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Beyond the ‘Magiciens Effect’


On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Magiciens de la Terre (1989) –one of the twentieth century’s most controversial and ambitious exhibitions, I published an article entitled “Un cosmopolitisme esthétique? De l’effet magiciens et d’autres antinomies de l’hospitalité artistique globale”. The idea of the Magiciens Effect encouraged a variety of interesting conversations on what I call the ‘geo-aesthetic regime of global art'. This year, an important group of scholars will meet in Paris to discuss the aftermaths of this 'effect'. This blog has been conceived as a platform to extend these discussions; enjoy!

“But within Appiah’s superficially rooted cosmopolitanism lurks a far deeper and more complicated history of place-based and territorialized identifications, with nationalism in the forefront politically and the phenomenology of place taking a central position philosophically. With respect to the latter, the imposing figure of Heidegger […] looms large. Heidegger’s attachments to ‘dwelling’ and ‘place’, coupled with his throughout rejections of all forms of cosmopolitanism (capitalist, socialist, modernist), seem to place him in polar opposition to Kantian ethics, while giving a substantial philosophical and phenomenological foundations for place-based theories of morality.” David Harvey

It is generally accepted that the so-called global art world is experiencing today a sort of spatial reconfiguration, defined by the collapse of the Eurocentric distribution between Western and Non-Western Art as well as for the elimination of the center-periphery scheme. The indefatigably mushrooming of biennials all over the world and the escalating artistic mobility have become buzzwords of this idealized aesthetic decentralization. However, even among of those who agree with the idea that we have entered into a post-asymmetric, post-national, and post-Eurocentric global art world there are different postures and irreconcilable points of origination. The most optimistic versions perceive the increased attention paid to the borderless condition of nomadic artists and curators as evidence of an emerging truly aesthetic globalism. Motivated by the exciting idea of being the driving force of a post-Western new global order, a huge number of artists, curators, and institutions celebrate with enthusiasm the inclusiveness and the new trans-regional delocalization of contemporary art. Rootless artists, they contend, have become post-avant-garde ‘radicants’: they can produce social ephemeral spaces on the move, no matter neither where they come from nor who they are. For them, nomadic artists are called to become the natural architects of a new post-identitarian and pot-nationalist global space.

There are of course less enthusiastic readings of what can be properly defined as the new geo-aesthetic globocentrism. Some of them assert that the global art world is no more than a reflex of the multidirectional spatialization of current immaterial capitalism. For them, the driving force of a post-Western and alternative global public space is not the figure of a single nomadic artist living in the hall of an airport, but rather a wandering and immanent artistic multitude. Their argument is that only this multitude can interrupt the capitalist global production of space –the institutionalized global art world included. Aware (in a virtuosic way) of the fact that global capitalism only raises fetishized and hierarchical social spaces, this multitude seems to impose on itself the challenge of producing autonomous spaces and of aesthetically reimagining the world from below. In spite of the fact that they acknowledge the existence of global structural asymmetries within the global (art) world, they believe at the same time in the articulation of an alternative cosmopolitanism, that is, in a decentralized production of multiple spaces and temporalities guided by a sort of virtuous global aesthetic imagination. What is perceived as the driving force of this new aesthetic cosmopolitanism from below is not a particular tribe of privileged global artists or curators travelling from one continent to another, but rather the evoked artistic virtuosity of the multitude as a whole. For them, the exceptional productive force of exemplary artists has been already diluted within the multitude and reinvented as a non-transcendental commonwealth, a sort of meta-artistic ‘general intellect’.

As can be seen, the spatial precariousness of the radicant solipsist artist and the global-led aesthetic cosmopolitanism cannot be more opposites. However, both postures contend that artists have been granted an exceptional capacity for transforming spatial regimes and for producing alternative global spaces. In other words, by claiming for exceptional visas and border cross privileges for artists with the aim of criticizing global migratory regimes and of imposing a sort of moral sanction on the global public sphere, both postures idealize artistic mobility as a sublime kind of global belonging within transnational capitalism.

Now, by acknowledging their inherent contradictions and by contrasting these two radically different views concerning the production of an aesthetic global space, I do not pretend to define which of the two postures owns the right to be perceived as the determinant axis of the current spatial turn in the so-called global art world. On the contrary, what I attempt to do is to lay stress on the fact that in emphasizing the exceptional or virtuous skills of the migratory artistic subjectivity, both postures accept as a matter of fact that the aesthetic territory produced by nomadic artists is radically delinked from the geo-epistemic asymmetries and the geo-aesthetic hierarchies produced by the Western modern/colonial project. In other words, our view is that both postures are two sides of the same coin, because the two of them describe the global art world as an exemplary post-Western idealized space; a sort of new alter-modern territory defined by a never-ending hospitality and by an unlimited sense of borderless and global post-national belonging. Instead of putting into question the spatial exceptionality of the global artistic mobility, both believe that the decentralized condition of the global art world is enough to assure the production of not institutionalized transnational corridors of contestation and global transformation. Arguing in favor of an autonomous cosmo-political space confronted with capitalist ways of existence, both give shape to an intersubjective territory paradoxically informed by the absence of internal aesthetic dissension: an oppositional global space guided by the sparkle of a perpetual aesthetic peace and by an unrestricted ethical hospitality.

