Globalization theory too often takes its cue from business, from the global capital, technology, production, and markets that, as Marx and Engels foretold, chase "the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe" (Harvey 1995). As these forces circle the earth, politics is said to be subsumed by the market, 1 and "culture" refers merely to modes of consumption (Beinart 1997). Even "high culture," once thought to be distinguishable from popular culture partially on the basis of not being viable on the open market, can be viewed, so the claim goes, as just another commodity. In other words, it is argued that intellectual and artistic endeavors are subject to the same homogenizing and systematizing forces that are routinizing business practices everywhere. But things are neither so grim nor so simple. Commodity exchange and intellectual and artistic exchange do not function identically because their goals and their means of production are not identical. In fact, it is crucial to our understanding of globalization to recognize the differences between investment and interpretation, between the value of capital and other values.
To support this point, I want to examine a particular band of global exchange - the success of contemporary Japanese fine art photography in American art museums and galleries. I will argue that, although fine art photographs are commodities, they are much more as well. Indeed, several layers of determination must be recognized to understand how Japanese photography is positioned in American museums: (1) "globalization" and what it means for national identities; (2) the broad modes of understanding "Japan" and "the West" organized by the discourses of Orientalism and Nihonjinron (Japanese discussions of what distinguishes them as a people); (3) the specifics of America's arch, turbulent art world with its fragile careers, heralded openings, complex institutional structure, and politicized criticism, and the corresponding conditions in Japan; and (4) the individual creativity and vision of the artists. These are different, often contradictory, forces, but together they have created a prominent place in the United States for photographic work called "Japanese."
Following the most optimistic predictions about global markets, Japanese fine art photography has met with resounding success. Even the most casual history reveals sustained and growing support from galleries, museums,