ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P19)

Anthropology in the contemporary artworld

Location Arts and Aesthetics Lecture Hall No. 102, SAA-I
Date and Start Time 04 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Clare Harris (University of Oxford) email
Kavita Singh (Jawaharlal Nehru University) email
Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The contemporary artworld is spoken of as a transnational and transcultural space populated by nomadic figures. It can also be said to have fostered the production of art made anywhere, so long as it conforms to 'global' tastes. How should this complex domain be analyzed anthropologically?

Long Abstract

Since the 1960s the artworld has provided fertile territory for anthropological research because it encompasses physical spaces and institutions - galleries, museums, art fairs, the art market - as well as the individuals who visit and control them: artists, art dealers, critics, curators, collectors and viewers. However, most studies have yet to tackle the contemporary artworld: a world that has expanded enormously in the last two decades in terms of where it operates, the number of people it engages and the symbolic and economic capital that it generates.

How should we address these recent developments? Are new theories and methods required in order to analyse them anthropologically? How do local and global factors intersect in this highly fluid and networked terrain? The global artworld is now spoken of as a transnational and transcultural domain, traversed by the many nomadic figures who make, view, critique and purchase artworks. But it could also be said to have fostered the production of art made anywhere, so long as it conforms to 'global' tastes. Beneath the rhetoric of a new universal aesthetic, the artworld remains a space of inclusions and exclusions, hierarchies and asymmetries. Should it therefore be characterised as another of Augé's "non-places of super-modernity" or as a transcultural "contact zone" (Pratt, Clifford) and site of contestation? Since the ASA conference 2012 will be held in Delhi, one of the centres of the burgeoning contemporary artworld, we are keen to solicit papers focusing on Asia, but we also welcome contributions concerning other regions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Ephemeral but eternal traces of Asia in the artworld

Author: Fuyubi Nakamura (UBC Museum of Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on artists born in Asia who have moved between different countries and/or traditions. It explores how their fluency as 'cultural translators' in the global artworld is influenced by interactions between the dynamics of local and global, and of traditional and modern.

Long Abstract

Asian artists trained in the field of 'traditional' art—from Buddhist mural paintings to classical calligraphy—often struggle for recognition in the global artworld unless they incorporate 'modern' art elements into their work. At the same time, certain markers of 'ethnicity' or recognisable cultural icons—such as the Buddha or Asian scripts—have been common features in the artworks by internationally successful artists from Asia. This paper focuses on artists born in Asia who have moved between different countries and/or traditions, and explores how they have worked to deal with the issues of identity through and in their work. By reflecting on the experience of curating two exhibitions of works by artists with connections to Asia to different audiences in Argentina and Australia, the paper considers in what ways nomadic figures in the global artworld operate as 'cultural translators' who may act as local representatives and as transcultural agents. While competent in both source and target 'languages' of translation, the paper will examine how their fluency is influenced by movement and by interactions between the dynamics of local and global, and of traditional and modern.

Crossing the borders: Issues and input of a sociology of art perspective for a better understanding of artworks' transcultural circulation

Author: Leïla Baracchini (University of Basel)  email

Short Abstract

One of the main issues regarding an anthropology of contemporary art productions concerns the ability to take into account the intercultural viewpoints that are crossing it. Using the example of contemporary San art, this paper offers to study what heuristic contributions can bring the use of sociology of art.

Long Abstract

Since the last thirty years, the sociology of art, mainly in France, has highlighted the social context and the collective dimension of the artistic phenomenon. Using the concept of art worlds, sociologists, like H. Becker, R. Moulin or N. Heinich, have definitely drawn the attention to the multiple mediators involved in the art production. By asking "How art is made?", their analyses examine the processes and actors involved in the making of an high-art and also the social dimensions that organize the artistic work, like principles of justification or criteria for judgement.

At the intersection of different values systems, the mediators (art advisors, merchants, gallerists, printers and media) have a critical role as they are located in-between the artworks, the artists, the markets, the donors, and the public. As they condense the moment of circulation between two worlds, they also are at the middle of dialogical tensions between various cultural expectative. Thus, in which way the attention drawn to the work of the mediators helps to better understand the cultural negotiations and adjustments operating during the artwork's transition from the local communities to an international public? Using the example of a contemporary San art project located in Botswana, this paper aims to show how an analyse focused on the collective dimension at work in art making, viewing and purchasing is relevant to shed light on issues linked to the transcultural processes.

Modes of Marketing and Commercialisation in Contemporary Tibetan Art

Author: Regina Hoefer (Bonn University)  email

Short Abstract

The lecture analyses how contemporary Tibetan art is marketed and which aspects constitute its success or failure. Examples of galleries and artists come from China, Tibet and the Western diaspora.

