ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012

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.

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 It was then that “global art” superseded the term “world art” to designate an area of contemporary art production that had previously not been represented in art discourse at all.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.

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.

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.