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The Global Contemporary and the Rise of New Art Worlds

by Hans Belting, Andrea Buddensieg, and Peter Weibel, Editors
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013
464 pp., illus., 395 col, 5 b/w
ISBN: 978-0-262-51834-5.

Reviewed by Flutur Troshani
Collegium for Advanced Studies
University of Helsinki

This valuable publication, based on the large scale exhibition, The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds after 1989 at ZKM | Center for Art and Media (Karlsruhe, September 2011 - February 2012), touches upon the irregular map of the art world and brings to the front its instabilities, tensions, and mutations. It takes into account the global picture today, characterized by full-fledged (dis)symmetries of both capital and goods, dispersed centers of political power, fragmentation of past histories, practices, customs and flowing migrations of people in unprecedented scales. Deep down it suggests that more than ever before, the personal stories of so-called ‘transitory citizens’ and their ‘impermanent settlements’ are indicative of our multicultural world, its social fluidities, and financial interdependences. In this sense, the publication reiterates the ways in which globalization generates a whole set of ontological inquiries, the most important of which pertain to contemporaneity and its constitution. And, methodologically speaking, its reiteration(s) in the world of art constitute the focus of the research question and theoretical framework of this collection.

The task of engaging with the pervasive ubiquity and comprehensiveness of globalization vis-à-vis contemporary art comes with a whole host of complex questions that lie at its very fundament. Indeed, if globalization is a significant development of post/modernity, how are we to bring together the coordinates of global politics, economy and culture by taking into account at once the heterogeneous and yet-contradictory whereabouts of real life? How are we to understand globalization by paying due respect to its complexities at a time when the free market, capitalism, and Neo-liberal ideology have prevailed after the end of the Cold War? And, on that regard, what are the implications for the art world and its commitment to museums and art galleries? How are they to function in the future and what aesthetic, interactive typologies are most likely to prevail?

To move beyond the rhetorical fervor of these large questions, this book pulls strategically from unitary to multiple constructions. It argues that under the pressure of globalization the world of art has been deflected into multiple worlds, setting into play not only global but also local voices and regional geo-political contexts. Understandably, then, its primary focus falls on the ways such macro/micro-scale developments over the past 20 years have radically transformed innate conceptions of art, artwork, and art world. It opens with an introduction that sets a coherent dialogical frame cast between two essays, “Globalization and Contemporary Art” by Weibel and “From Art World to Art Worlds” by Belting and Buddensieg, on the one hand, and counterpoised by two interviews with Edward Glissant and Rasheed Araeen, on the other. In this nexus, the contributions assent that now more than ever before the local/global is interplayed by multiple forces of production/consumption, ideologies and asymmetries. And, on that regard, they acknowledge that the ‘global turn’ forces us to engage in re/writings (Weibel), theorizations of multiple art worlds (Belting, Buddensieg) and categorizations that demand a greater variety of critical tools for investigation.

At the same time, this project has deep roots in those complex processes that encompass artists as not only “objects” of structures of power, but also, and significantly so, “subjects” with personal responsibilities for judging what ought to be done and how to actually negotiate the local with the global. The “flat” world (Friedman) and “shrinking” distances (Larsson) together with intensifying exchanges between/among not only neighboring but distant countries have incised upon art and how it is made. For some, these developments should be celebrated; for others condemned; and yet for some other artists ‘defamiliarised’ to bring to light the cultural, political and ideological relations that sit at its core. By extension, it is possible to see how page after page the editor’s ambition - to capture the visual topography of the art worlds - emerges gradually. As in the multiple voices of its contributors, including artists, critics and art historians, this publication reads on many levels. Yet, at its very core, it attempts to synthesize, update and revisit conceptually the rise of multiple art worlds.

It executes its premise convincingly although, at times, given the large number of contributions, breadth of scope, and sophisticated discourses, this publication reflects upon itself.  Structurally, it is divided into three parts. The first, entitled “The Room of Histories,” documents both the critical and artistic space that enveloped the exhibition per se. It is largely complemented by the second part, which considering the diversity and quality of the contributing voices, constitutes the theoretical core of this project. It also builds on thematic nodes such as the ‘global turn’, ‘migration,  ‘the end of the cannon’ and ‘new strategies of representation’ (177 - 321). The third part brings in “eight different views from the exhibitions” (30). They relate to one another in a coherent and complementary way.

In conclusion, this publication extends an invitation to think critically about globalization as a built-in hallmark of modernity and its representations in the world(s) of art. There is, to be sure, tension among its many factors, concepts and dichotomies. Yet its collective voice reminds that the world of art is not a fait accompli but rather an open field, constantly renovating itself apropos macro/micro and local/global scale developments.

Last Updated 29th August 2014

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