Are the new financial centers the new centers for art as well?
Art from countries like China and India are experiencing a worldwide boom. But what are the chances and risks resulting from this development? ArtMag asks artists, curators, and critics.
||It seems that when an economy experiences an upswing, then the global art world becomes more interested in the region. Alongside China, India has been considered a boom country for contemporary art for a few years. And buyers of Western art are shifting their sights increasingly to Asia. The demand is particularly growing in the emerging countries. While in 2008 buyers from China and Hong Kong accounted for 20 percent of Christie's global sales, in 2009 it was 35 percent. In the face of the recession in Western industrial countries, the new financial centers appear to be the new art centers. Artists who had previously been excluded from the global art market now have access to it. The dominance of Western culture seems to have yielded to a new, more complex understanding for a changed global landscape. But there are also side effects. Recently, auction houses began directly commissioning artists from the new art centers to create works for auctions. This has resulted in highly commercial art scenes in which salability and geographic origins are more important than quality and differentiation. In countries such as India the art academies are antiquated and cannot keep up with the rapid development. Is the next collapse in the offing? Or is the future of a globalized art world only just beginning? What opportunities and risks does this development present in your opinion?
Elke Buhr (Monopol)
The new art centers like Asia and China are of course discussed widely. It seems clear that with the economic rise of these regions, their art will also conquer the world market. One can safely assume that, for instance, Indian collectors will prefer to collect Indian art. But do they really? Don't some of the new arrivals initially fuel the run for the time-tested names at the head of the western-dominated sales lists—because they want what the others have?
If, for instance, you took a stroll through this year's Art Basel, there was no indication that the dominance of North American and European art is at all broken—Picasso prevailed, followed primarily by Warhol. Subodh Gupta had to represent his continent pretty much on his own, and his presence at the Hauser & Wirth booth wasn't nearly as prominent as Paul McCarthy's. The so-called globalization of the art establishment was discussed more in the talks that took place on the fringes of the fair than on the actual market. Which means: while it's correct to speak of a boom in Indian or Chinese art, it isn't really visible yet in the "old" centers of art commerce. Which is a shame, really—because the inclusion of these and other regions of the world is not only long overdue for political reasons—but will also serve to break the tedious preoccupation with the self on the western art scene.
One should, however, differentiate between the image the art (and auction) market provides and what is really happening in a country—the German art scene also doesn't primarily consist of names that turn up at auctions. India's art scene certainly can't be inferred by what Charles Saatchi has bought. The fact that the quality of a work of art is not automatically identical with its market price is something we already know from the western art establishment—and under the conditions of an accelerated economic growth as is currently taking place in the so-called emerging economies, this gap is often even wider. In order to separate hype from substance, good mediators are needed—interested curators and continuous work on the part of museums and institutions—in the west, but also and particularly in the new art centers themselves. These institutions will probably function differently; most importantly, they will be financed as classical state-funded museums. But they will have to exist—and maybe they'll be even better, more exciting, and a better match for the new forms of art and art production than the traditional museums in the west.
Elke Buhr, acting editor-in-chief at Monopol, Berlin
Sunil Gupta (artist/curator)
There is a high risk that the market will interfere with natural processes and developments in the Indian art scene. To a certain extent it already has—which is inevitable. This means that some works are using the global rhetoric at the expense of any local contextualization or local audience. After all, who is the art being made for? And what will happen when the art market moves on to the next "big" thing?
On the other hand, it also represents an opportunity for Indian art to gain some exposure. A lot of the current misunderstandings and prejudices exist because of a lack of knowledge—or rather, too few individuals become the repository of the knowledge and hence the new gatekeepers. I would hope that the current opportunity would result in a greater recognition in the west for a deeper and more sophisticated understanding. But this can only happen if the information about Indian art were to become part of its standard curriculum, rather than regarded as an exotic "other."
The Indian academy is responding by introducing new media, photography, and video art into its usually more conservative disciplines of painting, printmaking, and sculpture.
Sunil Gupta, Indian-born artist, photographer, and curator, is based in London and New Delhi. The show he has curated at the Fotomuseum Winterthur—“Where Three Dreams Cross—150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh”—can be seen through August 22, 2010.
