of the First Beijing International Art Biennial, 2003.
Contemporary Art and Global System
The Time of Changes
Editorial Director: Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Editorial Assistant: Elodie Antoine
Translator: David Ames Curtis
In The Ephemeral
Museum, Francis Haskell decried the new hegemony created
by major art exhibitions and the harmful consequences thereof.
He recalled the genesis of the ways in which art works circulate
as well as, from the early twentieth century, the first loans
of paintings for prestigious international exhibitions, the establishment
of ties between museums and other institutions, and the role played
by various forms of nationalism.
always been sites of legitimation and regulation for artistic
life and for the market. The history dates back to the seventeenth
century and to the first salons organized by the young Academy
of Painters and Sculptors, which tried to curb a movement toward
self-management on the part of artists. Thus, toward the middle
of the seventeenth century, a certain Martin de Charmois could
complain to the royal family about artists who wanted to shake
off their status as artisans by keeping shop themselves and securing
their own market.
We know what followed, with salons organized by a powerful Academy
ultimately coupled with juries that were more open to varied selection
criteria. From a still rather simple system affecting a still
rather limited and homogeneous world, we have passed over to an
ever more complex situation with an ever greater number of actors,
sites, and objects for the use of vaster and vaster populations.
One need only examine to what extent Biennials have proliferated
since the 1990s, establishing themselves now as genuine artistic
phenomena in their own right as well as for purposes of tourism
and diplomacy and with regard to economic and political considerations.
Paul Ardenne and Olivier Berggruen, who are art historians as
well as exhibition curators, have had many years of experience
dealing the events that punctuate international artistic life.
The assessments they have drawn up are both informed and critical:
acceleration, globalization, and standardization of the norms
of legitimation as well as of the sites of presentation; cross-fertilization
among institutions that have become interchangeable; the preeminent
place of art fairs, of show business [du spectacle], and of economics,
with elitism and populism combined amid unequal exchanges between
the West and its partners.
In this respect, islets of resistance--if not breaches--do indeed
exist. But to some, the political condition of art will seem to
be determined largely by positions that might aim more at maintaining
a bogus exoticism than at inventing a true dialogue with new arrivals
on the market. Others will see the extension of the domain of
art as a privileged site for tensions wherein questions of identity
and power are tirelessly raised over and over again through breaking
down existing fiefdoms and by an effort to activate the world’s