Academic journal article Humanities Research

Worlds Pictured in Contemporary Art: Planes and Connectivities

Academic journal article Humanities Research

Worlds Pictured in Contemporary Art: Planes and Connectivities

Article excerpt

It is difficult to imagine a theme more relevant to contemporary concerns than that of this conference.1 The imagining of worlds within the World is a topic that has concerned me for some time, to the extent of nominating it in recent publications as one that is at the core of contemporary art, as it is of current being-in-the-world, and thus definitive of our contemporaneity. For example, I conclude a recent article, 'The State of Art History: Contemporary Art', with the following remarks:

Placemaking, world picturing and connectivity are the most common concerns of artists these days because they are the substance of contemporary being. Increasingly, they override residual distinctions based on style, mode, medium and ideology. They are present in all art that is truly contemporary. Distinguishing, precisely, this presence in each artwork is the most important challenge to an art criticism that would be adequate to the demands of contemporaneity. Tracing the currency of each artwork within the larger forces that are shaping this present is the task of contemporary art history.2

These are, I know, bold claims, but I am encouraged in pursuing them because I know them to be accurate pointers to the main (but of course not the only) concerns of contemporary artists. They are also a straightforward-if rather summary-description of the enterprise of many art critics, historians and theorists of visual cultures working throughout the world today.

The second issue of the journal World Art is devoted to contemporary art. I have contributed an essay that attempts to answer the question: Can we say that contemporary art is-perhaps for the first time in history-truly an art of the world? I argue along the following lines:

As biennales have for decades attested, art now comes from the whole world, from a growing accumulation of art-producing localities that no longer depend on the approval of a metropolitan centre and are, to an unprecedented degree, connected to each other in a multiplicity of ways, not least regionally and globally. Geopolitical change has shifted the world picture from presumptions about the inevitability of modernisation and the universality of EuroAmerican values to recognition of the coexistence of difference, of disjunctive diversity, as characteristic of our contemporary condition. Contemporary life draws increasing numbers of artists to imagine the world-here understood as comprising a number of contemporaneous 'natures': the natural world, built environments ('second nature'), virtual space ('third nature'), and lived interiority ('human nature')-as a highly differentiated yet inevitably connected whole. In this sense, from what we might call a planetary perspective, contemporary art may be becoming an art for the world-for the world as it is now, and as it might be.3

My essay is accompanied by an insightful commentary by Marsha Meskimmon that adds much depth to my raw intuitions about the affective dimensions of the kinds of coeval ethics called for in contemporary conditions: the world 'as it might be'. Ian McLean has also contributed an important essay that ties, in his unique way, the world to Australian perceptions of it.

Two ideas from within the passage I have just quoted attract attention as being key topics of relevance to this conference. For over 50 years now, a world historical shift from EuroAmerican hegemony to a declining dominance within an increasingly differentiated world geopolitical and economic order has been underway-recently, at an accelerating pace. It has found expression in art, I suggest, as a shift from various kinds of practices oriented for, against or at oblique angles to modernisation (not all of which are modernisi) to practices that arise out of contemporary conditions. I will return in my conclusion to some implications for art historical writing of this world-wide shifting from modern to contemporary art.


I want to focus the main part of my remarks on the kinds of worlds that are envisaged in the passage I just quoted. …

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