Do Away with Speculation: Some remarks on the current Asian art scene
The current booms in the contemporary Asian art scene and art market, especially in China and India, indicate a new but logical evolution triggered by globalization over the past two decades: Asia is now the most dynamic playground of the world market system, as well as the most vital testing ground for cultural production. This background to the spectacle of financial speculation and fame represents one of the most exciting and complex histories of contemporary social and cultural innovation driven by unique economic and political experiment and development. The artistic production, to a great extent, embodies this major historical change. In the process, hundreds of artists have been struggling for freedom of imagination and expression alongside their contemporaries in the intellectual and political fields. The artists have not only demonstrated their exceptional artistic talents, but also their extraordinarily creative capacities to negotiate the highly challenging contexts created by post-colonial, post-communist, neo-liberalist, and globalizing transitions. In their work—not only the productions of material objects, but the artistic and theoretical discourses as well—they have managed to provide the world with some of the most singular visions and positions in terms of how to live with an unknown and uncertain world at the turn of the millennium. It's because of the energy and originality in their work that the "international art world," previously dominated by the western system, is now learning how to open itself to embrace different kinds of expressions beyond the Eurocentric horizon and finally become truly “global.”
It is particularly important to notice that this amazing story of “miracle making” has been a story full of adventure and struggle beyond the simple aesthetic experiment. It has by definition been political from the very beginning, since art production in the region has always been closely related with and resulted from struggles for political, social, cultural, and economic freedom and entangled in a dilemma between modernity and tradition, totalitarianism and liberalism, collectivism and individualism… It's in this process of struggle that the most original forms of expressions have been created and various modes of production, representation, and criticism generated. An excitingly diverse and rich landscape of creativity arises, while a new self-consciousness of "Asian-ness" is brought to the fore of intellectual and social debates that exemplify the re-conceptualization of "global–local" negotiation in the 21st century.
Obviously, the current "take-over" of the market system signifies both a chance for better financing and distributing conditions for the artistic production in the region—and the risk of excessive commoditization. The greatest challenge is how to continue to defend and promote the intellectual and social values of the artwork, its criticality and cultural positions, in the swirl of financial speculation. Under the pressure and "seduction" of economic power, however, the danger remains that contemporary art production becomes more and more reduced to commercial goods and merged with the entertainment and fashion industries.
On the other hand, the question of the public nature of artistic production, representation, and distribution becomes increasingly urgent in the context of Asian modernization that systematically favors privatization and "market economy." Urbanization, the most conspicuous and dynamic aspect of the modernization process, always leads to gentrification and chaotic expansion at the price of social conflict and the disappearance of the public sphere—which has been weak and fragile across the region in any case. In the field of contemporary art, private collections and institutions are developing rapidly while public institutions remain poorly funded and politically conservative. In fact, the binary division between the public and private spheres has not really been a major issue in most Asian countries. Moreover, it is even more blurred now than before. Hence, the question of how to use the resources and professional competence generated in the formation of a new market force to help construct truly reliable public spheres that can allow the art world and the public to evaluate and discuss the real values of artistic production becomes a crucial challenge that requires insightful answers. Some successful experiments in this direction have been carried out using the strategies of grass-root mobilization and intensification of proximity productivity. Yet much more is needed. In other words, the most essential and critical way for the Asian art scene to do away with the logic of financial speculation is to conceive and construct relevant public infrastructures that can support the production of knowledge, ideas, and especially ideals in terms of creativity and its social significance—rather than simply promoting products for consumption.
Certainly, the contemporary art scene in Asia is still extremely young and fresh. The common challenge becomes how to avoid an immature freeze due to the power of the market, which—paradoxically—is a main source of vitality for its survival and development. Like in the field of economy, more diverse models of development are urgently needed in the unprecedented crisis that we are currently witnessing, as well as multiple modes of production, representation, and distribution.
