Die Ausstellung: The Global Contemporary

Cover der Publikation »Contemporary Art and the Museum«

September 17, 2011 – February 05, 2012

Globalization as a phase in the geo-political transformation of the world is at once a transformation of art – of the conditions of its production, and possibilities of its diffusion and dissemination and presence. At the same time, artists, and above all the institutions of art, are faced with the questions as to the extent to which the concept global can and must be thought – and how this reflects back on its own methods of working. By means of artistic approaches and documentary materials, the exhibition The Global Contemporary. Art Worlds After 1989 examines the way in which globalization, both with its pervasive mechanisms of the market and its utopias of networking and generosity, impacts upon the various spheres of artistic production and reception.

The critical analysis of the key institutions and dispositives of the art world seeks to illustrate the manner in which globalization has both shaped and itself become a theme in artistic production that intentionally creates and reviews its own conditions and parameters. With The Global Contemporary. Art Worlds after 1989 the ZKM | Karlsruhe, as a utopian factory and work place in the best sense of the meaning, itself plans to thematize these conditions, which also influence everyday life beyond the art world: to make the museum itself a site of contemporaneity – a place in which local experiences of time subvert the unity of the new universal time. At the same time, one of the integral aspects of the exhibition is its self-reflective dimension. In a specially organized artist-in-residence program more than twelve international artists discuss the issues surrounding the project, and help to throw critical light on the exhibition’s concepts. This critical discussion will take place in the studio inside the exhibition space in which visitors, mediators and artists realize artistic-educative projects, workshops and temporary presentations, and thus together help shape and co-author. Lastly, the critical, scholarly discourse initiated at the inception of the research project Global Art and the Museum (GAM) will be pursued throughout the course of the exhibition before being published in a comprehensive catalog.


Exhibition Themes

Any attempt to grasp the process of globalization in its entirety can only display a snap-shot of a momentary condition. In order to adequately make allowance for this, The Global Contemporary will pinpoint several thematic aspects that must be understood as temporary glimpses of a whole that is constantly in flux – and that allow the perspective from which these views originate to become open for discussion.


Room of Histories. A Documentation

The five sections of the Room of Histories documentation (plus the panoramic video trans_actions: The Accelerated Art World 1989-2011) attempt to visualize the chronology and the geographic dissemination of global art production. The resulting genealogy cannot be integrated in any older model of straight art history; other forms of narration are required, that also cover the geopolitical situation of art in all its facets. A plurality of narratives or histories is characteristic of the current discourse. Thus, the representability of today’s art actually reveals itself as the representability of various art worlds (biennials, museums, markets), which are as much the focus as the art itself.

Documents. 1989 and the Global Turn

A timeline with key information for the year 1989 demonstrates that this year played a crucial role in the history of globalization. In the art field the global turn is manifested in much discussed —and also much criticized — exhibitions whose significance only became apparent in subsequent years. In the wake of these events, curators became the agents who paved the way for an era in which art is no longer defined by the Western mainstream model. Today, more than twenty years later, the Magiciens de la terre exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris can be identified as a key event for everything that followed. Most of the terms with which globalization is articulated today also date from around 1989. It was then that “global art” superseded the term “world art” to designate an area of contemporary art production that had previously not been represented in art discourse at all.

Art Spaces. A Museum Landscape in Transformation

The ZKM requested seventeen museums, which are presented on the website of the GAM project, to provide image and text material visualizing alternative art spaces which link new ideas with the old concept of the “museum” and/or were conceptualized for local art production. This brings into view the profound change in how art institutions are understood that was initiated in the last century with the introduction of the concept of the museum of contemporary art (MOCA). The very look of such art spaces, including artists-run or community museums, offers an opportunity to rediscover the current function of the art museum in other cultures. The so-called Cultural District, like the one built in Abu Dhabi or the one planned for Hong Kong, provides an economic incentive to establish museums in places where they offer a cosmopolitan audience cultural attractions alongside entertainment and shopping.

Rasheed Araeen, The Reading Room, 1979–2011

The Reading Room introduces exhibition visitors to the art magazine Third Text, which is rarely available in German libraries. Third Text was founded in London in 1987 by the artist Rasheed Araeen. As the editor of this journal, which initially offered a “Third World” perspective (the magazine’s subtitle was Third World Perspectives on Contemporary Art & Culture), Araeen has had an enduring influence on the global discourse and has created a forum for writers who were previously excluded by the Western art scene. In its Special Issues the magazine, of which more than a hundred numbers have been published to date, presents a rich spectrum of today’s art world. With its “critical perspective,” to which the subtitle used since 1999 refers (Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Art & Culture), the journal also puts questions about art’s future tasks up for discussion. The exhibition space at the ZKM was designed by Araeen to show that taking charge of the intellectual practice of steering the discourse on art is in itself a new form of artistic practice.

