Art in Globalizing World VS Globalization and Contemporary Art


The Contemporary, The Common: Art in a Globalizing World, Chantal Pontbriand, Sternberg Press

 Chantal Pontbriand is not only an art curator but also a critic and co-founder of the contemporary art magazine PARACHUTE which she was an editor of until 2007. Sternberg Press publication brings the author’s editorials together which results in a huge volume (nearly 450 pages!) of fascinating essays exploring questions of globalization by looking into contemporary artists practises.The book is divided into 3 parts:

 ‘The Idea of Community’ starting with a text questioning what contemporary artists tell us about the relation of the individual to both the community and the world in a constant state of flux. The community that is no longer a totality but in the process of becoming.

‘Globalization: The Common and the Singular at Large’ on cities that developed exceptionally good conditions for creativity (the author calls them ‘cities of emergence’) and how they influence the rest of the world. The author creates an evocative concept of “tectonica”, where those cities act as tectonic plates and have impact on each other.

‘Expanden Consciousness: Art beyond Borders’ examining crossovers and in-betweens, the idea of interdisciplinarity and art practices that move beyond the limits of mediums.

 In each essay Chantal Pontbriand takes another artist’s work as a case study and analyses them all to make sense of contemporaneity which is understood here as a flow. The selection of the artists is highly multidisciplinary, among others discussed in the book are: Jeff Wall, Yvonne Rainer, Mike Kelley, Anri Sala, Rirkit Tiravanija or Björk – artists interpreting the dynamics of change. Disciplines escaping clear definitions intertwine and complement each other. ‘The place of the body is always of concern – the body as thermometer of the world being lived in, lived with, in a dynamics of change and sharing’ so an excellent essay on the essence contemporary dance – ‘Expanded Dance: A Turning Point’ from 2002 is no surprise.

When I first read that the book brought together writings from 2000 – 2011 I felt a bit worried that it would be too fragmented but I found this extensive book not only engaging but also reflecting the condition of heterogeneous culture of today. So many aspects of our lives are formed of fragments that immersing into case studies of all kinds of art practices seems a good way to understand better. As “we find ourselves more than ever in an era of juxtaposition, collage, and randomness”, artists are no longer locked in simple meanings or limited by the medium, nor we - viewers cannot forget about wider perspective. Art expands beyond any definition so we also have to develop our consciousness and deepen our awareness of processes accompanying globalization to make sense of them. Chantal Pontbriand’s essays are insightful and exploratory, they pose many questions about contemporary modes of expressions but are also a story about circulation of people, ideas and information and how all these elements, effecting in permanent changes, transform our vision of the world. The book is a challenging read as it brings lots of thoughts in, but it’s definitely worth taking some time to reflect on the subject. “New ways of seeing emerge” and the book is a successful attempt to grasp many of them.  


Globalization and Contemporary Art, edited by Jonathan Harris, Wiley-Blackwell

Jonathan Harris edited another big volume (550 pages) of reflections on globalization processes and their impact on the contemporary art – its homogenizing and flattening effects. The editor stresses the fact that ‘globalization’ in contemporary art is at an early stage of understanding. Harris compares it to a person standing in a very dark room with a flash-light: “most of the things in the room, and the room itself, simply cannot be seen at all with the presently available poor, narrowly focused light”.


This attempt to bring a new light consists of 33 essays which, as Harris accurately describes, “cross many national, regional, continental, medium, institutional, technological, political and intellectual boundaries and represent as a whole a convergence of ideas able powerfully to describe, analyse and evaluate the convergence of people that is globalisation”. They are grouped in 7 parts: Institutions, Formations, Means and Forces of Production, Identifications, Forms, Reproduction, Organization. The long list of contributors is impressive, to mention a few: Peter Lord (his latest publication is “The Meaning of Pictures”) writes on “Death by Homogenization”; David Clarke (Professor of University of Hong Kong) on “Contemporary Asian Art and the West”; W. J. T. Mitchell (famous art theorist, the author of “Iconology” or “Picture Theory”) on “World Pictures” ; Nikos Papastergiadis (author of “Spatial Aesthetics”) on “Collaboration in Art and Society”; James Elkins (Professor of the Art Institute in Chicago) on global art history; Derrick Chong (who focuses on complex relationships between business and the arts) on “The Emergence of Powerhouse Dealers”; Ian Robertson (Head of Art Business Studies at Sotheby’s Institute of Art) on “The Art Market in Transition”; Charlotte Bydler (from Stockholm Sodertorn University) on “The Global Horizon of Art Events”.


Each part brings a different perspective and starts with an analytic introduction that is followed by more detailed examples investigating case studies symptomatic for particular issue. The texts are bright, embracing artworks made over the last twenty years, in all mediums, on all continents. The authors don’t go for the obvious but try to dig deeper and introduce less common aspects which is a big advantage of this publication.


Obviously one could dispute about the selection of the case studies, which even to me are more captivating in the book by Chantal Pontbriand, but on the other hand there is no perfect solution for a book about contemporary art and globalisation. The subject is so vast and complex that we can get as many views as many people we’ll ask to express them. Each publication is therefore a way to investigate bit by bit numerous layers of inevitable processes taking over artists’ practices around the globe. Let’s quote Jontahan Harris one more time: “A book on globalization and contemporary art must deal with concepts and problems of space, place, and ground – facets, conditions, and resources of human existence that have been underplayed in traditional histories of art and culture.”