If as French philosopher Jacques Rancière notes, “[a] political community is in effect a community that is structurally divided, not between divergent interest groups and opinions, but divided in relation to itself”,1 then both the rootless spatial precariousness of Bourriaud and the globalist aesthetic cosmopolitanism of Papastergiadis are communities composed of great amount of internal aesthetic consensus and because of that, both communities seem to be more cosmo-ethical than cosmo-political, where the moral consensus of the aesthetic global art world operates as the surrogate for a truly political and aesthetic disagreement. Thus, if we are to accept that something like a spatial turn has been reshaping the global art world, then we have to emphasize that such a turn not only has to do with the physical perception, the theoretical cognition, and the representational imagination of alternative spaces but also with the conditions of possibility for occupying (with the body and mind) the consensual spatial regime of the global art world; that is, with the capacity to move in and to move out from these different spatial regimes with the aim of destabilizing the aesthetic consensus and the new geographical unilateralism of the global aesthetic regime of art.

What is at stake here is to acknowledge that the global art world is far of being a homogeneous community or a moral cosmopolitan allegory; on the contrary, it is a community composed of diverse subjectivities geo-culturally located and geo-aesthetically in dispute. From this point of view, it seems to me that the Marxist critique of the social production of the space on the one hand and the postcolonial articulation of a Third Space on the other will always be incomplete without a geo-epistemic disavowal of the space of Dasein, no matters if this is represented or reproduced by the solipsist post avant-garde nomadic artist or rather by the aesthetic decentralized multitude. In other words, both postures need to be completed with a radical critique of the idea that the holy trinity of the global social space consists of Self, World, and Reason. Our argument here is thus very simple: the current global art world, in spite of –or precisely because of its aesthetic inclusiveness and geographical revisionism, denounces and at the same time reproduces and relocates the modern/colonial spatial regime of Dasein.

[excerpts from “Un cosmopolitisme esthétique? De l’effet magiciens et d’autres antinomies de l’hospitalité artistique globale”]

Beyond the ‘Magiciens Effect’

Fondation Gulbenkian & Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers. February 6-8, 2015

A global geography of art has emerged since the late 1980s. During the interval of a three-day symposium, a diplomatic scenography will be imagining alternative geographies of art. Many would agree that a new international geography of art has established itself since the late 1980s. A global shift that has been described by the art theorist Joaquin Barriendos as the “Magiciens effect”. Often portrayed as decentering the once predominantly European-American canon (with its accompanying cultural politics), the shift really seems to be reengaging with a universal geopolitical language: “global art as a postcolonial lingua franca offered to the world by the West” (BARRIENDOS, 2014). This geoaesthetic regime appears to be based on a crucial paradox, which together perpetuate asymmetries and hierarchies at the heart of this new globalized narrative : on the one hand, it is characterized by the fragmentation of narratives, the opening up to postcolonial studies, situated knowledge and epistemologies of the South; on the other hand, it is marked by a return of meta-narratives, of the global museum (as new form of the universal museum), a redeployment of world art history as methodology.

So global art has failed – what comes next? What geoaesthetic regimes can we invent and deploy for the future? What institutionalizing gestures can we initiate to provoke a new shift? Finally, what museums and institutions can we reimagine? This conversation will be using a diplomatic scenography, opening with a space for statements and complaints, and following with diplomatically negotiated proposals, during which we will collectively work on inventing other contemporary geoaesthetic regimes, acknowledging the power of fiction and thought experiments to produce scripts and scenarios that act as performative operators of possibles.

With Kader Attia (artist), Joaquin Barriendos (art theorist), Romain Bertrand (historian),Tania Bruguera* (artist), Fernando Bryce (artist), Gustavo Buntinx (art historian, curator), Pascale Casanova (literary theorist), Eder Castillo (artist), Emmanuelle Chérel (art historian), Cesar Cornejo (artist), Jérôme David (literary theorist), Charles Esche (curator, theorist), Olivier Hadouchi (film historian), Kiluanji Kia Henda* (artist), Maria Hlavajova (artistic director, BAK), Eduardo Jorge (writer), Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc (artist), Kapwani Kiwanga (artist), Pedro Lasch (artist), Olivier Marboeuf (artistic director, Khiasma), Vincent Message (essayist, novelist), Yves Mintoogue (political scientist), Jean-Claude Moineau* (art theorist), Julia Morandeira Arrizabalaga (independant curator), Malick N’Diaye (art historian), Vincent Normand (writer, curator), Olu Oguibe (artist), Sophie Orlando (art historian), John Peffer (art theorist), Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza (artist), Revue Afrikadaa (Pascale Obolo, Louisa Babari), David Ruffel (artistic director), Lionel Ruffel (literacy theorist), Elena Sorokina (curator, art historian), Ida Soulard (art historian), Boaventura de Sousa Santos (sociologist), Camille de Toledo (writer, artist), Susana Torres (artist), Françoise Vergès (political scientist), Nicolas Vieillescazes (philosopher)

Curators: Aliocha Imhoff & Kantuta Quiros. With the support of the Mairie de Paris, the Région Ile-de-France, the Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian – Délégation en France, the Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers. A publication will follow, supported by the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Nantes Métropole/Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture/LAUA and the Presses Universitaires de Rennes. Production: le peuple qui manque Coordination : Isabelle Montin, Helena Hattmannsdorfer, Viola Giulia Milocco, Riccardo Ferrante Scenography: Adel Cersaque

Last Updated 4 years ago


BARRIENDOS, Joaquín (2014), “Un cosmopolitisme esthétique? De l’effet magiciens et d’autres antinomies de l’hospitalité artistique globale” in: Géo-esthétique. Paris, Éditions 42, pp. 157-163.


Joaquín Barriendos, « Beyond the ‘Magiciens Effect’ », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on January 25, 2015. Full URL for this article

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