CONTEMPORARY ASIAN ART MARKET DEBATE
Art enthusiasts and those at the top of the art profession gathered on 11 November at The Saatchi Gallery to witness“The Most Ground Breaking Contemporary Art is from the East”. This debate, organised by Intelligence Squared, a global forum for live debate that is dedicated to producing knowledge through contest, explored the growth of Eastern economies and its effect on the globalised art market. And sitting among the audience was Art Radar, armed with a tape recorder and notepad, busy getting the information we pass onto you now.
This is part one of a two part series where we summarise the arguments presented in the debate by the six specially selected speakers, all global experts in the field of contemporary art. We begin in this article with the three speakers who were for the motion, Dr. Iain Robertson, Sara Raza and Alexandra Munroe, and in part two we will present the arguments of Sarah Kent, Kenny Schachter and Richard Wentworth, all of whom were against the motion. The evening’s chairman, occupying a neutral position, was Tim Marlow, who is a writer, broadcaster, art historian and curator and currently the director of exhibitions at White Cube in London.
Each expert had eight minutes to put forth their reasoning behind their stance and a dialogue was created as the panel alternated between “the for” and “the against” speakers. Then, after each panellist had had the opportunity to further summarise their viewpoint, the audience was able to ask the panel questions. The audience made two definitive votes, at the start and end of the debate. The final audience vote gave rise to the motion’s ultimate outcome, based on the majority outcome.
Dr. Iain Robertson: “an absolute prerogative that can’t be ignored”
Dr. Iain Robertson, the Head of Art Business at Sotheby’s, grounded his argument firmly in the economics of the art market. He raised important questions about whether China and Asia want to be involved in the international art market, and identified that “from the outset, the motion is swayed towards the West as typically contemporary art is a Western concept related to Modernism-Impressionists.”
Dr Robertson discussed the “undeniable fact” that “China’s economy controls thirty percent of world trade and parallels the US and Europe economy” which he pleaded cannot be ignored. “Through all art in history, economic and political mite is followed by cultural hegemony.” He suggested “the best case scenario is that we get a three-way market, we get a split between essentially the three sectors of the market: Europe, America and emerging markets Beijing, New Delhi,… Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai”.
He generalised that Asian contemporary art has returned to tradition; “if we look at calligraphy [and] oil painting we are moving to the strength of Asian art and I believe that’s the way the market is going.” In the panel discussion after the guest speeches he referred to the rediscovery of the Silk Road – its “trade, commerce, wealth and art.” The Silk Road was a series of ancient trade routes that connected East, South, and Western Asia and the Mediterranean and was famous for assisting the trade of Chinese silk, tea, spices and porcelain.
Sara Raza: “You have to acknowledge reality”
Sara Raza, the Central and West Asia editor of ArtAsiaPacific Magazine, was the second speaker to come centre stage. She commenced with, “It is my strong belief that the most ground breaking contemporary art is not emerging but has already arrived. We have already emerged.”
Sara Raza’s opinions were founded on her personal experience of working in Asia for more than ten years. She described the “vibrancy” of the Asian art market over the last few decades and based her evidence on recent Asian art exhibitions in Western art galleries such as the Guggenheim, Serpentine, Tate Modern, Whitechapel and at the Venice Biennale. These exhibitions show Western galleries clearly accommodating Asian artists. Raza gave an example of Indian-British Anish Kapoor‘s prominence in the West.
She refuted Sarah Kent’s comment – which Kent made in her speech before Raza took the stage – that Asian artists were meeting Western needs by stating that “artists take on multiple roles and art is a form of visual communication in Asia.”
She also brought attention to the “groundbreaking” art fairs, commercial galleries, contemporary art museums and art gallery exhibitions in the Asian region such as “Beirut Art Centre, which has documented the conflict in the Middle East” and “city centres Delhi, Tehran, Iran, Hong Kong and South Asia.”
Alexandra Munroe: “Modernisation does not equal Westernisation”
Alexandra Munroe has been the Senior Curator of Asian art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York since 2006, working on the integration of modern and contemporary non-Western art into global art history and described by Intelligence Squared as a “pioneer in this field.”
Munroe acknowledged that “great art can come from any area in the world” but followed this statement by asking her fellow panellists not to stray away from the title of the motion and reenforced that it was a debate, thus one should have a definitive stance. She pronounced that the term “groundbreaking art” is relevant and spoke about the way art is related to “influence,”
“I believe in influence and my job as curator is to identify those points of influence. What are those centres of influence that are going to shape the way we think, shape the views of the world we live in? And no one has talked about this yet. It is the purpose of art to educate us, to elucidate, to enlighten us. Let’s look back fifty years [to] 1950s America. There was Pop, Minimalism and performance art. America was the epicentre of paradigm shift in broad cultures and political realties at that time.”
She confidently remarked that art in the East represents “the wave of the future” as “China is the largest economy in the World.
“Fact! With money comes education, comes patronage, art schools, come communities, comes the freedom [with which] art becomes a mirror to make better, smarter, more engaged human beings.”
“Modernisation does not equal Westernisation,” Munroe argued, for contemporary Asian art does not aim to adopt or is not based on Western styles. She concluded by stating that in this global age, “art is not about adapting or rejecting a certain style but [about] being relevant to the reality and psyche of our age.” Asian artists are doing just this by using “medium to create worlds that have never been seen in the same way before.”
What makes art “groudbreaking”?
It is without-a-doubt that the speakers for the motion held a tremendous belief in the popularity of contemporary art from the East. Artists such as Ai Weiwei who use art as a form of activism, are amongst what Monroe describes as “the cultural, social and political revolution” happening in Asia. Dr. Iain Robertson, Sara Raza and Alexandra Monroe were in consensus over the shift of market power towards the East. However, they did not share the same opinions on what basis contemporary art from the East is the most groundbreaking. Dr Robertson believed that contemporary Asian artists’ work is “groundbreaking” as “their work moving towards tradition has meaning” and Munroe argued “groundbreaking can be in the state of mind and aesthetics.”
Click here to witness an astonishing turn in the debate in part two of this report. We present the heated arguments against the motion which cause Sara Raza to splutter in annoyance at Richard Wentworth, “I don’t understand your argument!” The debate is further opened up to the audience, creating a deeper exchange of ideas. Find out what parts of the speakers’ arguments were criticised heavily and the result of the audience vote.
There is a 5:39 minute video of highlights from the debate created by Intelligence Squared. Watch it below or on YouTube.
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