Book Review: Universal Experience

Universal Experience: Art, Life, and the Tourist's Eye edited by Kari Dahlgren, Kamilah Foreman, Tricia Van Eck
D.A.P./MCA, 2005
Paperback, 272 pages

Taking aim at tourism, the largest industry in the world, curator Francesco Bonami compiled a diverse range of artwork for the Universal Experience exhibition at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. Filling the whole museum and its exterior, obvious pieces like Andy Warhol's Empire and Double Mona Lisa are present alongside lesser known works artists Zhan Wang, Thomas Hirschhorn, and others. Photography, film and sculpture dominate; the first two are appropriate for tourism's exposure to "the other" and its transient nature, while the latter allows the galleries to become immersive, abstractions of what the first two try to represent. The companion book to the exhibition breaks down travel to ten chaptered themes, like "Reflections in the Tourist's Eye" and "The World for a Buck." Texts excerpted from various books and articles alongside exhibition images help to explicate these categories, non-existent in the exhibition but, for some reason, seen as necessary for the book. The companion's small format (6x9"), its content, and its layout make for a pleasing alternative to large-format exhibition catalogues that tend to have a series of plates with the artwork, an introduction and perhaps the occasional essay.