How Artists and Museums Can Embrace Globalism

The artist, curator, and critic Robert Storr discusses the importance of Cai Guoqiang's work. (3 min., 59 sec.)

On Friday afternoon, Asia Society New York hosted a half-day symposium dedicated to a subject that has become a frequent topic of conversation in the art world: How can artists and museums deal with increasing interconnectivity?

At the center of the discussion was the contemporary Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, the subject of the Shanshan Xia documentary What About the Art? that was screened before Friday’s discussion. The film explores aspects of the planning and the curatorial mission of Cai’s exhibition of the same name at the Doha Museum of Art in Qatar and features Cai conversing with 30 international artists and specialists on questions surrounding methodology and creativity. These conversations represent an effort to explore each artist’s singular contributions to contemporary art. Throughout the film, Cai brings our attention back to the creative and intellectual value of a work of art, as opposed to its capital or market value.

In a keynote address following the screening, the American artist, critic, and curator Robert Storr said that Cai’s work “pressures the viewer to think” about social and environmental issues in a global context. In his 2016 gun powder drawing on paper White Tone, for example, Cai depicts dozens of different animal species drinking from the same pond — thus breaking down barriers and stressing the importance of coexistence. Issuing a reminder that art is global and should bring people together, Storr relayed a quote made famous during the civil strife in Los Angeles in the 1990s: "If we can't get along, we perish."

The notion of interconnectivity continued to be a central topic for the panel discussion that followed Storr’s remarks when the artist Ann Hamilton joined Cai and moderator Joachim Pissarro on stage. Pissaro started the panel discussion with the metaphor of weaving, which is central to Hamilton’s work: “Like a thread, you both connect people, societies, cultures.” Both artists heavily draw upon various Eastern and Western artistic traditions to transcend cultural boundaries and to reach a sense of universality. They discussed methodological similarities in their work and the notion of connectivity as central to their artistic practices. 

Laura Hoptman, Tim Griffin, and Nancy Spector discuss creativity in artistic practices. (2 min., 15 sec.)

Interconnectivity is not only a concern for artists: How can museum and cultural institutions engage with globalism, social and environmental challenges, and new curatorial practices? The last panel discussion, moderated by curator Laura Hoptman (The Museum of Modern Art) and including curators Tim Griffin (The Kitchen) and Nancy Spector (Brooklyn Museum), revolved around a question raised by Hoptman: “Is it possible to bring the street into the museum?” Spector argued that it was the responsibility of art organizations to remain socially conscious, accessible, and participatory, despite the inevitable commercialization of cultural spaces. Both curators used their own experiences at their respective institutions to argue that, as museums gravitate toward interdisciplinarity by incorporating politics and history with a variety of art forms they have a responsibility, as Griffin asserted, in “activating histories among works.”

About the Author

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Louis Soulard is an intern with the Asia Society Museum.