Before writing this review, I did the requisite Googling, looking up the three historical objects referenced in Michael Wang’s show “Global Tone”: a sculpture of a bison commissioned by Hermann Göring, a Hiroshima memorial by Isamu Noguchi and a gown worn by Jacqueline Kennedy. I came to wonder if this casual act of research was itself part of the exhibition. By walking into Foxy Production, had I been enlisted in an experiment to see how far down the Wikipedia rabbit hole I would go?
The exhibition featured relatively modest objects: two sets of drawings in muted colors and one delicate pink garment. Additional investigation was necessary to discern the logic linking the works, but Google initially yielded a curious result. With each search, one of the top hits was the image promoting Wang’s exhibition on the gallery website, an incongruous shot of four attractive young women posed in stylish outfits.
Wang is a young New York-based artist and critic with a background in architecture. He based one series of drawings on the aforementioned bison sculpture, commemorating Göring’s efforts in the 1930s to crossbreed European and North American bison in an attempt to create a superior species and replenish diminishing European herds. The sculpture was disassembled and buried after the war; it was then disinterred and restored in the mid-’90s in a “small forest town,” according to the press release. Wang renders individual sections of the sculpture—a furry hoof here, a haunch there—on small sheets of paper in pencil, using red pigment to create sienna-hued accents.
He similarly dismantles, through drawings, the Noguchi monument, which was initially commissioned by Japanese authorities after WWII, then rejected on the grounds that Noguchi was half-American, and therefore related to the enemy. Noguchi later built the cenotaph anyway, in granite. Austere pieces of chiseled stone are the focus of each of the eight drawings. Aside from the works on paper, Wang commissioned a re-creation of the pink, beaded, strapless gown worn by Jacqueline Kennedy when she brought the Mona Lisa to America in 1962.
Each of the historical objects functions metonymically for a moment of intense international conflict, but they also speak to networks of various sorts that span national boundaries, for better or worse: the Göring monument celebrated the melding of geographically disparate species, for example, while Kennedy’s dress speaks to a U.S. effort to strengthen relations with France in the face of mounting tension with the Soviet Union. And Noguchi, as a person of mixed race who was asked to help ease the pain caused by warfare, experienced the destructive effect of reactionary prejudice.
Biological exchange seems integral to the genealogy of globalization Wang sketches in his exhibition. The image circulating on the Web features models Wang hired, according to the show’s press release, based on their indeterminate ethnicities; all are brunettes with dark olive skin, ostensibly the “global tone” referred to in the show’s title. What Wang is getting at with the models is not obvious. Is he suggesting that cross-cultural exchange trends toward some kind of Benetton utopia? This seems too simplistic for such a bright artist, even as it raises difficult questions. Does “Global Tone” point to a kind of default eugenics program under global capitalism? If so, the terrifying implications of this theory are hardly borne out by the relatively quiet nature of the objects on view.