‘Guggenheim Project Challenges ‘Western-Centric View’

This morning in the Arts section of the Times, this article described the new Guggenheim Museum’s program that aims to globalize our perspective on contemporary art.  Every two years, a curator from a non-Western part of the world will choose different artists from their region that they think ‘best reflects the talent in their areas.’  Then, the Guggenheim will use their estimated $40 million dollar budget  to acquire the works, show them, and then let two other museums show them as well.  The exhibits will be complemented by lectures and programs that focus on the theme of globalization and cultural exchange.  The budget is just an estimate from art world insiders, but it is a huge amount of money financed by the UBS Swiss Bank, and is more than the Guggenheim or UBS has ever spent on a single program.

“We are hoping to challenge our Western-centric view of art history,” said Richard Armstrong, the director of the Guggenheim Foundation. “Our global aspiration is to become familiar with these places, but that calls for people power and a sense of adventure. We certainly have the latter.” (NY TIMES)

The first curator has been selected for South and Southeast Asia, and it will be June Yap of Singapore.  The program will also look at the Middle East, Latin America, and North Africa.

What I think is great about this is the longevity of the project.  The fact that they plan on undertaking this huge budget, and at least 8 years of various regional exhibits, shows that Guggenheim and UBS are pretty dedicated.  I also think it’s important that they are choosing a curator from each region, and then letting the curator make the decisions about the talent that the program chooses.

But there is still the nagging problem of viewing these artists only under the scope of their nationality.  I will be interested to see how the Guggenheim tackles this problem, and how the Western audience will view these artists after the show is over. Will the artists gain enough attention to be accepted as mainstream?  How will art collectors respond?  I think the Guggenheim will have to be very careful with how they frame the show, so that the artists will be recognized as just artists, and not so much as an artist from (insert artist’s home country).  This will probably be mostly up to the curators, who are also being advertised as ‘a curator from (insert curator’s home country).’  I wonder, with the show’s goal of encouraging globalized thinking in the arts, but in the show’s actions of only showing non-Western art under the headline of being non-Western, is the show doomed from the start?

I’m excited to see how this unfolds.

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