Anal Penetrations and Some Strange Doings in Miami

New video works from Santiago Sierra and Shadi Habib Allah

Sierra's work is notorious for baiting critics. Are we supposed to consider it on "aesthetic" grounds or assess his moral character? Most criticism of his work has leaned toward the latter, pondering whether his grandstanding gestures will implement change—as if that were the artist's primary job.

But the social-change angle is a tricky one. For while Sierra purportedly rails against the juggernaut of globalization, however you want to define it, his work ends up adopting many of its most basic strategies. Nuance is flattened into a kind of one-size-fits-all statement in Los Penetrados. Anal sex is treated as a singular act of power distributed among races, but its meaning—like art itself—really relies on its context: Violence might prevail on Rikers Island; pleasure, presumably, among consensual gays, heteros, and married men who frequent tranny prostitutes.

Political sphincters: Sierra's Los Penetrados
Courtesy Team Gallery and the artist
Political sphincters: Sierra's Los Penetrados


Santiago Sierra:
'Los Penetrados'
Team Gallery
83 Grand Street
Through October 23

Shadi Habib Allah:
'The King and the Jester'
Reena Spaulings
165 East Broadway
Through October 17

Globalization's greatest products disguise themselves as friendly and locally adaptable, serving your needs as effectively in Beijing as Beirut, while their success often depends on annihilating local difference. You'd think "critical" art on the international-institutional level might challenge this—and Sierra has, at times. Los Penetrados, however, leans toward the other, less promising model.

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