Boxed In

Exhibit of Asian-American artists intrigues, but lacks cohesion.

One of the difficult things about doing any kind of group show based on some notion of “identity” is that one is confronted with the limits of the category. One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now encounters this problem without doing much to acknowledge it. Seventeen artists are collected together at the Berkeley Art Museum, all loosely under the rubric of “Asian-American Artists.” Some were born in Asia, others in the US; they are from Vietnamese and Singaporean and Iranian and Korean backgrounds; some directly address a sense of hybridity — being both Asian and American — while some do not. And while this lack of cohesion might be an asset, providing the opportunity to explore the notion of a category that both acknowledges and is completely inadequate to describe its constituent parts, in this case it’s not — although there is a certain nod to this in the museum’s statement. The collection ends up being a hodgepodge of incongruous works. Although perhaps this is indicative of identity politics itself.

There are sculptural pieces, two-dimensional art, and videos gathered here, and the crowding together of these pieces means none quite gets its due. Still, Ala Ebtekar’s “Elemental” is a clever piece, and hard to miss. It’s a full-sized model of a smoke shop, the couches and hookahs and karaoke machine whitewashed, along with the pictures on the walls of traditional Arabic scenes and strongmen of decades past. What is in color are the vibrant shoelaces in the trainers scattered about the floor, and the elaborately decorated jackets strewn on the sofas. It’s as if the past is fading out, to be colored in by hybridized accoutrements of global culture.

Kaz Oshiro — at forty, the oldest artist in the show — also uses white to his advantage. He produces full-scale models of a fast-food restaurant trash can, a series of wall cabinets, and a mini-fridge, all out of blank canvases stretched over simple frames. At first approach, one may wonder if they are pieces in the show or items accidentally left out by the maintenance crew. But their hollowness gives them an eerie, ghostly quality that speaks to the way we stop seeing what is most frequently around us. Through December 23 at the Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. or 510-642-0808.


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