The best books on art and globalization

David Joselit Author Of Heritage and Debt: Art in Globalization
By David Joselit

Who am I?

I have been professionally involved with contemporary art since the 1980s, when I was a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In the forty years since I've seen an enormous shift in the orientation of American curators and scholars from Western art to a global perspective. After earning my PhD at Harvard, and writing several books on contemporary art, I wanted to tackle the challenge of a truly comparative contemporary art history. To do so, I've depended on the burgeoning scholarship from a new more diverse generation of art historians, as well as on many decades of travel and research. My book Heritage and Debt is an attempt to synthesize that knowledge. 

I wrote...

Heritage and Debt: Art in Globalization

By David Joselit,

Book cover of Heritage and Debt: Art in Globalization

What is my book about?

If European modernism was premised on the new—on surpassing the past, often by assigning it to the “traditional” societies of the Global South—global contemporary art reanimates the past as a resource for the present. In this account of what globalization means for contemporary art, David Joselit argues that the creative use of tradition by artists from around the world serves as a means of combatting modern art's legacy of Eurocentrism. Modernism claimed to live in the future and relegated the rest of the world to the past. Joselit analyzes not only how heritage becomes contemporary through the practice of individual artists but also how a cultural infrastructure of museums, biennials, and art fairs worldwide has emerged as a means of generating economic value, attracting capital and tourist dollars.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria

Why did I love this book?

This is the best account I know of the double bind that artists subjected to settler forms of colonialism have had to endure. Taking Nigerian modern art as his case study, this eminent Africanist art historian shows how, on the one hand, colonial officials attempted to abolish the indigenous artistic heritage as "savage," or "primitive," while simultaneously blocking African artists from a European art education. To become modern required a negotiation between these dual limitations and ended up producing something very different from Western modernism.

By Chika Okeke-Agulu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Postcolonial Modernism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by one of the foremost scholars of African art and featuring 129 color images, Postcolonial Modernism chronicles the emergence of artistic modernism in Nigeria in the heady years surrounding political independence in 1960, before the outbreak of civil war in 1967. Chika Okeke-Agulu traces the artistic, intellectual, and critical networks in several Nigerian cities. Zaria is particularly important, because it was there, at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, that a group of students formed the Art Society and inaugurated postcolonial modernism in Nigeria. As Okeke-Agulu explains, their works show both a deep connection with local artistic…

Book cover of Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade

Why did I love this book?

This engaging book looks at globalization and art from a perspective well beyond the conventional art world. Wong analyzes the work of artists in the Chinese "urban village" of Dafen where some five million paintings are produced a year–copies of Western masterpieces. Rather than viewing this industry condescendingly, Wong takes Dafen as a laboratory for understanding what qualities make an artist, and how creativity exists even in contexts of reproduction and replication. 

By Winnie Won Yin Wong,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Van Gogh on Demand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Guangdong province in southeastern China lies Dafen, a village that houses thousands of workers who paint Van Goghs, Da Vincis, Warhols, and other Western masterpieces, producing an astonishing five million paintings a year. To write about life and work in Dafen, Winnie Wong infiltrated this world, investigating the claims of conceptual artists who made projects there; working as a dealer; apprenticing as a painter; surveying merchants in Europe, Asia, and America; establishing relationships with local leaders; and organizing a conceptual art show for the Shanghai World Expo. The result is Van Gogh on Demand, a fascinating book about…

Making Art Global: The Third Havana Biennial 1989, Exhibition Histories Vol. 2

By Rachel Weiss, Luis Camnitzer, Coco Fusco, Geeta Kapur, Charles Esche

Book cover of Making Art Global: The Third Havana Biennial 1989, Exhibition Histories Vol. 2

Why did I love this book?

This book is part of a series that extensively documents watershed modern and contemporary exhibitions. The Havana Biennial of 1989 was especially important because it developed what has been called South-South connections in the exhibition of contemporary artin other words, connections between different parts of the Global South or non-West that are not routed through European or North American art capitals. This was possible because, during the Cold War, Cuba maintained extensive cultural networks throughout the so-called Third World

By Rachel Weiss, Luis Camnitzer, Coco Fusco, Geeta Kapur, Charles Esche

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making Art Global as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The second installment in Afterall's Exhibition Histories series, Making Art Global, Part 1 focuses on the third Havana Biennial, which took place in 1989. In the core essay, Rachel Weiss examines the ways in which this exhibition extended the global territory of contemporary art and redefined the biennial model. Gerardo Mosquera, a key member of the curatorial team, contributes a reflection on the project, and its constituent exhibitions and events are documented photographically. The book also includes a paper delivered by Geeta Kapur at the Biennial conference and republishes reviews of the Biennial by Coco Fusco and Luis Camnitzer. It…

Book cover of Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War

Why did I love this book?

Hito Steyerl is one of the most prominent artists and media theorists in the world. Her essays draw unexpected and always stimulating connections between media technologies, surveillance, war, and political power. They are short, concise, and a pleasure to read, but they always engage with big ideas around the ethical and social challenges of a world made global through the framework of the Internet and digital communication more broadly.

By Hito Steyerl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Duty Free Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Duty Free Art, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art, in the present age. What can we do when arms manufacturers sponsor museums, and some of the world's most valuable artworks are used as a fictional currency in a global futures market that has nothing to do with the work itself? Can we distinguish between creativity and the digital white noise that bombards our everyday lives? Exploring artefacts as diverse as video games, Wikileaks files, the proliferation of spam, and political actions, she exposes the paradoxes within globalization, political economies, visual culture,…

Book cover of Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method

Why did I love this book?

Not only is this book an authoritative account of the Tansaekhwa movement in Koreaa group of abstract painters who gained great acclaim in recent yearsbut it establishes a model of how regional art worlds intersect with global networks. Kee accomplishes this by charting the hierarchical relation between Japan and Korea within Southeast Asia, whose differences were largely erased when "Asian" art was exhibited in Europe. In other words, regional rivalries and specificities are often subsumed into broader regional identities when artworks begin to circulate globally.

By Joan Kee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Contemporary Korean Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Starting in the mid-1960s, a group of Korean artists began to push paint, soak canvas, drag pencils, rip paper, and otherwise manipulate the materials of painting in ways that prompted critics to describe their actions as "methods" rather than artworks. A crucial artistic movement of twentieth-century Korea, Tansaekhwa (monochromatic painting) also became one of its most famous and successful. Promoted in Seoul, Tokyo, and Paris, Tansaekhwa grew to be the international face of contemporary Korean art and a cornerstone of contemporary Asian art.

In this full-color, richly illustrated account-the first of its kind in English-Joan Kee provides a fresh interpretation…

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