Mapping. The Geography of Art Biennials

Globalization has created a new world map of art, where the borders are still very much in flux. After the binary model of center (“Western Art”) and periphery was abandoned, there followed the hectic “mapping” of a polycentric world articulated in supranational “art regions.” The biennials that have proliferated across the globe serve as the relay stations in a cartography unprecedented in the modern era. Contemporary art as geopolitical representation is expressed, for example, in the proclamation of “Asia-Pacific Art,” an art region that reflects Australia’s cultural reorientation, or in “Contemparabia,” the cultural tour of biennials and museums in the Gulf region. The expansion of the biennial system has given rise to a network of institutions and curators who seek cultural identity in regional art in order to gain global recognition for it.

Branding. New Art Markets and Their Strategies

The most powerful expression of the globalization of art is the strategy of large auction houses of marketing contemporary art in geographic units (Chinese, Indian, Arab, and Iranian Art) and thereby reaching a clientele that previously did not buy art. In the meantime, the Chinese art market has increased enormously, exceeding the market share of most European countries, and with the sensational prices it commands has caught up with Western art’s leading position. The interaction of the financial markets with the art market demonstrates that art has been transformed into a speculative commodity for the luxury goods industry, which has also become the subject of a new branch of nonfiction literature. As not only art fairs but also biennials are now entering the network of the market, the cultural distance to a concept of art that is still regarded in any way as exclusive is growing rapidly. At the same time, however, the market plays a central role in the development of new art regions and in the public presence of artists from cultures remote from the art world.

trans_actions: The Accelerated Art World 1989–2011, 2011

Stewart Smith, Robert Gerard Pietrusko, and Bernd Lintermann

The ZKM | Institute for Visual Media, in cooperation with the GAM project team, has for the first time commissioned a work that depicts the dynamic temporal and spatial development of the biennial system and the global art markets in a cinematic projection on the PanoramaScreen. A wealth of statistical data (places, prices, the presence of artists, and the career itinerary of curators) was processed in such a way that it could be visualized. Clare McAndrew, an international expert on the art market, participated in this project along with a research group working on the GAM project, and they evaluated the extensive material available at the ZKM (some two hundred biennial catalogs) and established contacts to various biennial organizations. The visualization of this data on the PanoramaScreen conveys a direct impression of the process of globalization that can be followed year by year. At the same time it presents a picture of the dense network that these newly established art worlds have spanned across the globe.


World Time. The World as Transit Zone

With the works of art exhibited here, the first section simulates the utopia of a world united in time and space and at the same time the resistance of reality. An apt metaphor for this is the airport. The transit zone of an airport is a place where one neither remains nor arrives, but briefly stops before flying onwards. World time has mapped space, whereas air travel has blurred its boundaries in time. The artists’ group Raqs Media Collective finds in personal experience an impressive representation of the collision of time and space. As indicated in a commentary on their work Escapement (2009), the contemporary generation of artists finds itself “in a state of permanent jetlag, in which we easily fall out of time.” Contemporaneity harbors “the simultaneity of very different ways of life.” With his installation Centro di Permanenza Temporanea (2007), an abandoned gangway on which asylum seekers are left behind, helpless, Adrian Paci develops – much like Hito Steyerl in her video In Free Fall (2010) about an airport cemetery – the topos of the airport as an imaginary, and yet painfully real place of globalization. Artists not only concurrently pursue their projects in several places, either online or in several studios, but also, as Ni Haifeng’s installation Para Production (2008) demonstrates, conceive and produce their projects in various regions of the world. This practice testifies to a new state of affairs that characterizes the art trade in the global era.

Life Worlds and Image Worlds

The artists whose works are shown in this section react to the experience of the omnipresence of the mass media in the global world. By assimilating the boundary-transgressing visual consumption of popular culture into their repertoire of motifs, they allude, for example, to various film cultures such as Hollywood, Nollywood, and Bollywood, each of which speaks to their respective local audiences while at the same time drawing on a changing repertoire of clichés that circulate globally. This results in collective image worlds; these cross borders and connect different life worlds to one another – often simply by altering the ethnic types or local narrations. It is just this ongoing process of rewriting the same images which is addressed by those artists represented in this section. Anna Jermolaewa’s photographs from her Kremlin Doppelgänger series (2008–2009) show that even the real world of places is fictionalized, as demonstrated by a replica of the Kremlin built as a vacation spot in Turkey that can be photographed as such although it is not the Kremlin. On closer inspection, uniforms and national symbols and even stock market news all turn out to be visual languages. So every slight shift in a given context shows just how blurred the border is that runs between image worlds and so-called life worlds. To paraphrase Édouard Glissant, the imagination transforms real worlds into “imaginaries,” that is, into worlds of collective ideas.

