In August, it was announced that the UICA was becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University. It was big news, and a necessary move to keep UICA's doors open. Last week, the two institutions opened Pulso, the first exhibition to span both locations since the merger.
Pulso is an expansive group exhibition surveying recent developments in Latino art. The work is provocative and often political. There's more going on than I'll go into here, but one piece that did stand out to me was Eric J. Garcia's mural at UICA. He presents an enormous comic strip depicting a "simplified history" of the Mexican American War. The brief, wall-sized narrative depicts Uncle Sam as an imperial aggressor, unprepared to deal with the consequences of his actions. The piece presents an alternative take on a bit of history that most Americans probably don't think much about. The mural is a work of counter-propaganda, but it's presented with a knowing wink. As much as the piece is specific to an historic event, it also reveals something much larger about how people tend to understand history. Every conflict is more complex than what can be expressed with a few allegorical cartoon characters, yet this type of simplification is the rule, not the exception. History always compresses stories so they can be remembered and retold, and compression is always a form of distortion.
Another remarkable thing about Pulso goes beyond the artwork, it's how the exhibition was marketed. A month ago I got a large, smartly designed mailer promoting the show. I began to read the promotional copy on the mailer but ran into a problem, the text was in Spanish. A moment later I noticed that the same paragraph was repeated below in English. It was a standard explanation of the organizing principles of the show. What really struck me, however, was the simple but profound design choice to place the Spanish version of the text above the English version.
Weeks before the opening, I was already confronted by a provocative question: Who are these types of exhibitions for? Without realizing it, I had taken for granted the fact that I am usually the target audience for exhibitions at UICA, KCAD, and similar institutions. The experience, however brief, of not being able to read the promotional copy caused me to wonder who usually feels left out of this kind of thing? If we believe art is important for our community, what are we doing to engage those who are being left out? These are big questions, and there are many answers. For now, I'm thrilled to see KCAD and UICA are asking us to step back and consider our perspective.
Pulso is on view now through December 4, 2013.By Kevin Buist on