ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Room of Histories

Is Art Forever Contemporary? 1989 and the Globalization of Art


Yto Barrada »TECTONIC«, 2004/2010, Wooden model with movable continents. Installation view. Picture: © Yto Barrada

When did we start to refer to art as being 'contemporary'? After modern art ceased being contemporary? And at what point does contemporary become historic? During the 20th century, the understanding of art was based on a conception of art history that made it possible to refer to art in terms of a clear timeline of styles. In this sense, each work of art could be related to a certain point in history, either by way of a response or else in contrast to what had already become established in art. However, now, one may observe, this idea is no longer relevant for contemporary art. Were we to cast back in time in order to address something as apparently paradoxical as the 'history of the contemporary', we would then find ourselves in the 1980s, the era in which globalization first became a buzzword.

Concomitant to the global changes unfolding in 1989, the art world faced an increase in the appearance of current art production from outside the European-American hemisphere. This shift to a global perspective confronted the western art world with a diversity of simultaneous art worlds that resisted being subsumed under its own tradition and history. The western concept of art thus became susceptible to fundamental reevaluation: ought one to now rather refer to modernity in the plural, in short, could it be that there is more than one avant-garde? Art became contemporary no sooner than its history was put in question by a diversity of conflicting histories, in other words, when its universal styles and forms were rendered 'local' by the image worlds of the 'Other'. But does the term contemporaneity then imply that we have come to an ideal state, to an ,end of history‘? Is there nothing more to strive for? And if there is 'a' history of contemporary art, then who is supposed to write it?


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