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>> Young Americans
>> Mika Rottenberg
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Kori Newkirk, divers works,
installation view at Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo

While some of these émigré artists seem to be coming to terms with the many ills of their adopted nation on canvas, in sculpture, or through video, others, such as the half-Japanese, half-Cuban Cristina Lei Rodriguez, make the most of their mixed heritage. Rodriguez combines Zen gardening with some of the Latin flair of her hometown of Miami to produce stunning gelatinous resin landscapes dripping with plastic jewelry, fake foliage, and sprays of foam, such as the three untitled works she has recently made for Uncertain States. Also in the show is the beguiling video work of the Argentine-Israeli artist Mika Rottenberg, whose bodily studies of women toiling in assembly lines or sweatshop conditions, perhaps for a factory that harvests fleshy lumps of dough supplied by an obese Queen bee (Dough, 2005), resist any notions of nationhood, creating instead complex worlds based around issues of labour and gender.

Josephine Meckseper, I Love Jesus, 2005,
Courtesy of The Saatchi Collection,
©Josephine Meckseper

Despite the strange fact that many of these young and ethnically diverse artists living in America are only getting their first exposure in the UK because they have been selected either by Charles Saatchi for USA Today or by the European curators of Uncertain States of America ( Daniel Birnbaum, Gunnar Kvaran, and Hans Ulrich Obrist), it is safe to say that their reputations were largely secure at home before being exported overseas.
Besides giving the theory of America’s artistic and cultural resurgence more weight, the real irony of both shows having been organized, curated, and exhibited in Europe is that Americans often require an outsider’s overview of events inside the US in order to give them clarity of vision, which is why many admit to watching the BBC instead of CNN or the dreaded Fox News.

Perhaps what this generation of American artists has discovered is how to use their art as a platform for interpreting socially or politically conscious ideas that can stand as an alternative to the 24-hour news coverage and the endless stream of information being pumped out by the internet that so clutter and cloud our world view. In USA Today for example, Josephine Meckseper deconstructs the glamour of consumerism using the same display cases as the department stores, while Kelley Walker uses advertising techniques to tackle sensitive issues of race.

Kelley Walker, Black Star Press (detail), 2006,
Courtesy of The Saatchi Collection,
©Kelley Walker

That a climate of negativity can have a positive effect for the art of a specific time is not a new phenomenon, in fact the unique ability of American artists seems to be to respond to world affairs in more immediate and perhaps less subtle ways than their European counterparts. Once again, as with the arrival of Abstract Expressionism on these shores heralded by Irving Sandler’s much-touted book the Triumph of American Painting , it seems that they came, they showed, and they conquered.

USA Today
October 6–November 4, 2006
Royal Academy of Arts, London

Uncertain States of America
September 9–October 15, 2006
Serpentine Gallery, London

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