Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Other Asian Art Market to Watch

There's been a good deal of news about the burgeoning art scene in China lately, including a few posts by yours truly, but artists in that other emerging economic giant in Asia are beginning to see a much brighter future for their careers as well. An article in today's New York Times profiles 90-year old Indian painter Tyeb Mehta, who after decades of toiling in poverty, saw one of his paintings break the auction record for a contemporary Indian work at Christie's.

Mr. Mehta's career has mirrored the changing fortunes of contemporary Indian art over the last six decades, from the intellectual fervor of its birth at Indian independence in 1947, to a lifetime of aesthetic and financial struggle, to the improbable rise of the Indian art market in the last few years. As the Indian economy has galloped forward, art galleries have mushroomed, prices have skyrocketed and contemporary art has become the latest marker of affluence among the newly minted rich.
Now, I'm in the infancy of my education about the scene in India, but I have a few friends/acquaintances who are well versed in what's happening there, so I'm learning. In speaking with Shumita Bose of New York's premiere gallery exhibiting contemporary India art, Bose Pacia Modern, recently, I learned that whereas a decade ago contemporary Indian artists needed to work with galleries outside their homeland to secure a successful career, the art market there is so incredibly strong now, many need not even bother. Further, as one might expect, the number of galleries opening in India has sky-rocketted.

India hosted its first national pavillion at the Venice Biennale this past summer as well, featuring Atul Dodiya, Anita Dube, Ranbir Kaleka, Nalini Malani, Raqs Media Collective, and Nataraj Sharma (
all of whom exhibit at Bose Pacia, no less). I had the pleasure of meeting Ranbir at the opening of his highly acclaimed first New York solo exhibition and was delighted by his wit, patience, and apparent bemusement with all the attention. We talked at length about his process and his enthusiasm for the potential of mixing new technology with ancient themes and perceptions about humanity.

Given the scope of the country itself, no blog post can do justice to all that's happening in the art market in India (well, no blog post I have time to attempt right now), but every indication is that the contemporary scene there is one to watch. From here in New York, your best vantage point is undoubtedly via the excellent program at Bose Pacia.


Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

"There's been a good deal of news about the burgeoning art scene in China lately, including a few posts by yours truly, but artists in that other emerging economic giant in Asia are beginning to see a much brighter future for their careers as well."

It's always interesting to me to monitor the relationship between repressive governments and their wild support for contemporary cutting edge art by their country's artists...support that is wild and enthusiastic as long as that work is exhibited outside the country.

China, as has been rightly noted by many critics, officially supports the export of more challenging works of contemporary art to Biennales, rather than allowing such work, and more importantly, allowing more directly politically challenging work (challenging to the government) within its own borders. You don't need to be a diplomat with an MFA to figure this curatorial philosophy out. The propaganda value in doing this is obvious.

Our own government during the heat of the Cold War got behind a scheme to spread the gospel of Abstract Expressionism to counter the spread of socialist realism. I have boxes filled with material on this effort that I've acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

Others have written on the subject as well.


As Frances Stoner Saunders explains in her brilliant book, Who Paid the Piper – The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, the CIA covertly supported the Abstract Expressionist movement by funding exhibits all over the world in promotion of the idea that the culture of freedom was superior to the culture of slavery, and by covertly promoting the purchasing of works by various private collections. Indeed, the CIA named its biggest front in Europe the Congress for Cultural Freedom. It worked. Soviet art became a laughing stock, and New York became the center of the art world, not Paris, where Picasso, a long-time member of the Communist party and winner of the Stalin Peace Prize (who can forget his doves of peace?), still reigned supreme.-


Cultural cold war
Origins of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1949-50(1)


Yet there was a time when Washington was guilty of such un-American activities in spades. With $166,000 (worth more than a million of today's dollars), the American taxpayer in 1952 dispatched the Boston Symphony to Europe on a glorious tour that helped establish the Bostonians as among the best in the world. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, David Smith -- artists of the school that came to be known as Abstract Expressionism -- were thrust into global fame with help from the feds. Except that the funds were supplied indirectly and clandestinely, with the Congress for Cultural Freedom the main channel and the Central Intelligence Agency the ultimate donor.


