Art Now, the giants' nest
Indexing artists who matter most in the ever-expanding topography of contemporary art
In the expanding horizon of production, global appreciation and marketing, the overlapping fields of exhibition-making and myth-making have now become the essential tools to fortify and sustain the link between the esoteric world of art and the public sphere. As the art world 'mega stars' are packaged and presented on venues specializing in art, myth and reality are reconciled and their togetherness is brought to bear upon the narratives advanced primarily as a marketing ploy. But there is another facet to this: mediation of people who appreciate and rightly appraise the contemporary artistic innovations. These are the people who operate with the hope of ensuring that things do not sink into mediocrity, an omnipresent anxiety in an era of fecundity. Either way there is more traction in favour of artists whose works are structured from within the broader pale of the 'contemporary'.
Through the constitutive superlatives and the resultant subtexts of both production and staging as well as critical reflections on the historical background, contemporary art is often interpreted as 'epochal' and/or even 'apocalyptic', annunciating the teleological 'end point' of history. Making substantive claim to artistic merit in such a context is now somewhat similar to dislodging a great chunk of 'art historical inheritance' – it is through debasing the previous notions of art that the 'new' is now scripted or enacted.
Still, in the environment of overproduction the aesthetic conceits of artworks often remain overshadowed by the strategies of the market, turning each act of staging – be that in actual or virtual space – into an enterprise in material profit.
Those who financially enable new marketing strategies are often called the Naked Emperors of the art world; but what would the epithet be for those who operate as the arbiter of the 'new'? If the former's concern is monetization, the latter group of people must have 'paradigms' and their 'shifts' in mind. And they operate by avoiding the pathological preference for that preeminent posture that favours so-called 'good taste'. 'Art Now', a series of coffee-table books, gives the impression that it does both with a stress on the love for the arts. In all probability, it is the most important portal to get a glimpse of the contemporary global art scene. The lens it fixes on art seems untainted by the classical European taste-bud which used to be hierarchal and exclusionary.
Taschen, Art Now's plotter, the book company that has successfully elevated itself from vendoring comics to dealing in high art and other forms of popular culture (including collaborations with Playboy), in the last couple years have regularly couriered the 'contemporary' in sizable collectible tomes to the homes of art connoisseurs across the globe. A 'giant leap' seemed to have been made possible towards the reconciliation of the marketing gambit with a judicious acknowledgment of what is good, grand and even outrageous (to the weak-hearted) in the global circuit.
In this hypermediated age, where strategies of freighting artistic production into the public domain has evolved into an art in itself, the series of books entitled Art Now successfully rolls out, in volumes after volumes, a closely observed survey of the contemporary scene. These sizable tomes occupy a special niche in the market as they also adduce a form of value creation in the current context of art praxes and appreciation.
The series serving as indices of the contemporary art clearly keeps feeding the imagination of artists and art buffs alike. A Dhaka-based young woman artist once remarked that her ultimate goal would be to be in Art Now.
Amidst the complaints of mythification and commoditization of art and artists, one navigates the pages of these tomes with the foreknowledge that globalism in its recently developed disposition only translates into the intricate and far-reaching webs the centers (New York, London, Berlin, etc.) have released across the world over the last few decades. Yet, those who are looking to scan the horizon to observe the artistic muscles stretched to its limits to bring into form new art from Japan and China to the UK and the USA, especially by those who made it to the rosters of important galleries, museums and auctioneers, this series readily beguiles the eye. With its focus on the works from a wide selection reproduced mostly in full pages, these books are a collector's favourite.
The Volume No. 4, like all other volumes bearing the same name, throws out information about artists who matter – chiefly in visual signals. In its quick-paced showcasing signifying the (re)source of cultural capital arising out of the late capital era's hyperfinancialised climate, the textual unconcealment of the artistic mores are given little space. Each artist is allocated one designated paragraph that works as an introduction and is allowed one aphorism about their respective praxis.
From within its expansive 576-page horizon, the art world stalwarts and their seminal contributions to the new languages keep one excited and even intimidated at times as their innovations and interpolations are often, as mentioned earlier, bring into view a transgressive spirit that currently dominates the global art scene. This particular volume has a wide section dedicated to the far Eastern scene charting the localized transgressive acts set in the global context. Artists from mainland China, Korea and Japan enjoy adequate exposure. All the big names, including Ai Weiwei, representing the surge in the interdisciplinary practices are found in it. Yang Fudong, a Chinese artist with a growing reputation; Haegue Yang, a Korean artist who divides time between Seoul and Berlin; and Zeng Fanzhi, a Beijing based artist reputed for his oversized portraitures, open up the vistas that follow from the region comprising China, Korea and Japan.
China's current status as an economic giant now overlaps with the emergence of a 'new field of creativity'. 'Via a massive expansion of the nation's art schools in 2000, when intake swelled from a few hundred to a few thousand and teaching faculties doubled' and a new 'cultural policy', China's grounding for the global artistic expeditions was complete, Karen Smith tells us. '[T]he contemporary art creation model' she also speaks about in her piece entitled Art Now China: Reinventing the Game of Art, refers to the link between contemporaneity and the local, but the challenge facing the artists from the region remains eternally bound to the issue of 'innovation and epigonism'. Though, the local is as materially enabling as the international. Both China and Korea has adequate infrastructures to become global centers – Seuol and Beijing and Shanghai is the proof. China has well over 3,000 museums, and most are dedicated to the arts.
The historical failures in stretching the platform to accommodate talents from the periphery will always overshadow any attempt at casting a wide net. After flipping through the pages one realizes that a greater portion of the artists are based in New York or Los Angeles. Still the current edition bore holes in places to create openings to countries like Vietnam or India. To say the least in favour of such an effort, it is a coveted indexing of a coterie of artists who have made it big and are now known across the globe for a playful referencing to art history and cultures and the possibilities unearthed by blurring of the borders between disciplines. Clearly, those who have the desire to be informed of the goings on in the global scene(s), this tome is a reliable index to run one's eyes over what the contemporary artists have made visible and to register the stratagems they stand for.