Critics’ Picks

Sarah Ortmeyer, INTERNATIONALIS, 2010, embroidered hats, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Los Angeles

Sarah Ortmeyer

2130 Valley Blvd
February 19–May 8, 2017

Is it sad or is it “Sad!” when any embroidered hat immediately evokes the white-on-red MAGA brand? Never mind that the ball caps that make up Sarah Ortmeyer’s installation INTERNATIONALIS, 2010, bear little family resemblance: white and embroidered with generic black sans-serif letters, and instead of slogans they sport the wacky names of cartoon ducks, specifically Donald Duck’s three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, adapted for foreign markets. Here are Mexico’s Hugo, Paco, and Luis; there, Russia’s Billi, Villi, and Dilli. Hats sit on the ground or hang on pegs in neat orthogonal clusters of two or three, like a kind of scrambled Braille or a carved-up map stitched with singsong. The names themselves, eighty-one in all, are the message—also recited in an audio recording (made in collaboration with LAFAWNDAH) and laid out as the text of an artists’ book (INTERNATIONALISMUS, 2010).

We can’t totally chalk this one up to topicality: The show reprises a project first staged in 2010 at the Kunstverein Heilbronn. Is it clever, prescient, or reactionary to read this work in light of recent American politics? Or maybe what seemed like a heady, prefab dig at globalization seven years ago has tipped into nostalgia for an embattled ideal. Suddenly, the ruthless imperial merchandising of Disney Corp. feels like multicultural pluck. It’s not just these mass forms but also the internationalism they stand for, however ironically, that hang here like the bleached dream of the neoliberal order. Hats are made, not born. But wherever they came from, we know who owns the copyright: Reddy, Whitey, and Bluey.