“World Art.” The Curiosity Cabinet from a Postcolonial Perspective

Before the global age “world art” was a colonial term denoting artifacts produced by “the Others,” which were exhibited in ethnographic museums as if in a new kind of curiosity cabinet. In the postcolonial era, in which established traditions are everywhere crumbling, such collections find themselves in a state of crisis. Moreover, they are often criticized from outside when contemporary artists analyze the collections of their colonialized ancestors. In a gesture in which they make the self an object of the exotic, they display their own bodies as items for collection or pillory the restoration of old exotic artifacts as a different form of plastic surgery. But even the successful rewriting of indigenous symbolic languages (in this case that of the aborigines) into an “art” conforming to market requirements is openly condemned by Richard Bell as “a white thing.” In his work Hidden Prisoner (1993), the Iraq-born photographer Halim Al-Karim takes ancient Oriental portraits that watch him in the museum and morphs them in order to express his disapproval of the fact that he encounters his cultural ancestors there. The works presented in this section show that the old organizational term “world art” always served modern interest and is rejected for this reason in the field of postcolonial art production.

Boundary Matters. The Concept of Art in Modernity

As the exhibition Inklusion/Exklusion curated by Peter Weibel addressed in 1996 (steirischer herbst, Graz), Global art production raises the question as to the course of the new boundaries of a concept of art, which, in modernity, erected a wall around the Western art scene. This prehistory also offers a very tangible explanation to the exclusion of the outsiders who could not demonstrate a “hereditary right” to be recognized as artists. Because many artists living in the diaspora have anyway been trained in the West, the course taken by the boundary also shifted between institutionally protected art and traditional, or folk art practices, that had previously been left out. Several works in this section expose art history as a fiction, which is tied to a specific audience whereas, with a different public, it might as well amount to nothing. In his work Omission (2009), Liu Ding similarly integrates his own art scene into his ironic analysis of dubious historical constructs. In the works of Zander Blom, reproductions from art books serve as models for arbitrary three-dimensional reproductions documented in photographs, since this was the only way he could approach European art history. Nusra Latif Qureshi’s morphing of faces in her work Did you come here to find history (2009) casts doubt on whether it is possible to find one’s identity in the medium of cultural representation and by means of art. This section is thus an encounter of very different border crossers seeking an art beyond any shared concept of art.

Networks and Systems. Globalization as Subject

In this section, networks commonly made up of collaborating artists of different nationality confront systems that have established new power structures in the global world. Pinky Show and RYBN, to name two of the artists’ groups represented here, have committed themselves to the task of exposing the global play of forces, or manipulating the mechanisms of the stock market with bots. It is with an apparent sense of irony that with her installation on free trade within the G8 countries The Greater G8 Advertising Market Stand (2007–2009), the artist Anawana Haloba invites viewers to participate in an interaction without consequences. The three artists of The Xijing Men collective proclaim a fictional artists’ state with Olympic flags in their work Xijing Olympics (2008). Cynical games such as Tadej Pogačar’s MonApoly, A Human Trade Game (2004) make the viewer a player in an abstract planning game on the subject of human trafficking. The artists’ group Ghana ThinkTank exposes in its works the absurd solutions which are demanded as part of Western aid to developing countries when they ignore or manipulate their local partners. In such projects, the artists use similarly subversive methods for analyzing the system, not infrequently using the metaphor of a story line as mask. Such art production is global to the extent that this is its theme. Across the borders of today’s systems, artists feel challenged as contemporaries to react critically to the growing problems of globalization.

Art as Commodity. The New Economy and the Art Markets

Nowhere is globalization so glaringly evident as a turning point for art as can be witnessed in the art markets. While globalization disregards the established geographic borders of the art trade, the new economy has produced a global clientele of billionaires who, as collectors, no longer have affinities to a specific cultural standard. They above all collect contemporary art – far more than modern and older art – which is produced globally. Hong Kong, which has meanwhile formed a network with Art Basel, and Beijing, is replacing New York and London in the pecking order of trading centers. This new state of affairs is mirrored in an art that reflects on its own market conditions. It is no longer critical of the market in the old sense, but rather self-critical in a fatalistic or ironic sense. Today, the market can no longer be observed from outside as a subject. This becomes evident in this section among those works which analyze the fiction behind real market prices. Prada Marfa (2005) by Elmgreen & Dragset, a sealed store in the New Mexico desert, was shown in New York, in 2007 at the exhibition The Price of Everything … Perspectives on the Art Market. Liu Ding’s Store (2008 ongoing) invites us to discuss the value system represented by art, and undermines the exhibition by offering “unfinished paintings” for sale, which have merely been signed by the artist. In an ironic refraction, the Chinese market is reflected in the exterior views of Gabriele di Matteo’s China Made in Italy (2008) and in Navin Rawanchaikul’s SUPER CHINA! (2009). The American artist Josh Greene took a different path by inviting the Chinese artist Yangzi as a co-producer of his work Red/Greene (2011) and to join a process whereby all those solid contours that assume the commodity value of art as a precondition dissolve.

