The juxtaposition of the two shows leaves one feeling uncertain about the ultimate worth of either. The fundamental annoyance of deSouza’s work is its (perhaps unconscious) appeal to the class of people who travel, who are rich and privileged enough to enjoy the sweet dislocation of life in multiple time zones. It’s work tailor-made for a hallway in the World Bank. He has tried to embed more serious social meaning — references to immigration and ethnic tension — but ultimately his visual games are too frothy, too ironic to have real depth. Instead, they reward the world traveler with small, inside jokes. DeSouza’s camera gravitates to visual serendipity, the funny weird things one begins to see when traveling. The “World Series” is really only a few steps removed from a tumblr Web site devoted to Chinglish.
And if a fresh look at Lawrence’s “Great Migration” makes you wonder what all the fuss is about, well, don’t feel too bad. Generations of scholarship have been devoted to putting Lawrence’s early paintings in a context that obscures their most salient feature: crude execution. He has been called a visual “griot,” an artist heroically appropriating the visual license yet resisting the smooth execution of modernist style, a pioneer looking for forms that were uniquely African American without being drenched in nostalgia or reflexively referential. But the polish of deSouza’s work only underscores the roughness and flaws in Lawrence’s work.