by John JervisMay 11, 2020
The international art world has seen several changes in the last decade that reflect the art economy, politics and modes of representation. STIR choses 10 important trends that emerged from the international artworld in the last 10 years, underpinning concerns that mark the art map.
Climate change has multiple impacts where geo-political refugees are inexorably linked to it. Especially in the areas in the Arctic, South-East Asia, Africa, and the Pacific with a rise in discussion on ethical responsibility. In the art world, Olafur Eliasson is one of the leading artists who is bringing environmental issues to the forefront with his works that primarily employ elements of light, air, temperature and water. The Danish-Icelandic artist possesses a significant lived reality with a childhood enveloped by the very environment now under threat. In fact, he recently showcased a significant solo exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, which engaged the audience to an experiential level. His work unites the worlds of architecture, ecology, food, education, sustainability, climate change, perception and collective activity. He is also showcasing Black Out, an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zurich, on display till March 2020. Here, Eliasson is experimenting by turning off the lights and urging visitors to experience the museum’s collection with a hand-held light.
Similarly, in China, Ai Weiwei is evoking the notion of geo-political refugees with his beautiful yet disturbing evocations of porcelain urns, covered with migrating people, flora and fauna. Works like Journey (2017) are not idyllic but fraught with unrest and hurrying crowds. They evoke cosmic cycles of birth, death and regeneration. In India, artist Sudipta Das’s solo The Exodus of Eternal Wanderers at Latitude 28, New Delhi, poses important questions about the geological refugees left homeless when the rivers rise to flood her hometown Silchar in Assam, and Bangladesh. Her paper sculptures represent the slow violence of ongoing disasters and the precarious pasts and futures of its victims.
While the last five years saw a marginal decline in the popularity of painting as a form of art, especially in museum and gallery circles, it has now made a ‘come back’ among artists and quite naturally collectors and art lovers. Some are relieved that they can put up a painting on the wall rather than have to ‘screen’ it. Be that a double-edged sword, there are many artists who are happy to get back to what they enjoyed doing - painting on canvasses, walls and various objects!
Predictably this revival will see its inevitable growth in a society that is questioning the highly mechanised nature of its everyday life. Siri and other virtual assistants have perhaps driven the collectors toward paintings for it allows contemplation and stillness, remembrance, nostalgia and joy. Polish artist Kamila Ossowska's creativity oscillates around the human form, especially the female nude, and in India the likes of Atul Dodiya and V Ramesh are jubiliant that mankind’s love for painting can be said to be as old as our very own human history. Whether it is for home decor or an investment, paintings deliver desired results.
3. ART FAIRS
The joint forces of the art fairs - the biennales and art symposiums - have created a global dialogue and awareness about art, besides becoming what economists are calling, an ‘engine’ for tourism. While for many art practitioners, art fairs are highly commercial and tend to bring about a sense of awareness, for many others they help provide market checks and balances and what some gallerists call, a ‘transparency into the market’.
Industry trade shows enable dealers to come together for several days to offer specialised works. Souren Melikian, a distinguished art critic, opines art fairs have surpassed auctions as the premier events for buyers in the upper tiers of the market. Other critics are more acerbic, like New York art critic Jerry Saltz, who calls art fairs ‘… adrenaline-addled spectacles for a kind of buying and selling where intimacy, conviction, patience and focused looking…are essentially nonexistent’. While rapid buying was evident in earlier patterns, after global economies have slowed down, collectors have become discerning and circumspect.
A biennale provides a platform for contemporary art to showcase its experimental side. The market is not in an immediate concern though arguably artworks shown at biennales become expensive ‘collector pieces’. Combined with festivities, art travels down the path toward infinite expansion, which allows biennales to have their roles and functions established as one of the crucial evolving elements in the ecosystem of contemporary art.
