Most groundbreaking contemporary art from East? Three top art experts say no

CONTEMPORARY ASIAN ART ART MARKET DEBATE

Last week Art Radar outlined the arguments presented for the motion by three speakers involved in “The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East”. This week we discuss the views against as presented by art professionals Sarah Kent, Kenny Schachter and Richard Wentworth.

Debate organiser Intelligence Squared invited six global art experts and pitted them against each other, with three taking the for and three taking the against position. Each had eight minutes to put forth their reasoning behind their stance.

Click here to read more about “The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East” debate on the Intelligence Squared website and here to read part one of this two part series, where we outline what the “for” speakers said.

The speakers against the Intelligence Squared debate motion, "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East": Tim Marlow (chair), Sarah Kent, Kenny Schachter and Richard Wentworth. Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Unexpectedly, all three of the speakers who were against the motion were not arguing that the most groundbreaking contemporary art was from the West. On the contrary, they made clear that they found the whole motion rather superfluous due to its crude distinctions. This was in stark contrast to what was argued by the speakers who were for the motion. They were decidedly passionate in their support for the idea that contemporary groundbreaking  art comes from the East.

Sarah Kent confused by geographical boundaries of the East

Sarah Kent was the first speaker to argue against the motion. She is a freelance lecturer, broadcaster and writer and the former Visual Arts Editor of the London “what’s on” guide Time Out Magazine. She commenced her eight minute speech by declaring that “it is arrogant discussing whether Asian art is groundbreaking or not!” She questioned on what basis is the term “groundbreaking” being judged and viewed the term as “discredited” as well as finding further ambiguity in the way the geographical boundaries of the East were defined.

She based the body of her argument on a list she created, of nationalities of artists who she admired, without naming single artists. The reasoning behind the list was to prove that great artists are from all parts of the globe. Many of the artists in her list have over time moved away from their native countries and have dual passports, leading them to negotiate local and national identities. Kent expressed that the “most interesting” art asks questions and navigates “the relationship between nationalism and globalisation.”

Sarah Kent, Kenny Schachter, one of the three speakers for the motion "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East". Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Sarah Kent, Kenny Schachter, one of the three speakers for the motion "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East". Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Sarah Kent controversially speculated whether Asian artists made work for a local context or to suit Western critics’ taste. She ended her speech by answering her own question: “It is arrogant for us to assume Eastern artists are suiting Western needs. The East speak to their own audience, own experience and own lives.”

Kenny Schachter has never been to Asia

Kenny Schachter, although trained in law, has been curating contemporary art exhibits in museums and galleries for over twenty years. He commenced his speech announcing that it is “absurd, egoistic and presumptuous to question whether Asian art or European art is even more groundbreaking than art in any other place on the planet.”

He admitted he was not an expert in Asian art and has never been to Asia. Questioning the paradigm shift which all three speakers for the motion were keen to discuss, Schachter projected his distaste towards the motion as he believes that prejudice comes from distinctions. He announced, “Asian art is no more exciting than art from New Jersey, New Delhi and New Zealand. Art arises everywhere and anywhere.”

Kenny Schachter, one of the three speakers for the motion "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East". Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Kenny Schachter, one of the three speakers for the motion "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East". Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Schachter concluded by commenting upon the globalised nature of the world: “The world is so homogeneous that people would be hard pressed to differentiate art from one world to the next.” Therefore, “there are many more similarities than differences in the world.”

In the panel discussion that followed the six speeches, he spoke of artists that were groundbreaking but whom were not valued or respected by the art market, drawing attention to the abstract British painter, Paul Pagk.

Richard Wentworth feels it’s offensive to call someone Asian

Richard Wentworth is one of Britain’s leading sculptors and head of the Royal College of Arts Sculpture Department. Wentworth, similarly to Sarah Kent and Kenny Schachter, expressed his anxiety about the divisions between East and West that had been discussed in the debate so far, labelling them as “inappropriate distinctions.”

He demonstrated this argument with an amusing example. Using a real map of the world, he attempted to roll the map from North, East, South and West, inwards on itself. He suggested to the audience, “Take a map of the world, try rolling it. Can you roll it from North, South, East or West? Think about your passports, your psyche. I bet half of you don’t know where the sun comes up. That is because you are modern.” He used Chinese Ai Weiwei as an example of an artist who did not define himself by crude distinctions.