Hou Hanru is Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs and Chair of the Exhibitions and Museum Studies program at the San Francisco Art Institute. He has curated numerous exhibitions including Shanghai Biennial (2000), Gwangju Biennial (2002), Istanbul Biennial (2007), "Global Multitude" (Luxembourg 2007) and is a member of Deutsche Bank's Global Art Advisory Council.
Friedhelm Hütte (Deutsche Bank)
As a corporate collection that is increasingly active in Asia, it is a matter of differentiating between short- and mid-term hype and long-term discoveries in the region. We are greatly assisted in this by a network of curators and experts that not only know the markets, but are themselves connected with the institutions, academies, and artists there. While China or India were blind spots for the western market twenty years ago, the bank has been involved for a long time already, which helps our contacts to the respective art scenes in these areas. Of course, in view of the boom in Indian or Chinese art, we can observe the tendency to create easily marketable art products that correspond to the clichés and possess a high degree of recognizability, for instance Chinese Polit-Pop painting. While at first it seemed original and critical, it quickly grew inflationary.
This tendency, however, is not new; it could already be observed decades ago on the western art market. In respect to Germany, for instance, I am thinking of the Neo-Expressionist "wild" painters that commanded record prices in the 1980s; later, some of them hit rock bottom. Or the neo-figurative dreamy painting of the post-Reunification era that flooded the market following the success of the "New Leipzig School." International collectors, particularly Americans, loved the "Germans"-and they were amply supplied. In this instance, as well, it was only a handful of painters such as Neo Rauch or Matthias Weischer that have been able to establish themselves in the long term-not by catering to trends, but through their own originality and quality.
The spread of globalizationis also an ongoing theme in the art scene. The danger, however, is of a kind of homogenization that can lead to age-old cultures and unique positions being superimposed by an undifferentiated formal language. For this reason, an insistence on quality, continuity, and the support of individual and promising artists is essential to the Deutsche Bank Collection, whether we're looking at Europe, Africa, America, or Asia. The chance I see here, clearly, is that art particularly succeeds in overcoming boundaries, bringing people together to talk, and-like a seismograph-registers new social developments.
Friedhelm Hütte is Global Head of Art, Deutsche Bank
Sandhini Poddar (curator)
Globalization has yielded highly uneven results. Although we live and work in an ostensibly more interconnected world, non-western artists still use the west as a mirror or barometer to analyze their successes and failures. In large mainstream western institutions, nation-bound tags on exhibitions continue to define artistic production, circulation, and acceptance, as museum professionals (more often than not) feel more at ease with identity politics than with curatorial initiatives that delve into specificities of artistic practices that motivate complex perceptual and political engagements.
Being Singular Plural: Moving Images from India is a worthwhile case in point. Whereas the exhibition title opens up this discourse to posit a certain philosophical enquiry—that of the individual’s relationship to the social—the subtitle problematically delimits this proposition towards certain formal and cultural identifications. Institutional critique hasn’t managed to de-institutionalize the institution as yet. Can progressive artists and curators reposition themselves as thinkers and creators first, forging ahead with prophecies of the future, while serving as caretakers of history? While this exhibition does succeed in focusing our attention back on ground research, rigorous production, positions of resistance, and the realities of infrastructural capacities in a given region of artistic activity, the next stage of its evolution would necessitate a further dismantling of systems and signifiers of control: including the nation, the market, the institution, and perhaps, even the individual ego.
Sandhini Poddar joined the New York Guggenheim Museum in 2007 as the institution’s first Assistant Curator of Asian Art. She has organized the exhibition “Being Singular Plural: Moving Images from India” currently on view at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.
Mark Rappolt (ArtReview)
As a magazine, we don't really follow the categories set by the auction houses and the art market—we have our own fluid ideas about what is contemporary and what is modern; what is design and what is art. I suppose we view auction categories as something akin to departments in a grocery store. In that context, we tend to look at art as food rather than focusing on the vegetable, bakery, kosher, or halal departments. The question seems to be whether we treat art from India as simply "art" and approach it for what it is—or ring-fence it as something regionally specific. As a magazine, if we do the former, then we risk losing an understanding of the context in which the art is produced and becoming something akin to cultural tourists; if we do the latter, we ghettoize art production in a way that we don"t really do for western art (we don"t talk about, say, Carsten Höller as exemplifying Belgian art, or Francis Upritchard as someone who should only be talked about in the context of New Zealand). Perhaps it's really a question as to the extent to which the art produced in a place like the Indian subcontinent draws us into the context of its production or not. Both tactics are potentially valid. As viewers of art, I think we take each work as it comes and consider it on the terms it sets for itself (which may include simply being a product for sale).
