The world is, as Tom Friedman has noted, flat, which doesn't take much label-reading to ascertain. What have you bought recently that wasn't made overseas?
‘TOTEM’ Mixed media by Eduardo Bertone, 2012.
But place is place, and Madrid ain't Portland. "This Flat Earth/Esta Tierra Plana" at Rose Contemporary invites consideration about cultural thinking and artistic exchange as it takes place at the personal level, distinct from industrial, commercial, or even diplomatic channels. This is visual art's great value — it's individuals who matter, not institutions. The message is the mediators, not the medium, and what we learn is, at its essence, conveyed from one person to another.
"This Flat Earth/Esta Tierra Plana" is an exchange project among artists based in Maine showing in Madrid with a number of Spanish artists, and the same people subsequently showing in Portland. It was co-organized by Jeff Badger of Portland-based Tetra Projects and Madrid-based Rubicon1. The group of works appeared in Madrid at Embajadores con Provisiones in January, and is in Portland at Rose Contemporary through this month.
For thematic as well as practical purposes the artists were asked to use the same size paper, A3, about 16.5 by 11.5 inches. They are more or less about a here-to-there cross-ocean idea, with a dash of thinking about colonial history and seasoned with them-and-us comparisons, but at the heart of the project it's simply a fun thing to do that informs because it's art. The works are done because the artists are doing what they like to do, and the content conveyed is secondary, sometimes purely notional and sometimes non-existent. The messages are encoded not so much in what is depicted, but rather in the personal experience of each viewer with each work.
The people are, from Spain: Irene Blanco, Eduardo Bertone, Zuzia, Sabek, Ruina, Pincho, Zé Carrión, rHo, Borondo, Seann Brackin, Rubicon 1, RBN, Ciril23, Chylo, Toño, and Dingo Muto Perro; from Maine: Kyle Bryant, Kenny Cole, Colleen Kinsella, Carrie Scanga, Jeff Badger, Justin Richel, Irina Skornyakova, Kimberly Convery, Anne Buckwalter, and Cassie Jones.
"Flat Earth" in this context means that the art world, and the ideas that drive it, is no longer confined to a locality. The old "Paris then and New York now" paradigm is gone, fled like the transoceanic steamer and its stickered trunks. While one can discern sensibility distinctions that might be characterized as "Spanish" or "Maine-ish," technically and conceptually they could be from anywhere. The world is flat.
There was a schoolboy canard in my youth that asserted that Columbus, while selling his India project to the Spanish court, declared the world was round, while others believed it was flat. Not true of course: In the 15th century anyone with any sense knew it was round, although Columbus had underestimated its circumference and his error gave him courage. There's a reference to the unfortunate admiral and his little fleet in the poster for this show, anachronistically appearing near a shoreline with a Maine-like lighthouse on it. The world after Columbus flattened out, but the technology for five centuries or so afterward put severe limits the transfer of ideas, goods, and diseases. Travel and communications were difficult, slow, dangerous, and expensive. Today they are easy, fast, safe, and cheap.
'UNE CATASTROPHE PASSANT À L'ATELIER' Mixed media, gouache on cut paper and ink jet collage, by Justin Richel, 2012.
Thanks to high-speed communications and digital imaging, everybody can know what everyone is doing, anywhere. Galleries are much alike, no matter where they are. But there's still an important reason for shows to travel. It's not just the ideas that need to move. To really experience what a work does, you need the thing itself.