Anatomy of a Fledgling Contemporary "Art World" : Open Thread
What an accomplishment this is became much more apparent to me, as did (in particular) how much we take that structure for granted, in talking with Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (whom we call M&G for short, and who we're delighted to have back with us in New York for a few weeks) about a new initiative they've launched in their hometown, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
To appreciate the significance of this initiative, though, a quick bit of background is probably helpful. M&G went to great art universities in Moscow and then-Leningrad, having grown up when Kyrgyzstan was still a republic of the Soviet Union. This was typical for artists in the outlying regions of the USSR, and seen as an advantage of the socialist system there (regardless of where you were born, if you had artistic talent, you got a grade A education). But the concentration of the Soviet art education structure in a few Russian metropolises resulted in virtually no higher art education opportunities being developed elsewhere and thus no realistic options for non-Russian artists at university age once the Soviet Union collapsed.
There were, of course, a network of Russian-trained artists who had returned home to the former republics, but no structure in place to train the next generation and, for all but a few of the lucky countries with oil or other expensive natural resources, no funds to launch one.
At the point they are in their career, M&G would typically be expected to move to Europe or the US, but they choose to remain in Kyrgyzstan and work diligently to bring the rest of the global art community to their country (with a series of highly acclaimed international biennials in Bishkek) and try to build a structure for the next generation of Kyrgyz artists. This isn't easy. Not only is Kyrgyzstan a rather poor nation, but, again, there's not much of a foundation for doing so.
But so important is this mission to the husband-wife team that they often put their own careers on the back burner to further it. One recent effort in this mission was the foundation of the Bishkek-based ArtEast School of Contemporary Art. It was a pilot program only, supported generously by Arts Collaboratory (which was established by Hivos and the DOEN Foundation) and it was conceived as follows:
The School of Contemporary Art is pilot project of ArtEast. Duration is 6 months (January -June 2009). Supervisors are Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev.M&G told me that the pilot culminated in an exhibition at the French Embassy in Bishkek and that they hope to expand upon it to include arts writers/critics next.
The main purpose of the project is maximal adaptation of higher art education (bachelor degree) to the World level of education using the effective methods of education.
Educational program includes:
- Theoretical part (lectures and discussions on the history of modern and contemporary art, the main tendencies and directions)
- Practical part (different skills for implementation of own art work, articulation of own statement and own projects)
This led us to a conversation about what exactly goes into the making of a Contemporary "art world" structure in any country. What are the important foundations and then the next steps. Would, for example, I asked, the school branch out to include curatorial studies? Gulnara said, no time soon. That you needed a fairly large system to support individuals focusing on curating, as opposed to having people curate in addition to making art or writing about art.
That led me to asking what they thought was the right timing/role of commercial art galleries. They indicated that a fledgling gallery had launched recently in Bishkek but it followed a bit of a collective-style format. Artist-funded, it rented out the space to local artists for exhibitions. Sales, as you might expect, were rare.
All of which got me to wondering about the most effective order of building such a world. Like those computer games in which you found a colony and have to make basic decisions about where to build the transporation hub and where to build your defenses against invaders, always with an eye toward the most efficient path for growth of course, I wondered how many artists and exhibition venues you need before it makes sense to have someone specialize on criticism. At what point does having curatorial experts become sustainable? Is there a rational order to such progressions, or is each new "art world" unique?
I don't mean to make light of M&G's efforts in Bishkek, mind you. Their project remains one of the most impressive efforts anywhere in the world, IMO. In particular, given how remote their hometown is--it's 27 hours door to door from New York--it's fairly amazing to me to think how far their dedication has taken them (they're screening and discussing their work at MoMA next Monday, by the way...please stop in if you can). I simply see their goal of building a support system for Kyrgyz artists from the ground up as an opportunity to think about whether there are any methods/paths more successful than others.
Consider this an open thread on what it means to build a contemporary "art world."