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A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since 1981 and the retrospective exhibition WestKunst (Art of the West) presented in the Museen der Stadt in Köln. A retrospective of the modern era that supposed a reaffirmation of the old opposition between the centre and the periphery, still within Europe and the United States since 1939 – the division between East and West with everything that meant as much politically as from an historical, economical, artistic and cultural point of view.
A lot has also happened since the geopolitical changes of 1989, which meant a transformation in the art world followed by the explosive rise of the new era of biennales that drove the centrality of Western art. This year played a crucial role in the history of globalization. It was when “global art” substituted the term “international art” to designate an area of production of contemporary art that previously had not been represented in the discourse of art.
If globalization has to be understood as a world map, how is this map drawn? And what ought to be drawn on it? What has happened since 1989, coinciding with the end of the Cold War and the divisions between capitalism and communism until now? How has the world changed since the time when globalization, from its initial, dominant condition, has begun to be questioned?
As one might imagine, the new boom in the production of art was accompanied by a crisis in the Western concept of art. In fact, the expansion of the practice of global art lead artists to make “public” cultural and religious themes of a local character, thereby generating a new audience in the world of art. This new generation of artists, who are in constant interaction by way of these new international events, proclaim “contemporaneity” as an ambition, one could say an utopian ambition, without eluding at any point the more conflicting questions of what the British theorist T.J. Demos has called the phenomenon of the “globalisation crisis”, a crisis that calls into question the promises of democratisation and egalitarian participation in society and that is confronting the growing flux of migrants and refugees escaping repressive regimes, zones of conflict and overwhelming poverty. Nothing to Declare? – World maps of art since 89 adds two new nuances to what the original exhibition presented at the ZKM/Museum of Contemporary Art in Karlsruhe in 2012.
In Berlin, the proximity not just physically and geographically but also metaphorically with the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall adds a component, even psychologically and emotionally, to what could seem like a laboratory theory. As well as the museological demands of the new exhibition space, much smaller than that of Karlsruhe, that has obliged the organisers to redesign a new guide and place an emphasis on some aspects that were undervalued in the large exhibition at ZKM.
While the visitor becomes submerged in the different rooms of the exhibition and follows a route through abundant documentary material (magazines, books, maps, photographs, videos and graphic statistics) with a strong visual, panoramic and cartographic didactic of the key events in this evolution, he comes across the installation Oasis (2000), a selection of traditional oriental rugs that form a “Bedouin tent”, combined and designed with digital copies that represent provocative evidence of the decline of Western domination and the Islamic re-writing of its history. ‘The Islamic Project’ by the group AES is a clear parody of globalization and world tourism, of typical capitalist images of the West that are invaded in an almost surreal manner by “the Others” in the form of Muslim and Arabic symbols, such as mosques or oriental markets.
‘The Reading Room’ introduces the visitors to the magazine Third Text, founded in London in 1987 by the Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen. With his magazine, Araeen created a forum for writers and artists who were excluded from the Western art scene. From a critical perspective, the publication also raises questions about the ‘tasks’ of the future of art.
And last but not least, we come across the vertebral pillar of this show, the installation ‘trans_actions: The Accelerated Art World 1989-2011’ (2011), a project developed by the ZKM in collaboration with the group GAM – Global Art and the Museum, a team that has been investigating the subject of the show since 2006. The visual installation, projected on a panoramic screen in the last room, illustrates the growth in the number of contemporary art biennales and the rapid expansion of the market after the end of the Cold War. The visitors enter into a project room of large dimensions and find themselves hypnotized by the wash of animated data that represents artists, curators, collectives, biennales and fluctuations in the market, a veritable “cosmic” trip through the art universe.
Nothing to declare? – World maps of art since 89 aspires to be a sufficiently reliable analysis of the global changes through a chronological and geographical dissemination of the production of global art. Though there are lacunae in the chronology and omissions in the citation of singular events in the whole genealogy of the global such as, to give just one example, the exhibition “How Latitudes Become Forms. Art in a Global Age” (2005), one of the shows that ever emphatically evidenced (in its version online as much as the one off) the notable challenges operated on artistic practices affected by the “global”. Perhaps the only problem is that the “point of departure” follows a marked hegemonic accent where the encounters between different cultures, religions and languages, as well as between different national and ethnic identities are produced in the heart of the “mainstream”.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)