Art Defining 2020 And The Decade Ahead

Sun & Sea, Lithuania’s contribution to the 2019 Venice Biennale. Photo by Neon Realism.
Bent Pool by Elmgreen and Dragset. Photo by Robin Hill
Olafur Eliasson. Photo by Runa Maya Mørk Huber / Studio Olafur Eliasson. © 2017 Olafur Eliasson.
Opening performance “Land of a Thousand Rainbows” by Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.
Hilm Af Klint Exhibition at Guggenheim. Courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim.
Daily life of Azazel-San by Lu Yang. Courtesy of Lu Yang.
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Art Gate

From climate change to spirituality and discussions of identity, art is boldly taking on the big issues of our time and trying to make sense of it all.

TEXT: CoBo Editorial
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that art is most exciting and impactful when it is being created in a world run amok with rapid change and uncertainty. We are clearly living in such times with the decade ahead looking to be even more disruptive, divisive and even possibly defining for our civilization.

There will be quite a number of crucial artistic movements and phenomena that will come to be associated with 2020 and beyond; already we see them bubbling up in recognized art centres and equally dynamic but less visible cultural regions all around the world. For the sake of brevity, we are shining the spotlight on three artistic phenomena, defined as such for the distinctive and diverse art, and discourse they are sprouting currently.

 

  1. We Are All Environmentalists Now

Climate change is one of the greatest existential threats of our time. While this notion is still hotly debated in many parts of the world, the impact of it is being felt pretty much on a daily basis. Artists, who have been creating art about our natural environment since time immemorial, are now exploring our current ecological crisis in all its facets.

The most talked about pavilion at this year’s La Biennale di Venezia was the Golden Lion-winning Lithuania Pavilion titled Sun & Sea (Marina) (2019). Involving the recreation of a beach scene, performers playing people from all walks of life were laid out on towels under beach umbrellas taking turns to sing a song about a world with the Great Barrier Reef a “bleached, pallid whiteness,” trash uncleared and a Christmas with no snow. By theater director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, playwright Vaiva Grainytė, and composer Lina Lapelytė, the performance art piece was originally produced in Lithuanian in 2017 at the National Gallery of Arts and adapted into English for the Biennale.

 

Sun & Sea, Lithuania’s contribution to the 2019 Venice Biennale. Photo by Neon Realism.
Bent Pool by Elmgreen and Dragset. Photo by Robin Hill

 

Some other works that addressed similar themes and stood out this year include The Sinking House (2019) an intervention in the River Thames by climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion; Bent Pool (2019) by European artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset installed at the Miami Beach Convention Center; and British artist Michael Pinsky’s Pollution Pods (2019), an installation inspired by the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, in front of the United Nations building in New York.

Even more interestingly, the United Nations Development Programme appointed renowned Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson this year as a Goodwill Ambassador advocating for issues of climate change. On the point of advocacy and awareness, British sculptor Antony Gormley was rightfully concerned about the environmental impact of his blockbuster survey at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which saw floors and ceilings being reinforced in steel for the artist’s large-scale works.

These artistic efforts are becoming even more nuanced and imaginative as the earth experiences increasingly inexorable effects of global warming, a trend that looks set to continue in 2020 and beyond.

 

Olafur Eliasson. Photo by Runa Maya Mørk Huber / Studio Olafur Eliasson. © 2017 Olafur Eliasson.

 

  1. We Are All Political Animals Now

Identity politics has always been circulating in the art world, especially since the 1990s. Thanks to a shifting global sociopolitical climate and widespread public discourse on sexuality, gender, race, religion and more, this year it took a whole new immediacy and visibility. There was the revamped Museum of Modern Art in New York attempting a reportedly “more inclusive, historically accurate permanent collection hang” with works by “women, artists of color and non-Westerners” on display.

