Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Magiciens de la Terre
The 1989 “Magiciens de la Terre” exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou was a seminal turning point in redefining ethnocentric paradigms in contemporary art discourse. Curated by Jean Hubert Martin, the exhibition sought to examine the problem that the contemporary art world concentrated only on the western art world, only acknowledging non-western art practices as it applied to traditional or “native” influences. Hubert’s goal was to create a global examination of art that transcending national boundaries. He selected one hundred artists from around the world, fifty of which would be from the so called “center” countries and fifty from so called “marginal” countries, including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Australia. Until this point, very little was known about contemporary Chinese art practice abroad. The exhibition took as its starting point the “Primitivism” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which juxtaposed western modern art with primitive tribal objects. However, the main criticism of the “Primitivism” show and the major counterpoint that “Magiciens de le Terre” hoped to achieve was that this kind of exhibition practice ignored the ritual use of such native objects, which were integral in their function and importance in their relative community. While “Magiciens de la Terre” had egalitarian hopes, it garnered much criticism for its overall presentation. Martin picked objects based on how they were seen from a western perspective. In fact, he commented that if an ethnographer suggested a particular kind of object that was important for a particular culture and it did not communicate with a visual or sensual manner to a western spectator, he would not include it. Martin looked at the artist’s individuality rather than representative of a particular culture. The two artists that were exhibited from China, Gu Dexin and Huang Yong Ping, were intriguing to Martin because their work had no identifying tags to assist the local audience in contextualizing it. In a sense, this gesture could be seen as a major step forward into considering eastern and western art representation because it seemingly placed the same curatorial standards for inclusion. However, it was criticized by many for not living up to its goals. While the work of western artists symbolized the modern urban predicament, the selections of non western artists were more about searching for the “authentic”, bypassing the truly modern in third world countries and assuming that only modern art could be considered a western ideal. As a whole, “Magiciens de la Terre” did much to foster a new appreciation of contemporary art on a global scale. However, Martin himself commented that no one could altogether avoid an ethnocentric vision, that he had to accept this fact to some extent. Obviously the western art world maintains dominant relations with respect to the third world, but that it should not prohibit communication and efforts at garnering a more equalibrial dialogue.