PRINT December 1995

Dave Hickey


The best thing about “The World of JEFFREY VALLANCE,” at the Santa Monica Museum, is that it would exist, I suspect, even if art museums did not. It is a cabinet of curiosities, really, filled with trophies, relics, and texts documenting Vallance’s steerage-class adventures around the globe. As such, it is eminently available to any citizen with a modicum of curiosity. So any urban space would do—and another urban space might do better, in fact, since, in the midst of an elite culture dedicated to parsing the dissonance of disembodied significations, Vallance joyously pursues the harmonies of embodied analogy from Tahiti to Turin, from Iceland to Memphis-talking scuba with the king of Tonga, fish with the president of Iceland, investigating zones of impurity and polycultural overlap, listening for the echoes of the rhyming world. Thus, for Vallance, the bloodstained cardboard that once bore a dead chicken in a supermarket display evokes the Shroud of Turin—which calls up the Veil of Veronica—which calls up the Scarves of Elvis, who died on the toilet, from too much fried chicken, reading a book about the Shroud of Turin. I love it when it all comes together like that.


I have a problem with these “international-regional” exhibitions (“SITE SANTA FE,” et al.) for which a cadre of internationalistas are flown into some geographical nook or cranny and encouraged to “respond” to the site—or “critique” the site—or just do whatever. When I was a kid in the boondocks, we were regularly enlightened by exhibitions from New York that demonstrated the stylistic diversity of straight, white, male artists who lived there. Today, it would seem, the provinces must benefit from similarly evangelical endeavors in which artists from all over the world demonstrate the stylistic hegemony of 30-year-old, post-Minimalist clichés. This seems to me a step in no direction at all, since cultural diversity purchased at the price of stylistic monotony is unworthy of the name—especially when it is promulgated by an artistic practice so locked into “posthistorical” equilibrium that its agreed-upon contents can only acquire energy by substituting geographical mobility for stylistic volatility. Sitegeist, I fear, is no substitute for zeitgeist, and the times, however “posthistorical,” continue to change while art contents itself with changing places.

Dave Hickey is a writer who lives in Las Vegas.