Introduction For a long time, art museums seemed to have been born with a secure identity safeguarded by their designation to exhibit art and even to provide art with the necessary ritual of visibility. Yet now, as we embark upon the global age, they face a new challenge. It remains to be seen whether the art museum, as an institution with a history looking back at least two hundred years in the West, is prepared for the age of globalization. There is no common notion of art that necessarily applies to all societies around the world.
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Introduction For a long time, art museums seemed to have been born with a secure identity safeguarded by their designation to exhibit art and even to provide art with the necessary ritual of visibility. Yet now, as we embark upon the global age, they face a new challenge.
It remains to be seen whether the art museum, as an institution with a history looking back at least two hundred years in the West, is prepared for the age of globalization. There is no common notion of art that necessarily applies to all societies around the world. Contemporary art, which is what I will concentrate on in what follows, raises new and difficult questions.
On the one hand, art production as a contemporary practice is expanding around the globe. On the other hand, precisely this recent explosion seems to threaten the survival of any safe notion of art, provided one still exists even in the West. Granted, new art museums have been established in many parts of the world: But will the institution survive this expansion?
The presence of non-Western contemporary art in biennials and private collections is not a clear indication of whether its institutionalization in permanent and public collections will follow or whether, on the contrary, the new art production will undermine the profile of the museum. In other parts of the world, art museums either lack any history or are suffering from the history of colonialization.
In short, I will analyze the museum in the light of a branch of contemporary art that I call global art. Let me, however, briefly mention the occasion for which I first prepared this paper. The answer is readily available from historical arguments. The Vatican, as a whole, is a living institution and, at the same time, a museum. It is a museum that holds collections and that also serves as a site of memory. But the issue, nevertheless, deserves a closer look. The sculptures of ancient gods in the collection were no longer identified as pagan, but instead, were redefined as works of art.
It was necessary for the collected items to have first gone out of use in order to acquire the status of art, which, in turn, relied on their museum status.
Before leaving the Vatican, let me look at the same phenomenon from another angle. Outside the museum doors, the Church favored the living veneration of holy images that never entered the category of art. They were looked at with the eyes of faith but did not require a taste for art. But the Church, it appears, has rediscovered the need to visualize its practice with a new emphasis on images. In the West, where Reformation and Counter-Reformation have left the process of modernization with dark memories and also fears, even art is being reconsidered as a new ally to mobilize the faithful.
But I doubt that this is a wise choice. In fact, the Church is currently experiencing the pressure of mass media whose visual presence in everyday life has changed the world. The former Pope has brilliantly served this tele-presence by instrumentalizing his own icon: But this process is irreversible.
Films have already proven to be strong forces in global missionary projects, mostly in U. Marshall McLuhan, the prophet of the Media Age, was a faithful Catholic who dreamed of the end of the Gutenberg Galaxy, understood as a Reformation heritage, and proclaimed the rise of a new media culture in the spirit of an all-embracing, and visual, ecumenical departure.
And the museum, to which I now come back, is certainly at the other end of the road. Ethnic arts In order to pursue my main topic, allow me to now make a dangerous move and link the dichotomy of living practice and museum presence that we have encountered in the Catholic Church to the ominous destiny of the so-called ethnic arts.
They served ethnic rituals, which, in many ways, can be regarded as indigenous religions. It is well known that the theft of such items, which ended up in Western collections, together with the missionary zeal of the colonizers, eradicated living religions.
The museum thus became a threat for the survival of whole cultures, and the art world appropriated the material culture of many religions. Even in their countries of origin, ethnic artifacts looked strange and misused when they entered colonial type museums. The problem, moreover, was the clash with memorial strategies of the West, which resulted in reification and objecthood while indigenous memory could survive only in living performance.
It is, however, not at all certain that local audiences would want to have back museums that were not their concern in the first place. Also in the West, where ethnic arts were introduced as a foreign currency of art, the museum question became an issue of endless controversy. Two types of museums soon testified against each other.
The question remained open whether a beautiful mask should enter an ethnographic museum or an art museum. After its opening, the topography of memory was neatly distributed over distinct institutions in Paris. The Louvre owns those antiquities, including Egyptian, which the French regard as their own heritage, but the new Islamic department opens a window to a larger world.
This place of the new museum in a colonial map, a map in the brain, is confirmed by an absence that nobody seems to notice. I am speaking of the absence of contemporary art from those parts of the world where the artifacts of colonial and pre-colonial times were produced. This absence has many reasons among which the resistance of indigenous contemporary artists to be classified as ethnic is one of the best.
Nevertheless, it marks a gap that reveals a global problem in the art scene. I would venture to argue that contemporary art, in a global context, invades the place of former ethnic production.
This argument needs to be shielded from many possible misunderstandings. I am not saying that ethnic production simply continues in what we currently accept as art. Rather, a gap opens between such indigenous traditions that are exhausted and interrupted, and, on the other hand, something else that still needs definition and, as yet, has usually not entered museums: contemporary non-Western art. Contemporary Art Why do I select a phenomenon that is still not a serious concern for the majority of art museums today?
