Globalizing Contemporary Art: The Art World's New Internationalism

By Lotte Philipsen | Go to book overview
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New Internationalism

Kassel, Germany, 2007: 1,001 Chinese men and women visited the Documenta 12 art exhibition as a part of the work Fairytale by the artist Ai Weiwei. Apart from the many Chinese visitors, the work consisted of 1,001 restored wooden chairs from the Qing dynasty, which were placed around the exhibition venues for visitors to use. According to the catalogue, the work and its title paid homage to ‘the Brothers Grimm who wrote the majority of their fairytale collection in Kassel between 1812 and 1815.’1 In a fairytale, anything can happen. Magically, people and creatures may transform and move, unrestricted by the laws of physics and logic, and in this respect the art world today resembles a fairytale when compared to the situation a few decades ago.

For instance, it is obvious to consider Ai Weiwei’s work as a commentary on the work 7,000 Oak Trees by Joseph Beuys, which was initiated at Documenta 7 in 1982 and completed by the opening of Documenta 8 in 1987. By then 7,000 oak trees had been planted in Kassel.2 Though the strategies of the two works resemble each other, as both have elements of happenings that leave physical evidence, the difference between planting trees and flying in Chinese people and chairs mirrors to some extent the difference between the art world in 1982 and in 2007. The solid grounding of trees that are meant to grow for centuries and permanently be part of Kassel has now been replaced by a brief visit by people. Whereas Beuys was himself German, and thus ‘at home’ in Kassel, Ai Weiwei was born, lives and works in Beijing; but since the institutional apparatus of contemporary art has undergone a profound globalization during the past couple of decades for instance Ai Weiwei lived in New York 1981-1993 it seems rather natural, today, to invite Ai Weiwei to participate in Documenta.

The globalization of the world of contemporary art is the theme of this book, and the issue is unfolded by pursuing the fundamental question: How


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