Richard Wentworth, one of the three speakers for the motion "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East". Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Richard Wentworth, one of the three speakers for the motion "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East". Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Fireworks were handed out to the audience. While Wentworth did not explain the metaphorical significance of the fireworks we speculate that each firework could represent a different idea or point-of-view, a symbol amplified by individualisation of questions from the audience. This symbolic act suggests, perhaps, that one should not  generalise about art in the East and West.

Panel discussion – the debate heats up

Sara Raza, part of the group of three art professionals asked to defend the “for” position, resisted the accusation that her group was emphasising a division between East and West. She responded by saying that the point was “to acknowledge the reality” of where the most groundbreaking art is coming from.

Schachter questioned Dr. Robertson’s opinions on the strength of the East’s art market and resulting cultural shift. “Whether cultural hegemony will follow economic strength is debatable.”

Schachter was not confident that artists in some Asian countries would have the opportunity to develop and identified brush painting “as a retreat from struggle,” using Iran’s repressive regime as an example. Dr. Robertson defended his position by arguing that the Impressionists were defined by the market. Schachter swiftly rejected this point as irrelevant and not relating to groundbreaking contemporary art.

The audience was given the chance to ask questions of the panellists; one member asked in what way the panel was defining Eastern and Western artists. Another accused the debate of being too “abstract” as there was not enough discussion of individual artists. Another member commented that none of the panel members were Asian although Raza quickly pointed out her own heritage.

Are East-West distinctions necessary? Audience vote decides

After further exchanges between the panel and the audience, audience members voted on whether they were for or against the motion or whether they remained neutral. Tim Marlow announced after the second definitive vote that the motion had been defeated, with the majority of votes against the motion.

Despite keen efforts from the speakers for the motion, it was not to be. The debate revealed that divisions are simplistic and not relevant to the globalised world. Consensus decided that talented artists can arise from any part of the globe, at any given time, and cannot be predicted.

Audience members vote on whether "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East" or not at the Intelligence Squared-organised debate in November 2010. Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

Audience members vote on whether "The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East" or not at the Intelligence Squared-organised debate that took place in November 2010. Image courtesy of Michael Eleftheriades.

This Intelligence Squared debate explained

The speakers for the motion were: Dr Iain RobertsonSara Raza and Alexandra Munroe.

The speakers against the motion were: Sarah KentKenny Schachter and Richard Wentworth.

“The Most Groundbreaking Contemporary Art is from the East” debate took place on 11 November, 2010 at Saatchi Gallery in London. Art enthusiasts and those at the top of the art profession gathered to witness this heated discussion. As explained on the Intelligence Squared website, Western galleries are increasingly exhibiting work by Asian artists and the Eastern economy is growing rapidly, resulting in “evolving tastes” and notions of “identity and cultural specificity.” This debate explores growth of Eastern economies and its effect on the globalising art market.

A dialogue was created between the panel as the debate alternated between speeches for then speeches against the motion. Following this, the audience had a chance to ask the panel questions then each panel memeber had the opportunity to further summarise their viewpoint. The audience made two definitive votes, one at the start and one at the end of the debate. The final audience vote gave rise to the motion’s ultimate outcome.

If you have not read part one of this two part summary of the debate click here to see how the speakers for the motion relentlessly attempted to prove that artists from the East have the most groundbreaking influence on art. The main argument focussed on the economics of the current art market, that this is causing a cultural, social and politcal revolution and allowing artists to use “medium to create new worlds” that, as Alexandra Munroe suggested, “have never been seen before.” Dr Robertson argued a return to the ancient Asian art traditions of calligraphy and brush painting and Sarah Raza spoke of the flourishing art city centres and art galleries in the East.

AN/KN

Related Topics: Asian artists, Ai Weiwei, globalisation of art

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Comments

Most groundbreaking contemporary art from East? Three top art experts say no — 1 Comment

  1. “The debate revealed that divisions are simplistic and not relevant to the globalised world. Consensus decided that talented artists can arise from any part of the globe, at any given time, and cannot be predicted.”

    Well I could of told you that without needing this silly “debate.” it’s more like a sly promotional move by saachi to keep his gallery name in the press. Look at me! Look at me!

    Entertaining perhaps, but intellectually lame.

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