NL Architects (Pieter Bannenberg, Walter Van Dijk, Kamiel Klaasse, and Mark Linnemann), Cruise City, City Cruise, 2003, color photograph.

“Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist’s Eye”

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA Chicago)

The fact that tourism is “the largest industry in the world” is trumpeted several times in the opening pages of the catalogue for “Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist’s Eye,” curated by Francesco Bonami and featuring more than seventy artists from nearly thirty countries. Given that museums themselves compete in this industry, usually by throwing millions at brand-name architectural add-ons while lining up blockbuster exhibitions of designer evening wear and laying off staff, the decision to make tourism the subject of curatorial investigation would seem a welcome instance of enlightened reflexivity, an opportunity not just to get swept along by this trend but to question it.

“Universal Experience” offers glimpses of the neocolonial politics of tourism, its use as a strategic weapon both by first-world invaders (as in NL Architects’ digitally manipulated photograph Cruise City,

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