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Monday, July 2, 2012

CURATORS TURN EAST BUT ART BASEL LOOKS TO THE US



Curators turn East but Art Basel looks to the US
Documenta, Manifesta, La Triennale and the Kiev Biennale strike a different tone to the art market

By Cristina Ruiz. From Art Basel daily edition
Published online: 12 June 2012

What’s wrong with being a white American male artist under the age of 45? The odds of getting into an international survey of contemporary art in Europe right now are stacked against you.

Four large exhibitions taking place this summer—Documenta in Kassel, Germany; the itinerant biennial Manifesta, which has landed in Genk, Belgium; Paris’s La Triennale; and the new Kiev Biennale in Ukraine—present a vision of the world that focuses on countries at the centre of recent political upheavals or on the fringes of Western awareness. Americans count for just over 9% of the total number of 550 artists included in these shows. The US artists whose work is on display tend to be over 50, if they are still alive at all. Younger ones are often female or African-American.

“Institutions, audiences and the media in many parts of the world… do not any longer feel that the US has a special status among the different cultural regions of the world,” says Cuauhtémoc Medina, one of the curators of Manifesta 9, which is showing a total of 116 artists and collectives, including just four Americans (Charles Demuth, William Rittase, Robert Smith­son—all dead—and the African-American artist David Hammons, born in 1943).

The art market tells a different story. Visitors to Art Basel will see work by 2,500 artists on the stands of 300 galleries from six continents. But artists from just three countries account for nearly half of the work on show, with Americans by far the largest contingent. We took a sample of 1,000 artists and found that more than 23% of those with works on sale are American. Their German and British counterparts are in second and third places, each accounting for nearly 12% of the total. Artists from France, Italy and Switzerland represent a further 18.2%. Despite the hype surrounding China and the addition of a fair in Hong Kong to the Art Basel stable, few Chinese artists have made it to the floor. Only 12 of the 1,000 artists in our survey are Chinese (1.2%). Africa has only 15 artists (1.5%).

So why the discrepancy? “The market is somewhat behind the developments since the 1990s, when the art world began ‘opening up’,” says Katerina Gregos, another curator of Manifesta 9. “Collectors still prefer to buy works that can more easily translate into an ascribed economic value, hence the continuing preference for painting and sculpture and less [preference] for experimental or ‘difficult’ works of art. So it is understandable that what one will find in Basel will come from countries with a tradition of producing such art, mostly through safe, tried and tested, recognisable names.”


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