the Wal-Martification of our globe to the frothing fury the word "immigration" inspires in some Americans. There are a hundred points of entry into the show, from sports culture to feminist art, to hip-hop and consumer culture. Though it originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, as the High Museum's Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Jeffrey Grove pointed out during a tour of the show, Atlanta's growing Hispanic community gives the two cities a shared interest in examining the Latino point of view.

By the way, if you have the chance to check out the show with Grove as your cruise director, try to do it. He's giving a talk about one work in the show, Paternity Test, Thursday, April 3, at the High. His waggish energy and unique take add a fresh dimension to the stodgy gallery-talk tradition.

The show boasts emerging artists and some big names such as Alfredo Jaar and Ana Mendieta, whose photographs of her body's imprint in beach sand gradually dissolved and filled with water are a profoundly moving testament to feelings of insignificance.

Mexican artist Gustavo Artigas' video The Rules of the Game, despite a slightly comical "hook," inspired a sense of real pathos. The artist had two boys sports teams - a Mexican soccer team and an American basketball team - play their games together on an indoor court. Yes, it's a metaphor about two different cultures going about their lives side by side but utterly apart. But there was something poignant in the way the kids accepted their trophies after the game, and something in the simple fact of their coming together on the playing field that suggested a happier multicultural future will replace the ugly divisiveness of our own time.

I share Jeffrey Grove's appreciation for the witty woven tapestry created by Gabriel Kuri. Kuri has translated his sales receipt from a Mexican Wal-Mart into a wall hanging, creating a funny homemade document of the temple of mass-produced, machine-made, anti-handicraft.

I also loved James Luna's ode to the freak show half-man/half-woman in Half Indian/Half Mexican. In three black and white photos, the artist plays to stereotyped views of what "Mexican" and "Native American" should look like in the way he styles and shaves his hair.

Also included is an astounding frieze-like drawing of Tijuana by Hugo Crosthwaite. Crosthwaite lived in Atlanta for a year (he's now living in the epicenter of hep, Williamsburg, Brooklyn), and another of his epic drawings, Atlanta, is showing at Mason Murer Fine Art Feb. 15-March 9. Crosthwaite will deliver a lecture at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 16. I cannot wait to see the drawing in person.