And how does current contemporary art differ from contemporary art twenty years ago? We have witnessed a lot of redefinitions of art production in the last five decades. There was the great rebellion in the s, which some understand as the rise of a second modernity. In a next step, we saw the introduction of new media such as video installation and so on. At least, nothing of similar importance in terms of its impact on the market is present in the West.
Take only the Chinese invasion and its hot acclamation by Western collectors. In order to analyze the significance of this phenomenon, let me device a map of ideas and terms to which it relates in often contradictory ways.
There is the ambivalent history of modernism, which nowadays meets with resistance or open opposition. Artists, more often than not, struggle to retrieve the hegemonic claims of this Western heritage, the latter being an unwelcome burden for latecomers who cannot situate themselves anywhere in the history of modernism.
Some seek an exit from this heritage or search for alternative genealogies that offer possible definitions. Modernism often functioned as a barrier protecting Western art from contamination by ethnic or popular art, and it marginalized local production as unprofessional.
In response, non-Western art sometimes acted with an antithesis to the claim of universalism that was inherent in modernism. Modernism, as an idea, claimed to be of universal authority and thereby, in fact, exerted colonial power. Modernist art is best described as avant-garde art reflecting the idea of linear progress, conquest, and novelty, thus testifying against its own culture as a dead and unwelcome past.
Avant-garde, which as we should note was originally a military term, made it possible to measure progress and innovation within the art context. It is therefore not possible to simply transfer them to other cultures without a loss of meaning. Art history and ethnology were like two sides of the same coin.
Let me now introduce contemporary art, a term that still causes a lot of confusion as it is traditionally identified with the most recent production of modern art, at least in the West where this chronological or avant-garde distinction resisted even postmodern notions and remained valid until quite recently.
Yet beyond the West, contemporary art has a very different meaning that is slowly also seeping into the Western art scene. In such terms, it offers revolt against both art history, with its Western-based meaning, and against ethnic traditions, which seem like prisons for local culture in a global world.
There are reasons behind this double resistance that deserve our attention. On the one hand, there was no art history in most parts of the world; therefore, it could not be appropriated like a ready-made. On the other hand, ethnic arts and crafts, as the favorite child of colonial teachers and collectors, no longer continue as a living tradition even if they survive as a commodity for global tourism.
It seems that the history of art, for Western artists, has been felt as a similar burden as what ethnic tradition, for non-Western artists has meant. I also do not say that history only exists in the West and tradition only in other parts of the worlds.
But the two labels have played a considerable role in building up a specific consciousness. In both respects, a new situation has arrived. It therefore makes sense that contemporary art, in many cases, is understood as synonymous with global art. It might even appear as a past that is linked to the West, like other cultures view their own local pasts.
We have now reached a stage in our analysis where the concepts of modern or modernism , contemporary, and global become relevant for museums, especially newly founded ones in non-Western parts of the world that have to represent such issues both by their collection and for a local audience.
They are in a different situation than art fairs such as biennials, which are organized by individual curators, address individual collectors, and underlie the laws of the market, and are ephemeral events that can contradict any preceding exhibition without having to explain the change in direction. Museums, on the contrary, in principle, have to justify their collections and represent ideas that are broader than mere personal taste. Since they are official institutions, they are also subjected to public pressure, and must rely on support from funding authorities.
They must therefore offer a program which, in this case, clarifies the constellation and local meaning of modern, contemporary, and global. The Museum of Modern Art MoMA is an obvious choice since it created the canon of modernist art some seventy years ago. It recently discovered its own past when it reopened its galleries in Modernism had meanwhile become a myth.
The former was located in Europe, when making its appearance in an American museum. The latter came into being only in the U. The MoMA was intended as both a universal and an American museum. One floor was reserved for European modernism while the other floor, with few exceptions, presented American modernism. During the renovation period, a large part of the collection had been sent to Berlin where it became one of the greatest exhibition events ever to happen in Germany.
This visit only confirmed the myth of the museum and the sacralization of modernism as a classical canon. In New York, the museum succumbed to the temptation to perform the history of the house and display its myth. The officials were well aware that they did, in a way, musealize their museum. A contemporary question. Contemporary art had always played a critical role in the acquisition politics of the house yet quite soon the gap emerging between modern and contemporary could no longer be closed.
I will now follow another line in my chronicle that allows us to remain in the same institution. It was The Family of Man, which would then travel around the globe.
Taramar With Art History after ModernismBelting retains his place as one of the most original thinkers working in the visual arts today. Art in the Historical Present New York. The University of Chicago Press,esp. Read, highlight, and take notes, across web, tablet, and phone. Forty-eight black and white images illustrate the text, perfectly reflecting the state of contemporary art.
Hans Belting: Contemporary Art and the Museum in the Global Age
Art History after Modernism
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