Long Abstract

During the last few years contemporary Tibetan Art established on an international level and positioned itself within the global art discourse. This is mainly due to the exiled Tibetan artists living all over the world. Most of their work is figurative and follows traditional cultural and religious iconographies and pictorial conventions, i.e. Tibetan artists "translate" their own tradition into a "moderate" modern formal language.

For example Tibetan artist and Swiss resident Sonam Dolma, however, works abstractly and rejects ethnic elements. She perceives herself in the tradition of abstract expressionism and emphasizes her role as a modern universal artist, not as an exotic painter-Tibetan. Similar to her role model Mark Rothko her oeuvre features spiritual dimensions. She is very much influenced by the Buddhist concept of emptiness (Shunyata), which is embodied in the famous key sentence "Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form" of one of the most important Buddhist scriptures.

Is it for the "Un-Tibetaness" of her work that she is rarely exhibited and less successful on the art market? How is the "Buddhist appeal" of her work received? Other examples come from galleries in Beijing. How is Contemporary Tibetan art marketed there?

Articulating contemporary art in Iran: A view from two places

Author: Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi (NYU)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I outline some preliminary themes explored through discussion with two contemporary art spaces inside Iran.

Long Abstract

The art of Iran - and the Middle East more generally - has been making a steady impact on the contemporary art market, even while the region remains the focus of extreme political tensions both internally and internationally. Despite a repressive state that interferes not only in formal politics but in cultural expression more broadly, contemporary Iranian art reveals a plurality of images and styles and a growing recognition on the international stage (Brown & Hoole, 2001). In this paper I explore the possibilities of articulating contemporary art Iranian art. I focus on the practices of two art spaces in Tehran- one a project space, focused on performance and socially engaged arts practice, and the second a gallery exclusively dedicated to photography. Examining the transnational flows or artworks and art workers, I explore the ways in which these two spaces provide opportunity for artistic practice and dialogue inside Iran and the ways in which this is articulated in contexts outside of Iran both via digital and physical connections. It is at the point that I shall articulate the tensions around negotiating contemporaneity which is locatable in a variety of spaces and in a variety of artistic forms. I also explore the methodological implications this has an anthropological study of a multi-sited, unbounded field.

Trouble in Shangri-La: Tibetan Artists' Travels in the Global Contemporary Artworld

Author: Clare Harris (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the panel theme by examining a recent entry in the international artworld: ‘Tibetan Contemporary Art’. It questions the rhetoric of ‘global’ contemporary art and investigates how the logic of particular artworld locations can be negotiated – or not.

Long Abstract

Like Shangri-La, the global contemporary artworld is often imagined as a utopia where artists are free to circulate and nationhood and ethnicity are irrelevant. However, this short paper will argue that it is actually a rather difficult place to inhabit for a group of contemporary Tibetan artists. Although the contemporary artworld has sometimes seemed to offer them an escape from the strictures of their home locations and an arena in which to unite when geopolitics otherwise divides them, transnational Tibetan artists have found that the artworld can be a challenging environment with invisible boundary markers and unstated criteria for inclusion and exclusion. As their experiences of participating in a number of international exhibitions reveals, it may not always be a paradise.

Anish Kapoor and his interpreters

Author: Denis Vidal (IRD/Paris Diderot/EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

taking as a case study Anish Kapoor and his work, I will show how the figure of the 'great artist' and of the 'universal artist', may-be redefined and sustained in the contemporary world, sometimes with the help of the very people that one rather associates with the critique of such categories.

Long Abstract

Anish Kapoor and his interpreters

Denis Vidal

The artwork of Anish Kapoor has attracted a lot of attention almost from the start, not only from the general public, but also from art critics, museum curators and well-known intellectuals all over the world. By analysing the nature of the relationship that Anish Kapoor has developed with his interpreters over the years- both through his art works and through his writing - I will explore the nature of the contradictory demands and expectations made on contemporary artists in the global art world today, especially when they happen to come from a country like India. The study of the answers that an artist like him gives to such demands helps us to understand from an anthropological perspective, how in spite of well developed critiques of the stereotypes linked to the figures of the "great artist » or of "the universal artist", such a figure may be redefined and sustained in the contemporary world, often with the help of the very people that one rather associates with the critique of such categories .

India's contemporary art on global highways

Author: Cathrine Bublatzky (Heidelberg University)  email

Short Abstract

International survey exhibitions on contemporary art from India importantly shape the global mobility of agents and art objects in the international art world. With a focus on the ‘Indian Highway exhibition’, this paper will discuss the symbolic dimension of this mobility and asks how Anthropologists can approach the field of contemporary art and the museum as a space of transcultural encounter.

Long Abstract

Due to new economic and personal cooperation the mobility of artists, curators and art objects in the global art world grows tremendously and includes an increasing number of upcoming art centers across the world.

