“Mega-Exhibitions and the Antimonies of a Transnational Global Form” by Okwui Enwezor vs. “The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor” by George Baker

Theorist and curator Okwui Enwezor, who had written and published this paper on the emerging globalization of the art market and its relationship for better and worse to capitalism as the universally dominant system of commerce, repurposed and edited his original piece to accommodate a tandem presentation at Columbia University’s 2002 Sawyer Seminar. Presenting an opposing and decidedly more personal address was art critic George Baker.

Anolis carolinensis, green anole

Anolis carolinensis, green anole

Anolis carolinensis, the green anole, Florida’s only native anole species, May 2007

Enwezor allows that the so-called globalization of the art market is not seen be a positive by all ((“Mega-Exhibitions and the Antimonies of a Transnational Global Form” by Okwui Enwezor. 4)), but proposes, basically, that the world globalization be associated not just with the economic hegemony of the very wealthy individuals and institutions who collect and purchase art objects and support their creation but with a true internationalization of the art world. In this new and improved postmodernist art world, the old canon of art stars and art history would implode what would now occur would be the “broadening … of international participation across a range of cultural, social, and political spheres. ((ibid., 4))”
Enwezor cites two areas of concern in which factions of traditional art historians struggle with the concepts introduced by proponents of the new reality. These two fulcrums of debate are “the domain of culture and social production of identity” and “the political and economic arena of democratic rights, national sovereignty, and economic self-determination. ((ibid., 5))”
Enwezor uses as an illustration of the serious and thoughtfully considered nature of righteous internationalists in fomenting new representations in academic programs and curated collections by pointing to a think tank he participated in in 1997 in Italy whose members came from Brazil, Turkey, Cuba, Australia, South Africa, and Thailand, amid other countries ((ibid., 8)). These panelists endeavored to “recode the complex dialectics between globalization and the long process of modernization towards market basked-economies on the course of which much of the developing world was set since the early days of decolonization.” Enwezor reports this group drew and reached no conclusions other than to continue meeting at subsequent retreats and biennale exhibitions.
Enwezor finds significance in the geographic placement of mega-exhibits and major shows in cities and regions that have endured some type of historical trauma ((ibid., 10)). Enwezor cites by example Germany’s Documenta and the Kwangju and Johannesburg biennales, offering that “the founding of these three institutions closely mirrors the political and social transitions of each of the countries where they are situated.”
Enwezor is also considered with shifting parameters in defining visual culture by time periods and the self-defined tendency of societies of “enlightenment.” Enwezor defines the urge to modernize as the will to reject the perception and reality of “backwardness. ((ibid., 12))” Institutions, thus, tend to express the desire to modernize through an effort to, essentially, follow trends of collecting influenced by mastery of corrected narratives. This can, says Enwezor, engender a net positive in terms of cultural effect, as museums and public spaces become international zones of shared and transmitted notions of what constitutes culture.
Enwezor alludes to the embrace of the word “spectacle” at the beginning of his essay and revisits this concept in a subsection toward the end of his piece. Enwezor says that mega-exhibitions offer viewership opportunities not exclusively for the educated connoisseur but for “a general view who represents an unknown demographic” who has not been “co-opted and homogenized in the institutional logic of display. ((ibid., 17))”
Critic George Baker takes exception to Enwezor’s optimistic assessment of the equalizing nature of enormous international art fairs, and argues that the only valid definition of “globalization” is one that must include an acknowledgement of the invasiveness of multinational corporations ((“The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor” by George Baker. 20)).
Baker defiantly asks “who and where is the audience for mega-exhibitions?” echoing Enwezor’s use of the words “spectatorship” and “spectacle.” The roving biennale, Baker says, creates a traveling fair for global elites, excluding both artists and the local populations where such exhibits take place ((ibid., 22)).
Baker dismisses Enwezor’s Trauma and Nation model concepts, claiming that instead shows such as Documenta existed for years merely as a forum for exported American art and views of art ((ibid., 23)). Baker further argues that mega-exhibits are in fact created, like the Olympics, with the intent of defining, promulgating, and delineating American culture.
Baker asks why it is that biennials – which are, he says, essentially the same showcasing many of the same works repeated in different time zones – are the new model for “counter-hegemonic spectatorship. ((ibid., 24))”

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