Last night, I found a video of college lecture on the topic of international contemporary art on Youtube.
The lecture comes from the International Artists Series at Barnard College in the New York City and the full video was uploaded on the Barnard's Youtube a while ago. The guest speaker for the event was Mr. Alistair Hicks, a respected writer and curator to Deutsche Bank, which owns the world's largest corporate art collection in the world. He currently works as the Art Advisor for the Deutsche Bank and has served as an art critic for major publications such as the Spectator, The Times, and Vogue. The video was almost two hours long, so I downloaded the video and watched it on the school bus this morning. I didn’t realize until today how nice it is to watch a film or a video on the morning bus. It makes me feel ultra productive and activates me for the day.
During the first half of the lecture, Ms. Hicks introduces many international artists that he personally finds interesting. Many of the artists were from Asia, but I wasn’t familiar with any of the names except Xu Bing. But simply showing the works of Western and Eastern artists one after another made very noticeable the trend that Asian artists, Chinese and Singaporean in particular, tend to be much more political in their works. The topic of the comparison between the West and the East is a very timely one to me, because I have been taking an online course called Eastern and Western Thoughts this semester. It’s a course focused on the difference between Eastern and Western philosophies and religions, and how many of the modern leaders/icons have classical Eastern and/or Western perspectives. Taking the course, I noticed that Asian religions, such as Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism tend to focus more about how an individual can improve so he can contribute to the society and become a better person, while Western philosophers, such as Plato, Machiavelli and Aristotle focused more on an ideal form of government, and how governments can contribute to the wellness of the society. So seeing that Eastern art by far is more political is somewhat surprising when I consider Eastern religions that centers on moral goodness. It’s probably the extreme modernization and political change that China and many other Asian countries went through that makes Asian artists become so sensitive to and intrigued by the politics.
One of the many works he introduced, Yang Fudong’s The First Intellectual, struck me the most because it’s such an accurate portrayal of wealthy Chinese people right now. Because China has developed so rapidly in the last few years, so many people who are wealthy right now in China are the people who didn’t not receive proper education few years back. They have the money to take a bath in, but not much sense of moral or manners. (The worst are the Chinese billionaires who are in their early 20’s. Because of the one-child policy, not only are they rich, they are also spoiled.) So Yang Fudong’s painting depicting a businessman holding a brick in his hand, seemingly lost in the middle of an urban city seems to me symbolize people getting lost in the rapid change.
One of the arguments made by Mr. Hicks in the debate later in the video was that the art world, or the art market has become too defined in the sense that people tell each other what to buy and there is not much freedom for people to freely explore. He said that buyers purchase because they know they should, not necessarily because they fully appreciate and enjoy the art. I believe to an extent, this is very true. I really don’t know much about the art world, but from reading auction catalogs and reading some articles on my own, I’ve noticed that the market is moved by the buyers chasing for art pieces that the media tells them to purchase because they are of good value. However, at the same time, I don’t really think this statement is true on every level of the market. For example, my father worked an art dealer. He often comes into my room with catalogs, books, sometimes just brochures with paintings on them, crying, “don’t you think this looks amazing? I should watch out for this new artist.” Because his job is to dig out new artists and buy their art before the market wakes up to the value of their art, so I had never thought that modern art market is “too defined.” Maybe it’s just that I’m used to seeing an art dealer working, who works in the “primary market” (Is that the correct way to use this term?) and Mr. Hicks mainly talks about the “secondary market” in the lecture. Anyway- I still think Mr. Hicks makes a solid point.
I also enjoyed listening to the conversation between the moderator and Mr. Hicks heat up, as the moderator began challenging Mr. Hicks view that art should not need any explanation to be appreciated. The moderator stated that a lot of modern art is so conceptual and abstract that the audience expects some kind of explanation to follow the art. On the other hand, Mr. Hicks stressed that conceptual art is not always about the backstory. I wonder what he thinks about the works of Taryn Simon. Her works are all about the telling of the stories and sharing with the audience how external forces such as power and religion can interfere with psychological inheritance. Because her works itself are simple photographs pasted on a thick piece of paper, there is no other way for the audience to figure out her intent behind the work but to read the thick booklets provided to them by the museum or the gallery.
Lastly- It was funny when the moderator asked, “Why is Deutche Bank [involved with art?],” continuing, “a bank can’t just buy art…” And Mr. Hicks seemed honestly confused by his statement that a “bank can’t just collect art solely for the sake of collecting art.” Like Mr. Hicks, I think it’s great that banks are involved with the art world because it creates a intersection between creative art with finances and brings in culture into the financial world. My two favorite subjects are art and economy, so it’s exciting to see an real world example on the intersection between the two worlds.
I really enjoyed watching the lecture. I hope next year, I will be able to participate in real lectures at college! It's so great that I get to watch these amazing lectures on youtube for free though. That's what I love about the internet.
Click here for the video.