Our experience of the art market is that, like any other, it follows the money. I'd question the extent to which artists in the "new territories" really have access to the western market other than through the brokerage and cultivation of western galleries, curators, and auction houses. We'd argue that true access to a market includes some ability to manipulate and control it, to actively surf its waves (perhaps to make work that critiques its institutions, for instance). I'm not sure that's the case. Similarly, from the point of view of western art critics looking at, say, Indian art, we're mindful of the fact that, not being on the ground in India, we see what the art brokers described above allow us to see, and therefore can't really make many informed judgments about the broader scene. But to some extent, short of visiting every artist's studio, that's always going to be the case wherever you are. I guess if we have any kind of "tactic" in this situation, it's to be as open as possible to as much art as possible.
Mark Rappolt is an author and editor-in-chief at ArtReview.
Bernd M. Scherer (Haus der Kulturen der Welt)
Really good art develops independently of the market. In countries like India and Pakistan, however, the market creates an environment in which young people can more easily discover their potential and decide to become artists. At the same time, a field of criticism and education grows that allows art viewers to develop criteria for evaluating art. It goes beyond question, however, that the hypes of the kind we've experienced over the past several years in Chinese and Indian art are essentially western market phenomena that have dredged a lot of mediocrity up to the surface.
Bernd M. Scherer, Director of Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
Michael Schultz (gallerist)
In my opinion, the developments on the Chinese and Indian art markets can no longer be stopped. Even if their market methods sometimes diverge widely from our own western business ethics, the art from these two countries in particular will continue to attract collectors and speculators for a long time. And because the time-tested and confirmed market techniques of the western world haven't (yet) arrived or found acceptance, artists are easily impressed by the auction agents' piles of cash. People only start to reflect after the stars have lost respect and significance owing to their irresponsible overproduction.
There's a creative power and unusual abundance of ideas, however—and it keeps producing fresh young artists, which the market veritably gobbles up. It won't be long before the artists know that fast money doesn't offer much in the way of sustainable prosperity and recognition. I've already seen young artists starting to think differently. We still have a lot of exciting things to expect from Indian and Chinese art.
Michael Schultz is a gallery dealer in Berlin. In 2006 he opened a branch in Seoul, and another in 2007 in Beijing.
Nancy Spector (curator)
>From what I've witnessed in the Gulf region, another burgeoning site for contemporary art, the development of a market goes hand in hand with the creation of a new infrastructure for cultural production. The commitment of the government of Abu Dhabi, for instance, to build museums, educate its public, and support its artists can only be a positive force in society as a whole. Their turning to experts around the world, from a broad spectrum of cultures and academic disciplines, for advice and expertise signals an openness for cross-cultural exchange, one which we must match in our embrace of progressive work from the region.
Nancy Spector is Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, where she has organized exhibitions on Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle and Richard Prince. She is a member of Deutsche Bank's Global Art Advisory Council.
Anna Szöke (curator)
China and India's economic boom has awakened the keen interest of the global art market. This can be seen by the number of international exhibitions over the past several years and by the sales of the auction houses. It seems that these countries are holding onto their rightful place in the political, economic, and cultural structure of the globalized world.
One must, however, weigh factors carefully regarding the observation that "the economic boom of a country's economy accelerates the globalized art world's interest in the region." Many other Asian countries have also experienced an economic upturn over the past 10 years: Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea. Why don’t they get the same well-deserved attention?
