Exploring the State of Art
“Art responds to what is happening in the culture,” noted John Pearson, Oberlin’s Hunter-Young Professor of Studio Art. “Today, with a much broader educated audience for art, more expendable income and due to all the political boundaries which have come down...culture is global.”
Today and tomorrow, Oberlin will host five international curators and critics in the Global Compass arts symposium, a two-day discussion on the effects of globalization on contemporary art. The public event, to be held in the Science Center’s West Lecture Hall, will comprise a series of presentations by and discussions with distinguished members of the art world from as far away as Germany and Japan.
The dissemination of contemporary art across the globe is due in large part to what Pearson refers to as the “shrinking of the world.” The barriers that existed between nations 20 years ago — the Cold War, trade embargoes and isolationist policies — are today being torn down. This, coupled with a rise in communication technology such as the Internet, has resulted in the growth of numerous artistic meccas the world over, according to Pearson.
Aside from its effects on the development of new hubs of contemporary art, globalization is affecting art itself.
“The major thrust of this symposium is to try to understand what is happening globally in contemporary art. New York has traditionally represented the most progressive attitudes toward art and now contemporary art is burgeoning in every country — from Tokyo to major cities in Germany, from Singapore to London,” Pearson said.
This change, Pearson feels, is allowing for the distinctly non-linear progression of new forms of art. Whereas new movements in art have historically succeeded each other in a defined pattern — say from Rococo to Neo-Classicism to Romanticism — the dissemination of artists across the globe has led to the unprecedented burgeoning of thousands of new styles.
“Art used to be a linear thread,” Pearson chuckled. “But now, to use an oft-quoted metaphor, it’s a woven fabric.”
Increases in technology, too, are inviting artists to work with scores of new mediums, from video to software to hologram. Pearson wholeheartedly welcomes the possibilities that come with new media.
“Every method and work of art is an innovation — the Impressionists were at first thought to be crazy; Jackson Pollock was at first thought to be crazy — but in reality, new forms are simply an added language that we can use,” Pearson stated. “Artists embrace every kind of technology that’s ever been invented.... Artists see it, and they see what they can do with it.”
Unfortunately, this rapid growth of both styles and mediums is creating serious problems for critics of contemporary art. There is no longer a single arbiter of artistic taste, a position that until recently New York City could claim rights to. Critical reception of a work can now vary immensely as critics from around the world offer perspectives or interpretations that are completely at odds with their peers.
“When I was a kid, there were three or four art magazines,” Pearson said. “Now, there are three or four art magazines in every city!”
Scholars of studio art and contemporary art history are facing a similar dilemma. With thousands of new styles and mediums sprouting every day, the question of what to teach becomes an issue as well. Of all the contemporary art, what is most important? What will affect future generations most? What will become canonical? Pearson hopes the symposium will be able to shed some light on such a difficult issue.
The diverse group of speakers for this weekend’s event include New York Times art critic Roberta Smith; director of international projects at London, England’s Serpentine Gallery Hans Ulrich Obrist; director of Jablonka Galerie Kay Heymber in Cologne and Berlin, Germany; curator of film and video Chrissie Iles of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art; deputy director and founding member of the Art Initiative Tokyo Roger Christopher McDonald and Cleveland Plain Dealer art and architecture critic Steven Litt.
These speakers, each of whom will share his or her unique experience in the modern art world, will no doubt provide insightful commentary on what globalization means to art today.
“I’m going to let them loose on Oberlin this weekend,” Pearson said, with a gleam in his eye. “And from the buzz in Cleveland, in Akron, in Canton...we’re going to be mobbed.”