And propaganda politics continues to infect art with the grossly political selection of Ed Rusha as the U.S. representative to the 2005 Venice Biennale. Mark Vallen and I have written extensively on this issue that was virtually ignored by the MSM and art press.

Ed Ruscha: Agitpop for Bush

Ruscha, MOCA, Pettibon & Bush

What's the definition of a great contemporary artist? Didn't the Third Reich already tell us?

Unraveling the da Vinci Code that attempts to hide the role of government in propping up or tearing down one form of art over another can be an amusing hobby.

Meanwhile, the art world holds its breath to see what government sanctioned cutting edge contemporary art is exported to Biennales around the globe from Venezuela and Bolivia with the imprimatur of Chavez and Morales.

Not much has changed in the art world. If as an artist you seek to please the King, then your future is indeed destined to be brighter than others.


1/24/2006 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

I'll quote myself:

"Meanwhile, the art world holds its breath to see what government sanctioned cutting edge contemporary art is exported to Biennales around the globe from Venezuela and Bolivia with the imprimatur of Chavez and Morales."

Hmmm...I just opened the Sports section of the Washington Post and see that on page 5 (just below the NHL stats, and in very very small print) is an announcement that Canada has gone conservative. My God! What's going on the world?! We'll also now need to hold our breath to see what school of art Stephen Harper forms an official Biennale supporting alliance!


1/24/2006 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Interesting article, intresting paintings.
It's the 21st Century the art world is going global

1/24/2006 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear George,

"It's the 21st Century the art world is going global"

That's true. The problem is that in most countries it takes an import/export license, plus an ATA Carnet Bond(pronounced "car-nay"), to ship work out beyond borders and onto the world biennale stage.

The politics behind what import/export duty-free licenses get approved and denied shapes the art press dialogue about the so-called globalization of art. If a government refuses to grant an artist an official export license to exhibit their work at a biennale in a foreign country, then that artist's work will not be shown in another country, or at least legally exhibited. And if a government refuses to grant an import license to an artist to show work in a specific country, say China, for example, then that artist's work will not be seen in that country - again, legally at least.

What's interesting to me is how the art press has allowed exclusionary international trade laws to influence the dialogue on this subject of the so-called globalization of art.


P.S. I speak from the experience of having had ATA Carnets denied for photographic works of art that I wanted to ship to China, North Korea, Iran and Cuba.

1/24/2006 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Interesting topic. Curiously, two friends living in Lucknow, India - one a writer and the other an artist; both American - have not suggested such a art market boom, even after having traveled to the cultural centers of the sprawling country to explore the contemporary art scene, among other things.

I must conclude that the Indian art market, while it may be flourishing, remains fairly closed off from the country's culture at large. (But, hey, so does our own.)

I've forwarded this post to my friends, so perhaps they'll have something more substantiative to add.

1/24/2006 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'd be very interested in their reply HH. Thanks, e

1/24/2006 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

The "so called globalization of art" is a result of the expanding global information technology (internet) and wealth creation in non western countries. When it comes to jpegs, more or less anyone can see what's going on anywhere anytime, translated too. No longer, is the art world centered in NYC, rather than a point it has become a network.

1/24/2006 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

[The "so called globalization of art" is a result of the expanding global information technology (internet) and wealth creation in non western countries.]

For those who can afford to own the equipment and who have legal access to the internet in certain countries the above may be true.

However, even those who own the technology and have legal internet access face another hurdle to globalize their art distribution and art viewing...

Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005: A Country Study
China’s - http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/china/

Internet filtering regime is the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world. Compared to similar efforts in other states, China’s filtering regime is pervasive, sophisticated, and effective. It comprises multiple levels of legal regulation and technical control. It involves numerous state agencies and thousands of public and private personnel. It censors content transmitted through multiple methods, including Web pages, Web logs, on-line discussion forums, university bulletin board systems, and e-mail messages. Our testing found efforts to prevent access to a wide range of sensitive materials, from pornography to religious material to political dissent. Chinese citizens seeking access to Web sites containing content related to Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, Falun Gong, the Dalai Lama, the Tiananmen Square incident, opposition political parties, or a variety of anti-Communist movements will frequently find themselves blocked. While it is difficult to describe this widespread filtering with precision, our research documents a system that imposes strong controls on its citizens’ ability to view Internet content.


The international museum of globalized art that is touted as a mantra in the art press presently includes but a tiny fraction of the most challenging work that is produced in this world - work that is suppressed at every level (especially at the technology level) by the more authoritarian regimes.

I'm in favor of eliminating the international trade barriers (import/export) that have long controlled the distribution (both real world and virtual) of art. Once those barriers are eliminated and the full range of art truly begins to flow freely from country to country, then I think we can revisit, and rethink, the definition of globalized art.

In the meantime, many people in this world who are financially fortunate enough to have access to the internet continue to see online what they are allowed to see by their government.


1/24/2006 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

James, well we're only 5 years into the 21st century. All the things you mention are true but don't change the facts, just slow things down down a bit. The genie is out of the bottle.

1/24/2006 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear George,
"The genie is out of the bottle."

I absolutely agree with you on that point. And it does indeed have profound positive implications for the future liberty of artists who are imprisoned around the globe for the crime of doing nothing more than creating art that challenges the state's point of view. I hope that I live to see the next Berlin Wall (the art world Berlin Wall) come down. I do very much agree with you that in the long run the internet will no doubt play a major role in that happening.


1/24/2006 04:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to interrupt the discussion, but the Peabody Essex not too long ago established the "first American museum gallery dedicated to the modern and contemporary art of India" based upon the large gift the Museum received from pioneering collectors in this area, the late Chester and Davida Herwitz. PEM's a pretty amazing place, one of the most unusual collections in the country, and the new gallery feels like a natural expansion of the Museum's American/Asian blend.

1/24/2006 09:17:00 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

Crap . . . "anonymous" on PEM was me.

1/24/2006 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Edward's post and the resulting dialogue collide with breaking news:

Via Breitbart/AP, Google capitulates to China's censors:

Online search engine leader Google Inc. has agreed to censor its results in China, adhering to the country's free-speech restrictions in return for better access in the Internet's fastest growing market. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company planned to roll out a new version of its search engine bearing China's Web suffix ".cn," on Wednesday. A Chinese-language version of Google's search engine has previously been available through the company's dot-com address in the United States. By creating a unique address for China, Google hopes to make its search engine more widely available and easier to use in the world's most populous country.

Because of government barriers set up to suppress information, Google's China users previously have been blocked from using the search engine or encountered lengthy delays in response time. The service troubles have frustrated many Chinese users, hobbling Google's efforts to expand its market share in a country that expected to emerge as an Internet gold mine over the next decade. China already has more than 100 million Web surfers and the audience is expected to swell substantially _ an alluring prospect for Google as it tries to boost its already rapidly rising profits...

...To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country's government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials...Google officials characterized the censorship concessions in China as an excruciating decision for a company that adopted "don't be evil" as a motto. But management believes it's a worthwhile sacrifice.

1/24/2006 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Here's the CNN link to the AP story - http://www.cnn.com/2006/BUSINESS/01/24/google.china.ap/index.html

1/24/2006 10:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Hi Ed,

Artkrush featured a contemporary Indian artist, Subodh Gupta, on the cover of the first issue and I interviewed Gordon Knox, co-curator of iCon: India Contemporary at the Venice Biennale, in the June 1, 2005 issue. There's definitely good art being made all around the world.

All best,


Paul Laster

1/24/2006 11:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for the tip Paul! I'm friends with Julie Evans, one of the other iCon curators and really hated that I was unable to go to Venice this year...did you make it over?

1/25/2006 09:12:00 AM  

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