It has been defined globally as ‘a reaction against minimalism…an aesthetic of excess.’ While 1980s Bollywood and backbeat culture never had issues celebrating red tinsel tops combined with purple silken bows and netted yellow paints, the late 1990 to the mid 2000 saw the emergence of minimalism, white on white, not just in furniture and dress but also art and décor. However, the last five years witnessed an explosion of maximalism, from the performance diva David Lismore’s fabulous trans-gendered runaway ensembles to the full frontal ‘assault’ of the decorative culled back from the 1970s ala Joyce Kozloff, whose work If I Were an Astronomer: Boston, 2015, slaps the minimal right in the face. The predecessors to the Pattern and Decoration Movement that spearheaded this lunge back to maximalism are predictably Andy Warhol and Robert Venturi, where the idea of the hybrid triumphed over the ‘virtue’ of the ‘pure’. In IKEA it’s the world of fun yet absurd collection of maximalism called FÖREMÅL, whether it is a skull-shaped vase or poodle-shaped candle holders! And hybrid triumphed over the ‘virtue’ of the ‘pure’.
The worlds of Instagram and Facebook have changed the way we look at and consume art. And now there is also a monster of online art shopping, which has worked quite well given the brisk business that auction houses like Christies and Sotheby’s have been reporting. In a virtual world, why should art be left behind? The number of clicks and likes that an artist or artwork receives on their account, naturally translates into success.
7. INDIGENOUS ARTISTS
With the global comes the pressure to celebrate the local, or as we saw in the George Clooney-starrer Up in the Air, ‘glocal’ is the new term that business houses are celebrating. Indigenous artists have always been making artworks, but they have usually been consumed either as ‘craftwork’ or local artisanal work. However, that is changing with Mexican, South African, aboriginal and other South American artists bagging important solo exhibitions in important museums, and in India the celebration of Gond, Warli and Madhubani painting has found its place on the pedestal along with the ‘Great Masters’, which is as it should be.
8. WOMEN ARTISTS
Another important trend that is visible especially in the exhibitions at the museums is revisiting and celebrating the women artists who have been eclipsed by the dark sun of patriarchy. Whether it is an exhibition celebrating Dora Maar (photographer), Anni Albers (textile artist), Frida Kahlo (painter) or Nasreen Mohomedi (modern artist), many feminists are breathing a sigh of relief to see galleries and museums finally displaying and celebrating artworks by women artists. However, with the ‘suffragette sashes stowed away’, will women artists fade from the ‘fad phase’? This 2020, we look forward to National Gallery London’s first solo exhibition on a historic female artist – the 17th-century Italian baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Women will stay if museums and galleries support and if the crowds ‘vote with their feet’.
In contrast to the re-emergence of painting and even sculpture as desirable and cutting-edge collectibles, performance art is getting its due diligence with an explosion of this art form across the world. Now, we have the likes of Nikhil Chopra at the MET, Patrick Staff at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, young performance and video artists like Amalia Ulman and Ed Atkins with their significant exhibitions in leading galleries in the UK, the US and Europe, Chinese artist Xu Zhen with a brilliant performance piece with ‘human sculptures’ at Art Basel, and Chilean artist Gonzalo Rabanal in India - the list is endless and exciting. It is a clear indication that multiple forms of expression can co-exists as platforms in contemporary visual arts.
10. ARTIST AS A CURATOR
The ultimate exhibition that celebrated the artist as curator tipped its hat at the Guggenheim, from May 2019-January 2020. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building, Guggenheim hosted the exhibition New Perspectives on the Collection, whichwas curated by Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Richard Prince, and Carrie Mae Weems. All the six artists have contributed to shaping the Guggenheim’s history with their own pivotal solo shows. In India, we have seen the Kochi-Muziris Biennale becoming the first artist-led curated biennale with artist Bose Krishnamachari becoming the man behind the most exciting and successful event. It is said that when an artist brings a unique and personalized perspective to a show as a curator, we think of the exhibition as an art as an artist brings his experience as a maker with the curation.