Disponible at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The idea is of an artist being a/n (insert nationality here) artist is becoming a thing of the past. This isn’t politically correct posturing, it’s reality now that the smartest artists today work locally and show globally. Conceptually it’s not a viable option to sit still in one environment understanding only what you consider native, and economically it’s not possible for a single city to support your complete career. The drawback to this is, how do we perceive who we are and what we care about when everything around us tries to force us to be blandly universal?

Teresa Margolles, Las Llaves de la Ciudad (detail), 2011. Performance and installation. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Rafael Burillo.

There have been several recent shows considering how art is affected by nationality. Maybe it’s a response to the generic aura found on the floors of art fairs. Disponible at the School of the Museum of the Fine Arts, Boston is a good example that asks what it means to be a Mexican artist. It’s an incomplete exhibition that deserves a books worth of supporting texts, but as a rough exploration of Mexico’s current potential, it’s lucid and descriptive.

The title is taken from Mexico’s empty billboards, advertising that they are not currently taken. Disponible is an ambiguous word, translating to available or changeable. Disponible partially functions as a metaphor for Mexico’s adjustable, compelling, and dynamic contemporary art scene. The title also slyly points to the sizable share of international art sales Mexican artists and galleries are generating (See: Kurimanzutto). After all, the billboards in question are a constant reminder to “the job creators” that they could be enhancing their brands right now.

The most interesting pieces included in Disponible display Mexico as more than a place for drug dealers and low-wage workers. Marcela Armas‘s video Ocupación shows her 2009 performance where she walks like she’s a car in the flow of traffic. She wears a backpack that has an air horn like a car would and she uses it when she has to wait in the string of traffic. The crush of congestion is something we all have insights into, yet can’t keep from happening. It’s a material reality for all seven billion of us.

Hector Zamora, White Noise – Shed 6 Installation (detail), 2011. Installation originally developed for the Auckland Arts Festival, New Zealand. Courtesy of the artist.

Hector Zamora‘s White Noise- Shed 6 is an installation about the relationship between land and colonial rights in New Zealand. After England made New Zealand a colony, land rights were delineated by planting white flags on the borders of private property. Zamora planted 500 flags on a Aukland beach to begin a conversation on this issue and after one day was relegated by the Mayor to exhibiting his work on private property. There was no physical connection to public space after that. This public question was exiled to a private location, transforming his artwork from a sociable interaction into a private sculptural territory. The Mayor tried to exclude the public policy issues and transformed the work from an investigation of a very local, esoteric law to a universal and emblematic colonial critique. Exhibiting it in Boston reflects how it will be a displaced art piece, deported from its appropriate venue no matter where it’s displayed now.

Manuel Rocha Iturbide, I Play The Drums With Frequency (detail), 2007–11. Drum set, sound installation. Courtesy of the artist.

Manuel Rocha Iturbide‘s I Play Drums with Frequency, is the stand out work in Disponible. It’s the least politically formulaic, the most seductively mysterious, and best example of the ambiguity in the title of the show. Is begs the audience to confront their stereotypes about Mexican art. This inventive sound sculpture plays a drum set not with sticks, but with small speakers. A electronic soundtrack composed by Itrubide vibrates the set, and in turn the room. I want to be able to play with this sculpture. I want to put my own soundtracks into the speakers and hear the results. It is a discrete and a most salable object that would look great in an art fair. The noise would draw as much attention as the empty billboards do in a city. “Come buy me! I’m available!”

Disponible, on view at SMFA from September 13- November 19, 2011, was co-curated by Hou Hanru and Guillermo Santamarina for the San Francisco Art Institute. In includes Natalia Almada, Arturo Hernández Alcázar, Edgardo Aragón, Marcela Armas, Manuel Rocha Itrubide, Mauricio Limón, Teresa Margolles, and Hector Zamora