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Art and visual culture: medieval to modern
Art and visual culture: medieval to modern

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The local and the global

The standard perception of globalisation is that the entire world will gradually develop into the equivalent of New York or Strasbourg. Depending on your point of view, this is either utopia or hell. But irrespective of the value judgements, this idea of upward standardisation is a misconception. The reality is not that the majority world will be transformed into a high-tech consumer paradise. In fact, inequality is increasing across the world. What is referred to as globalisation is the most recent phase of uneven and combined development. The new clash of hypermodern and traditional forms of economic activity and social life are taking place side by side; megacities spring up alongside the ‘planet of slums’, and communication technologies play an important role in this clash of space and time (see Figure 26). Under these conditions, the making of modern art has entered a new and geographically extended phase. If an earlier phase of modernism is identified with internationalism, it is increasingly apparent that this dream of a place that was nowhere (Paris, New York) was just that – a dream. Recent debates on globalisation and art involve a rejection of modernist internationalism; instead, artists and art historians are engaged with local conditions of artistic production and the way these mesh in an international system of global art making. Modern art is currently being remade and rethought as a series of much more varied responses to contemporaneity around the world. Artists now draw on particular local experiences, and also on forms of representation from popular traditions. Engagement with Japanese popular prints played an important role in Impressionism, but in recent years this sort of cultural crossing has undergone an explosion.

Figure 26 Baha Boukhari, My Father’s Palestinian Nationality, 2007, medium variable, dimensions variable. 12th Istanbul Biennial, 2011. Photographed by Natalie Barki.

Drawing local image cultures into the international spaces of modern art has once more shifted the character of art. The paradox is that the cultural means that are being employed – video art, installation, large colour photographs and so forth – seem genuinely international. Walk into many of the large exhibitions around the globe and you will see artworks referring to particular geopolitical conditions, but employing remarkably similar conventions and techniques. This cosmopolitanism risks underestimating the real forces shaping the world; connection and mobility for some international artists goes hand in hand with uprootedness and the destruction of habitat and ways of life for others. International travel and exhibition sit alongside increasing restrictions on migration and strong borders. Nevertheless, we are here dealing with art engaged with the most recent phase of modernity; this art brings other experiences and claims to the attention of a museum-going public.