In my opinion, this phenomenon can be traced back to historical, political, and colonial structures. Until the 18th century, the legitimacy of European colonial dominance in America and other parts of the world was accepted within the scientific discourse. The encounter with Asian and Arabic cultures, including Far Eastern cultures like China and India, proved to be a different matter. The "… first reaction was often one of curiosity and a certain respect, as though [Europe] might possibly learn something from them. For this reason, the people in these regions entered European consciousness as relatively equal contemporaries, as potential partners, and as potential enemies." [Immanuel Wallerstein, Die Barbarei der anderen. Europäischer Universalismus, Berlin, 2007, p.42] For this reason, the European-American relationship to these countries is a different one than to those that were not understood as "high culture" in the 19th century.
The changes in the global art market are the result of many different interconnected factors. Art rose to become a status symbol for certain social classes, while wealthy private collectors increasingly govern the art market. The art itself also has new aspects. "Participation in the art world does not require the old entrance ticket of formal novelty and purity as proof that the art is advanced. … the originality once expected of the artist's self-expression has given way to assuming a position on contemporary issues." [Hans Belting, in The Global Art World, Audiences, Markets, and Museums, Karlsruhe, 2009, p. 53] And maybe that is precisely the chance for global art: to point to contemporary themes such as social and urban problems in various different countries of the world. When else would a wider public have the opportunity to become acquainted with the urban structures of a major Indian city? Or to learn something about the difficulties of social integration in the city system?
As an example for a limited view, I'd like to name numerous exhibitions on contemporary Chinese art. At lest 95 percent of contemporary painters in China work in the traditional technique of ink painting. The introduction of oil painting at the beginning of the 20th century not only brought a new kind of painting, but also called the basic elements of the Chinese painting tradition in question, and with it its cultural perspective. This reference to an art historical context is often missing. In the final analysis, it's the curator's responsibility to present works of art in their context and not to fall prey to a Eurocentric view of the world.
Anna Szöke is curator at the Essl Museum, where she organized the exhibition "India Awakens. Under the Banyan Tree" (11/26/2010 – 2/27/2011) as part of the "emerging artists" series.
Ute Thon (art)
On the art market, everyone is always searching for TNBT—The Next Big Thing. Recently China, yesterday India, today Africa... this hunger for the new and exotic can also be interpreted in a positive light: the firmly entrenched western art canon is being undermined, while artists of lesser means from faraway countries are getting the chance to exhibit in London, New York, or Kassel. But one must not let oneself be deceived. The globalized art world is a mirage. What is shown at Art Basel and Art Hong Kong is the slick internationalized art market art that has little to do with the realities of the artists' countries of origin. Bharti Kher, one of the most successful Indian artists, embellishes her decorative paintings and sculptures with Bindis, the colorful dots that normally adhere to the foreheads of believing Hindus. Kher was born in London and studies art in Newcastle. Which Chinese or Indian artists attract international attention primarily depends on the taste of a handful of influential collectors, people like Charles Saatchi, Francois Pinault, and Karlheinz Essl. And the success of an Asian biennial is still measured by how many western museum directors, curators, and journalists fly in to see it. But even still: at this year's Art Basel, four Indian galleries were present. Four of three hundred—what progress!
Ute Thon, chief editor and art market expert, art. Das Kunstmagazin, Hamburg
Brigitte Werneburg (taz)
It's an old story that art centers flourish where financial business is done. And it's also an old hat that social climbers copy the lifestyle and taste of those already established, to then bring their own culture and style into play. What is perhaps new is, at most, the manner in which the standard is lowered from the very start. For when auction houses directly commission artists in the new centers to create works for their auctions, it is necessarily about criteria such as marketability and geographical origin instead of art-inherent issues. Among the latter, by the way, is indeed the dialectical examination of forces foreign or indifferent to art—a challenge and opportunity, especially in times of globalization—something which is, of course, ruined by the total communication of total art institutions. After all, it's not as if public art foundations, biennales, and art societies didn't commission artists to produce works, now in view of supposedly urgent themes relevant to the present. In this case, as well, conformity and geographical origin (which in the age of globalization is a hot topic) are given priority over quality and idiosyncrasy. So, it's insider dealings wherever one takes a look in the art business. What is most likely new is that there are hardly any niches left, in which one can escape these insider dealings and at the same time work independently and survive as an artist.
Brigitte Werneburg is editor of fine arts at the daily newspaper taz.