IN THE OCTOBER 2011 issue of Art in America, writer and filmmaker Chris Kraus reported on the changing geography of the Los Angeles art scene. Many of the galleries that had opened in the city’s Chinatown in the early 2000s crashed during the 2008 financial crisis, leaving the area a “semi-gentrified zone of shuttered galleries interspersed with decades-old Chinese restaurants and souvenir shops.” For LA artists, working “slightly outside the center” relative to their peers in New York, this landscape became fertile ground for starting new nonprofit spaces and building relationships with longtime residents—for example by staging performances and readings at established Chinatown businesses that had weathered numerous real estate booms and busts.
Kraus penned several more pieces about different facets of the Los Angeles art world as one of the first contributors to A.i.A.’s Atlas column. The Atlas format is straightforward: a writer contributes three stories about a city over the course of a year. This sequential take allows for a more detailed look at the cultural life of urban locales than a one-off city report. And with three Atlas writers contributing each year, our overall coverage explores many global developments. Several past contributors have analyzed the issues facing artists and curators in international cities such as Dubai, Dhaka, and Lima, while others have focused on communities in St. Louis, Dallas, and Miami.
This month, San Juan–based curator Marina Reyes Franco takes stock of the city a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and intensified its longstanding debt crisis. Reyes Franco discusses key artists and institutions, but her column also raises questions about the sometimes thorny relationship between art and place, suggesting the complex challenges of treating cities as coherent sites of artistic activity. For example, is San Juan the best lens through which to view Puerto Rican contemporary art when the diaspora in the US is essential to the territory’s culture? And can artists find a sustainable network of support for their work without ceding creative freedom to the tourist economy?
By identifying the unique aspects of a given city, the Atlas column shares something with biennials and other recurring exhibitions. The inaugural edition of the Front International triennial in Cleveland, organized by artistic director Michelle Grabner (who, as it happens, penned an Atlas column about Chicago in 2014–15), certainly emphasized its specific urban setting. Alexander Dumbadze discusses how many of the contributing artists engaged with the history of the industrial economy in northeast Ohio. Yet for all the singular features that define Cleveland, Dumbadze argues that its core social, political, and cultural identity is primarily that of any midsize US city. Indeed, Cleveland may have more in common with St. Louis and Nashville than with the rural and exurban communities in the nearby Cuyahoga River Valley.
It will be interesting to compare the upstart Front International with Pittsburgh’s august Carnegie International, the fifty-seventh edition of which opens this month. For this issue, Ariel Goldberg examines the work of Park McArthur, one of the four artists commissioned to create a site-specific piece for the exhibition. McArthur’s sound installation features recordings from the site in Norway where the stone on the Carnegie Museum of Art’s facade was quarried. Conveying an expanded sense of site-specificity, the work both acknowledges the physical setting of the International and foregrounds its material ties to the wider world.