Lost in Translation. New Biographies of Artists

The artists in this section also speak out for their own interests by writing about their life stories, or by articulating the artistic self that has made them nomads in various art worlds. This reinforces the tendency to adopt fictional identities for the purposes of reacting by role-play to every new context in which they become artists. Self-representation is no longer a portrait in the former sense of the meaning, but rather the performance of roles played for a specific audience. This already begins with the international artist-in-residence programs, which subject artists to various expectations. These residencies themselves are the subject of works by Nezaket Ekici (Work in Progress – Personal Map, 2008 ongoing) and by Tamy Ben-Tor that parody their experiences in the international art world in a two-day performance and in video works. In Drop the Monkey (2009), Guy Ben-Ner interviews himself by telephone. Moshekwa Langa presents a diary with a long list of names. The artist’s existence is above all a question of translation, or rather of untranslatability every time the audience changes. The title of Mladen Stilinović’s An artist who cannot speak English is no artist of 1994, offers a cryptic pseudo-solution. The problem of how to make artistic projects comprehensible to a heterogeneous public cannot be solved by explanations in a global colloquial language.



Curators: Peter Weibel, Andrea Buddensieg
Co-Curators: Jacob Birken, Antonia Marten
Curatorial Committee: N’Goné Fall (FR/SN), Carol Lu (CN), Jim Supangkat (ID), Patrick D. Flores (PH)
Curator of Education: Henrike Plegge
Scientific adviser: Hans Belting
Exhibition Architecture: Kuehn Malvezzi with Samuel Korn

Participating artists (et al.):

Bani Abidi, AES Group, Halim Al-Karim, Halil Altindere, Francis Alÿs, Rasheed Araeen, Kader Attia, Yto Barrada, Richard Bell, Guy Ben-Ner, Tamy Ben-Tor, Ursula Biemann, Michael Bielicky & Kamila B. Richter, Zander Blom, Santiago Borja, Luchezar Boyadjiev, Ondrej Brody & Kristofer Paetau, Erik Bünger, Roberto Cabot, Anetta Mona Chisa & Lucia Tkacova, Chto delat?, Mansour Ciss Kanakassy & Baruch Gottlieb & Christian Hanussek, Com&Com, Minerva Cuevas, Neil Cummings & Marysia Lewandowska, Pauline Curnier Jardin, Manthia Diawara, Ala Ebtekar, Nezaket Ekici, Yara El-Sherbini, Elmgreen & Dragset, Erika & Javier, Doug Fishbone, Brendan Fernandes, Meschac Gaba, Thierry Geoffroy/Colonel, Ghana ThinkTank, Matthias Gommel, Josh Greene with Yangzi, Anawana Haloba, Hong Hao, IRWIN and NSKSTATE.COM, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Mona Hatoum, Antonia Hirsch, Pieter Hugo, Ashley Hunt, Melanie Jackson, David Jablonowski, Christian Jankowski, Anna Jermolaewa, Jin Shi, Cai Yuan & Jian Jun Xi, Jompet, Martin Kippenberger, Agung Kurniawan, Surasi Kusolwong, Will Kwan, Moshekwa Langa, Ben Lewis, Liu Ding, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, James Luna, Pooneh Maghazehe, Tirzo Martha, Gabriele di Matteo, Miao Xiaochun, Mirza/Butler, Nástio Mosquito, Krisna Murti, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, Ni Haifeng, Eko Nugroho, Mattias Olofsson, Adrian Paci, Leila Pazooki, Pavel Pepperstein, Pinky Show, Tadej Pogacar, Elodie Pong, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Raqs Media Collective, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Navin Rawanchaikul, RYBN.ORG, Ho-Yeol Ryu, Ruth Sacks, Chéri Samba, John Smith, Stewart Smith & Robert Gerard Pietrusko & Bernd Lintermann, Sean Snyder, Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau, SOSka group, Michael Stevenson, Hito Steyerl, Mladen Stilinovic, Jens M. Stober, Jim Supangkat, SUPERFLEX, Stephanie Syjuco, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Tintin Wulia, The Xijing Men, Xu Bing, Zhou Tiehai