Globalization has entered the mainstream lexicon of 21st century with an assuredness of belonging that few other words or ideas can share. Though the word has become integral to the understanding of almost all spheres of human life and systemization – economics, art, culture, anthropology, social sciences, scholarship, technology and more, paradoxically, it remains nebulous in its definition. Thus the book Globalization and Contemporary Art published only recently this year is already making news and is being touted as the decisive publication for the understanding of visual art in terms of production and consumption within the indeterminate structure of globalization.
The book, edited by Jonathan Harris comprises 33 essays contributed by scholars and researchers from across the world thus fulfilling the mandate of the idea of globalization from the get-go. Acknowledging that the term ‘remains uncertain’ Harris creates a space for it as being ‘best understood and most useful as an heuristic –“trial and error”—analytic construct’. Harris states that since it is a given that art is not produced in isolation and requires the framework of social history to be formed and comprehended, the writers were challenged to look outside established parameters and discover how ‘agents, institutions, and products may now function within a single global system that transcends both national boundaries and regional or continental systems of interaction between peoples and nations which have existed for thousands of years’. Interestingly, Harris reminds us that while we may accept the imprecision of the term globalization, we tend to overlook the same condition for the term contemporary. He says, “Contemporary” like “globalization” itself, has no finally secure single sense: it merges inevitably into “recent” then “postmodern” and then back to “modern” itself. Its meanings are sometimes deemed a matter of style, or of choice of medium, or working situation (e.g., studio. “site-specific”, “relational aesthetic”.
Harris divides the book into seven sections that he feels significantly affect the discourse on contemporary art and present practical methods to analyze the production, while offering new and pragmatic evidence to support the ideas. The divisions are titled Institutions, Formations, Means and Forces of Production, Identifications, Forms, Reproduction and Organization. The first section deals with the tensions created between the producers of art and the institutions that promote the work like museums, galleries and biennales, although he points out that since artists are curating more and more shows, the boundaries have become somewhat blurred. Harris refers to it collectively as the ‘Euro-North American global art institutional network’ from which many artists have struggled to keep their distance, preferring local and smaller communities of within which to show the manifestations of their ideas’.
In the segment called Formations Harris brings together essays that speak of localized groupings of artists who broke from convention and tradition and though these belonged to specific contexts, they had global implications. Means and Forces of Production Harris explains, constitutes ‘the resources – material and intellectual, technical and ideological, skills-based and expressive – that constitute the global art world and all its phenomena’.
Identifications deals with the misrepresentation of art created in non-western regions of the world by western authorities due to their lack of understanding of the cultures from which the art issues as well as the inclination to view the art from the lens of western paradigms.
The chapter on Forms relates not simply to the appearance of artworks but includes all manner of social relationships, conflicts, affiliations that exist in the complex interweave of society. The essays in this section examine the dissent and conflict that occurs between groups of people with unequal resources and powers in a globalized situation.
Reproduction is a particularly engaging section that scrutinizes ways in which western art organizations reproduce ‘codes of belief and skills of practice formally’ as well as informally through ‘he conversations faculty and students hold together and separately…’. Harris talks of the dichotomy between these realized social norms and the need for innovation in art and the implications in a globalized world.
In this section is featured an article by Pakistani born British minimalist sculptor and theorist Rasheed Araeen. He asserts that the post-colonial condition is not specific to the colonized but also alters the perception and physiognomy of the colonizer and must be acknowledged as having been altered. On the basis of this understanding Araeen makes several points; one that an assumption has been identified in which young artists are the sole creators of innovative art and that contemporary and youthfulness have become interchangeable elements in the production of art.
Araeen tackles the concern with post colonial domination of art through the Hegelian dialectic. Though Hegel argued that synthesis is formulated through the process of thesis and antithesis, Araeen observes “the dialectics of this Hegelian idea demand an agency which must be free to challenge the established idea”. He explains “In other words, a modern artist must be free in order to act upon history and change it”. The consideration therefore negates the inclusion of the colonized and locates all development in art in the territory of the west. The essay authenticates Rasheed Araeen’s position as an artist who has spoken out vociferously over the last four decades to highlight the insertion of the ‘other’ into mainstream activity and to bring into focus the myopia of Eurocentric domination in art.
Organization deals with the economic and market-driven aspect of contemporary art in a globalized world although according to Harris the term has a nefarious connotation since it involves the systemic repression of evaluations and discourses that stray from the pre-determined framework of western-established paradigms through western educated and trained curators, historians, researchers dealers, agents and even mass media.