Baggage: We've all got it, whether it's literal luggage we're packing up for a trip or a move, or the emotional baggage we bring to our relationships. The group exhibition "Baggage Claims" at the Weisman Art Museum smartly plays on both meanings, making for a multi-layered and provocative collection of art.
This predominantly sculptural show could've gone overboard with too many actual suitcases, but the curators add depth with four short videos.
The show is something of a who's-who in contemporary art today. Curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox, the collaborative duo who call themselves c2 (curatorsquared), it includes 17 international artists, ranging from young talents to art-world familiars like Andrea Zittel. Weisman senior curator Diane Mullin has compactly presented this show in the museum's two front galleries.
The exhibition itself has been in and out of airports. It began at the Orlando Museum of Art in the fall of 2017, then traveled to two colleges before arriving at the University of Minnesota's Weisman — its fourth, and final, destination.
The show unpacks timely themes of immigration, displacement and border crossings, but it doesn't neglect the more emotional or the strictly conceptual, either. One of the most powerful works is Taysir Batniji's video "Transit" (2004), which begins with still photos separated only by the clicking sound of a slide show, showing people passed out on couches. But this isn't a delayed flight — these are images taken surreptitiously at the border crossing between Egypt and Israeli-occupied Gaza. In some moments the screen goes black, suggesting the metaphor of not-knowingness during this treacherous journey.
Joel Ross' "Room 28" (1997), a sculptural work, is surprising in another way. Several stacks of approximately 40 vintage suitcases, some with bed springs and insulation popping out of them, others locked shut, are arranged on the floor. The contents of these suitcases were ripped from a motel room where the artist experienced a terrible breakup. Upon his departure, he left a check for the damages — his emotional baggage.
There's more contained heaviness in Yoan Capote's "Nostalgia" (2004-16). It's a suitcase that the artist used to pack up his belongings upon leaving Cuba. Standing open and upright, it now contains a wall-like chunk of brickwork he found in New York, a nod to the passage of time and the loneliness of his separation.
Similarly, Mohamad Hafez's "A Refugee Nation" (2015) is a collection of found objects rescued from the artist's hometown in Syria and arranged inside an antique typewriter case. The work is embedded with audio of a refugee, as a way to humanize this experience.
Not every container is so heavy. Chinese artist Yin Xiuzhen's"Suitcase Biography: JLT" (2008) is like a gift in luggage to a friend who was traveling. She used old clothes to construct a mini-sculpture of New York and London city landscapes. L.A.-based Brazilian artist Clarissa Tossin's conceptual artwork "Work damaged by customs during search for cocaine upon re-entry to the United States from Colombia" (2015) is what it sounds like: a wooden crate displaying a TSA inspection sticker and the cracked plaster cast of a shoe, taken from a broken artwork by Tossin.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through the internet, we still have our physical bodies to deal with. This is a thoughtful show that addresses difficult topics through a selection of diverse, international artists.
Also at the Weisman
Wearing a bonnet, a creepy taxidermied wolf rests under the covers of grandmother's bed. Its stiff pink tongue hangs out of its mouth. A young girl stands by the bed's side, gazing at the beast, making observations about its big eyes and teeth.
The tale is one you've likely read, or read to your kids. It's Little Red Riding Hood, but the scene above isn't from a Disney film. This is a staged photograph, shot and produced sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, and it lives on the front of a postcard.
This is one of the many stories on display in "The Wonderful World Before Disney," a curious exhibition of fairy tale postcards that people in Europe and North America sent to one another from the 1890s to the 1930s. That all changed with the rise of fascism and World War II, and the mass commercialization of fairy tales through Disney, which released "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in February 1938. Back then, it was another enchanted time and place.
The show was carefully curated by May Abnet, an intern from Belgium who worked at the museum last summer. With the assistance of other Weisman employees, they culled through the 3,000-plus postcard collection of Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the U of M. The show is organized by fairy tale depictions: Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Tom Thumb. There's also a section broadly looking at postcard storytelling techniques.
The magic of this show exists in the vastly different interpretations of the same fairy tales. Snow White is often depicted in a glass casket. The Big Bad Wolf is sometimes drawn, but other times photographed as taxidermy. Sometimes Little Red is a teenage girl, at other times she appears to be a toddler. Sleeping Beauty is approached by countless prince-types, all attempting to hover over her lips and awaken her.
The artwork here fires up viewers' creativity. You could spend hours in the gallery, enjoying the artistic interpretations of each tale. It's a show that sure beats watching a flat Disney movie any day.