Magic Realist Imaginings of (Trans)Nationalism: René Magritte’s Diasporic Doubles in Los Angeles
In 2006-2007, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art showcased René Magritte and his influence on post-war American and European artists. To capture the spirit of the Belgian surrealist and recreate his uncanny world of images and texts, the museum “invigorat[ed] clichés and stereotypes” through photographs of the LA freeway reproduced on the ceiling, a carpet of clouds, and the theatrical wearing of bowler hats by Filipino museum guards. In this topsy-turvy world, costumed Filipino guards, functioning as Magritte’s multiple un-bohemian doubles, were spatially deployed to prohibit and perform for the public. The bowler-hatted guards, however, were transformed from being an abstract sign of middle-class identity into an aesthetic forgery – a colored facsimile of Magritte. If in their class assimilation racial difference remained unresolved, in their seemingly authoritative bodies, these Filipinos were at once objectified and guarded. Through an examination of Philippine diaspora and the ideology of exhibition displays, this paper deconstructs the museum’s choreographed surrealist provocations and frames them as magical realist imaginings of (trans)nationalism: one glimpses not the enigmatic René Magritte, but an uncanny Jose Rizal – the 19th-century hero of The Philippines.
Keywords: René Magritte, Museum Guards, Filipino/a, (Trans)National(ism)
Dr. Pearlie Rose Baluyut
Assistant Professor, Art, California State University