The Baltimore Museum of Art announced that it would only collect art by female artists in 2020 while also putting on at least 20 exhibitions featuring a diverse array of female artists. The museum disclosed that works by female artists only form 4 percent of their current collection. In October 2020, Mori Art Museum in Tokyo will be presenting a historical survey of living female artists who were born before 1950. Meanwhile the Centre Pompidou in Paris is also working on an all-female abstract painting exhibition.

Commercial galleries were also keeping pace. The New York Times’ Best of 2019 list included the pop-up exhibition at Gallery Wendy Norris featuring surrealist work by Mexico-based British artist Leonora and realistic paintings by African American artist Amy Sherald, making her debut at blue-chip gallery Hauser & Wirth.

Speaking of black artists, this decade reportedly saw their work become increasingly visible, from major institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Met Breuer, the Brooklyn Museum and the Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg, to commercial galleries, art publications, private collections and public commissions. With more artists to discover, the interest in black visual culture looks set to continue, especially since it has impacted the art market this year, for better or worse.

In a recent interview, Italian-born New York art dealer Stefania Bortolami said the most significant new direction that art took in 2019 was “the phenomenon of identity politics running the art market, and not just the curatorial world. Specifically, there has been an interest in art by African Americans or Africans, which has been growing slowly but surely.”

Another New York art dealer Tina Kim predicted that the next big thing in New York would be Asian American artists who were left out of art history, especially the generation of artists who arrived in the city in the 1960s such as Kim Tschang-Yeul. Closer to home, LGBTQ art and artists scored a long overdue win this year with SPECTROSYNTHESIS II Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia, the most expansive regional survey show of LQBTQ-themed art featuring 58 artists from Southeast Asia, India and China at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

The art world clearly has a lot to catch up on in terms of in-depth diversity and a far more nuanced understanding of identity in 2020 and the decade ahead.

 

Opening performance “Land of a Thousand Rainbows” by Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters. Image courtesy of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Sunpride Foundation.

 

  1. We Are All Mystics Now

Art has always been an inherently intangible experience from creation to reception. Oft times, spirituality is a happy bedfellow in this artistic exploration. Yet the past few years and especially 2019 saw an expanding predilection to explore the spiritual through art or imbue art with the spiritual—all done in attempts to make sense of our 21st century world of division and disruption.

The Art Newspaper reported on this rise of the esoteric at Frieze London this year as well as the concurrent exhibitions such as the mandala-inspired Damien Hirst show at White Cube, attributing to the growing interest in new age spiritualism such as tarot, astrology, meditation apps and crystals in mainstream society.

This year also saw the Guggenheim’s most widely attended exhibition of all time—”Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future”—with a visitorship of 600,000 reported four days before closing. The survey show of the Swedish mystic painter born in 1862 made an impression on contemporary audiences with her esoteric shapes and astrological symbols inspired by her work with a group of women known for going into trance and channeling spirits as well as classic European occult literature.

 

Hilm Af Klint Exhibition at Guggenheim. Courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim.

 

Across the pond, an exhibition titled “On The Spiritual Matter of Art” is running till March 2020 at MAXXI, the national museum of contemporary art in Rome. Featuring leading figures from the contemporary art world such as Shirin Neshat, the exhibition explores what does it mean to talk about spirituality today, where does “spirituality fit into a world dominated by digital and technological culture and an ultra-deterministic mentality” and “is there still a spiritual dimension underpinning the demands of art.”

This interest is also pervasive in our part of the world and with younger artists. Former Deputy Director of Artistic Programming at the Palais De Tokyo in Paris and current curatorial director of Singapore art gallery Chan + Hori Contemporary, Khairuddin Hori delivered a talk titled Spiritually Millennial at Asia Now Paris fair in October this year, referencing the work of Asian millennial artists exploring spirituality through art such as Lu Yang, Tianzhuo Chen, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Ruben Pang and Tsuyoshi Hisakado.

There is a hunger for this confluence of art and spirituality, both by artists and audiences, and it does not look to be sated anytime soon, especially with the growing uncertainty in 2020 and the years to follow.

 

Daily life of Azazel-San by Lu Yang. Courtesy of Lu Yang.

 

 

 
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