It's one thing to scrutinize yourself and quite another when someone else holds up the mirror.
In "The American Effect," an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, reflected images of our culture by 47 artists from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North and South America bring a distance and otherness to many of the myths, icons and preconceptions we cherish.
Answering the museum's call to "explore a wide range of global perceptions of America since 1990," the artists take their best shots in media ranging from painting and photography to installations, video and Internet art.
Trenchant and prismatic, bemused and angry, soulful and ironic, baffling and illuminating, tender and brutish - they're all here, the mixed messages and messy emotions that are part of every complicated relationship. Veli Grano's video, A Strange Message from Another Star, chronicles Paavo Rahkonen, the son of Finnish immigrants and inventor of the fuel for the space shuttle, who retreated to Idaho where he is designing a rocket that will take him to another, more peaceful planet. Danwen Xing's color print from the series disCONNECTED records the piled detachment of discarded motherboards, their routings as obsolete as the maps that brought ancient mariners from their motherlands to the new world.
All the works roam their varied landscapes like echoes of remembered encounters and remind us that beauty and ugliness, whether global or individual, is determined by the eye of the beholder. Either way, it's always personal.