International survey exhibitions on contemporary art from India like the travelling exhibition 'Indian Highway' (2008 - 2013) importantly shapes these global dynamics of circulation. These provoke complex encounters between agents from various regions and with different backgrounds and contribute to discourses on meaning, value and definition of contemporary art from India.

Presuming that these encounters are producing such a symbolic dimension of mobility in the art world (Rodriguez 2007), I want to elaborate on the question how and why 'Indian Highway' defines an interesting research field for Anthropologists. Therefore, this paper will apply the methodological approach of multi-sited ethnography (George E Marcus 1995; Falzon 2009) to the theoretical challenge of analysing the museum as public site where definitions of cultures and their values are permanently contested. Taking the museum and thus the exhibition 'Indian Highway' not as a static knowledge-fabric, the moment of transcultural encounter (with Manson 2006) shall be elaborated on in order to critically reflect on both the museum as a contact zone (after James Clifford 1997) as well as on the research method of multi-sited ethnography.

Translocal art worlds in times of medialisation: India's contemporary art world in transition.

Author: Jamila Adeli (Humboldt-University Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

To empirically study and theorize the deterritorialization and decentralization of the contemporary global art world, the recent changes have to be tackled from a local perspective. The contemporary Indian art world has become translocal and thus apt to investigate the impacts of globalization, liberalization and medialisation, and vice versa.

Long Abstract

The current global art world witnesses a shift from the "old" Euro-American art centres to the "new" art centres in the MENASA region and in East Asia that have emerged since the 1990s and led to an era of contemporary art that transgresses not only territories and forms new central hubs but moreover seems to initiate a paradigm shift toward a "post-hegemonial, post-ethnic and post-Western" (Belting) notion of global art.

In order to empirically study and theorize the deterritorialization and decentralization of the contemporary global art world, I argue that recent changes of the global art world have to be tackled from a local perspective. As a network of local and global links among participants of art production, distribution, perception and consumption, I consider the booming contemporary Indian art world in a state of translocality (Freitag, von Oppen) and hence an apt research field to investigate the impacts of globalization, liberalization and medialization on the contemporary Indian art scene, and vice versa.

In observing the recent developments of the current art world in India, I firstly state a structural change towards a differentiated, translocal art world, thereby reflecting a new part of Indian society. Based on the assumption that the media is (a) an important player of the Indian art world and (b) a meaning maker within the framework of reputation building processes for contemporary art, I secondly regard the Indian art world as currently being in a state of its emerging medialisation.

Art's Global Stage: Critical Paradigms

Author: Saloni Mathur (UCLA)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the intellectual challenges of the turn towards "the global" in contemporary art for the interdisciplinary practices of art history and anthropology.

Long Abstract

Does the turn towards "the global" in contemporary art represent another fashionable art world trend, or does it signal a more substantive development with intellectual implications for anthropology and art history? This problem serves as a point of departure for my paper, which will investigate the conditions of display of modern and contemporary art in several emerging mega-museum projects in South Asia and the Arab world, with particular attention to developments in Abu-Dhabi. What kinds of challenges do such projects entail for art historical and anthropological practice in the region? And what can be gained through an anthropological engagement with some of the museum's more spectacular forms?

Art Festivals as Laboratories of the Postcolonial Predicament in Africa

Author: Tobias Wendl (Free University Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

As part and parcel of a transnationally connected postcolonial culture industry, art festivals have played a crucial role in shaping identities in the fabric of local and global cultural flows and in negotiating the contradictions of colonial pasts and a postcolonial present. The festivals under study in my paper include FESMAN (Dakar 1966), PANAF (Algiers 1969) FESTAC (Lagos 1977) the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1997) and the 1st Luanda Trienal (2006).

Long Abstract

Art Festivals as Laboratories of the Postcolonial Predicament in Africa

As part and parcel of a transnationally connected postcolonial culture industry, art festivals have played a crucial role in shaping identities in the fabric of local and global cultural flows and in negotiating the contradictions of colonial pasts and a postcolonial present. My paper attempts to explore the cultural dynamics of art festivals as laboratories for the production of identity discourses and their potential in de-centering Western narratives of modernity in a globalized art world. The festivals under study include FESMAN (Dakar 1966), PANAF (Algiers 1969) FESTAC (Lagos 1977) the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1997) and the 1st Luanda Trienal (2006). As a rule, all festivals were staged a few years after turning points or decisive moments in history (Independence in Senegal and Algeria (1960 and 1962), the oil boom in Nigeria after the civil war (1970), the fall of Apartheid in South Africa (1994) and the economic miracle in Angola after the peace agreement in 2002. Despite their transnational ambition and pan-African rhetoric, each of them had strong national undercurrents and served as a powerful means of post-colonial nation-branding. In addition, all festivals implicitly addressed issues of history and turned into battlegrounds for African postcolonial identity politics, oscillating between an Internationalist/globalist orientation and resistance from those keen to emphasize essentialisms and 'Africaness'.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.