Contribution by Justine Lefebvre-Cormao
3rd-year student in ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Business Development
“Without Art, life would be a mistake”
The triumph of the Louvre-Abu Dhabi opening, the boom of around the sales records for “iconic lots”, as well as the success of the fairs in Hong Kong, London or Miami, these are all signs that highlight the primordial role of Contemporary Art as a tool of influence
We thought that Art had no boundaries, we were wrong! Art is a fabulous vector of power for a country, measuring its degree of emancipation, its power of attraction and therefore its place in the geopolitical system. Clearly, the heritage of a country is not limited to its natural, industrial and technological wealth but it is also made of its cultural « aura » beyond its borders. As a result, the power of Art can be resumed as the prestige of a nation but also the standing of those who possess the Art (private collectors, museums, foundations). Everything is connected and contributed to the domination of the Western world!
Consequently, states are always in competition to accommodate the greatest artists and the most beautiful museums. It must be said that this fight is very lucrative.
Very largely dominated by the United States and, more broadly, by the western world since the middle of the 20th century, the artistic scene is gradually opening up to new powers, notably China and the Gulf states who declared global ambitions.
Considered an important financial lever, this market has generated $67 billion in 2018 (of which 84% were traded between the United States, China and Great Britain, only 7% for France and 2% for Germany).
But in what way Art can influence international relations?
It does through a specific concept created and introduced by Joseph Nye call “soft power”. Soft power is a time of influence in international relations, by which actors get what they want through attraction rather than through compulsion or coercive means, an ability to influence, to shape the preferences of others. Indeed, Art and Culture are considered efficient tools, though often overlooked.
How did the US become the leader?
Well at the beginning, France was the home of the “avant-garde” until World War Two, then the centre shifted to the United States. Abstract expressionism was introduced by Jackson Pollock in the 50’s, followed by Pop Art in the 60’s (Robert Rauschenberg). Later, Germany succeeded in recreating a dynamic Art scene (creating the Documenta to compete with the famous American contemporary exposition sand with La Biennale Di Venezia considered a true showcase of contemporary Art). On the British side, disruptive artists appears such as Damien Hirst and collectors Charles Saatchi in the 1990’s. France meanwhile, cultivated its own niche with highly intellectual and conceptual Art (Daniel Buren,Christian Boltanski), but none of the French artists has built a reputation strong enough to cope with Warhol or Beuys.
During the second half of the twentieth century, there was a globalization of the artistic scene, based on Western values, with a very strong American domination.
Today, these geopolitical dimensions of art related to “soft power” is dominated by the US, Germany and the UK.
As far as China is concerned, the PRC is undeniably gaining momentum, but its dictatorship and protectionism government are an obstacle to artistic freedom. The « made in China » has not invaded galleries and museums. As a consequence, the Chinese want to buy “Western Art.” And the day we saw a Warhol acquired by the Chinese reminded us of the influence of the US artistic scene.
Finally, another important actor is the Arabic World as Qatar is now the fifth largest buyer of Contemporary Art and Western Contemporary Art in the world. Besides, the Gulf states represents a great platform for the Louvre Abu Dhabi (a cultural crossroads where Eastern Art meets Western Art). But, we have to be careful because the Guggenheim (an American museum) will open not far from the Louvre Abu Dhabi and will highlight the Contemporary Art of its country of origin. In five years, we will find what we have today, on one side the Louvre, representing France with its very classic values, and on the other side the Guggenheim that showcases Modernity and Contemporary Art.
In this game of “soft power”, the US remain untouchable. American soft power dominates everyone by being inclusive beyond the typical white man’s artistic framework. Indeed, they know how to adopt and promote minority artists like the African-American painter Kerry James Marshall (who sold a canvas for $ 21.1 million in 2018).
Their soft power evolves, adapts, and reflects the flattering image of a country capable of assimilating diversity and minorities. The USA know that to preserve their leadership, they must reinvent themselves continually by spreading their “soft power” externally.
For instance, when Jeff Koons proposed to offer his “bouquet of tulips” to the City of Paris, it was not out of sheer kindness: he simply embodies an US ambassador in France.
It is an American hegemony! In other words, it’s about imposing a cultural model, in which the United States remain the masters before China and Europe.
Today, however, even if the French artists are not really well-known, we still have a prestigious heritage, an exceptional network of galleries, new collectors and renowned museums like the Pompidou branch in Shanghai and the Louvre Abu Dhabi (a unique cross-cultural collaboration).
Art has a special importance in our lives. In our current society, the consumer is king and wants everything faster and easier. In this world of fast consumption, Art is beyond price, it represents something different associated with creativity, imagination, a deeper understanding of human nature that generates emotion and meaning. Contemporary Art reflects the current society: it is decadent.
Countries that understand this deep nature of Art necessarily enhance their soft power resources and international prestige by associating their name to these universal values.
This student blogpost was produced within the framework of the 3rd-year module « International Issues and Challenges » of ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Management, following a course design developed by the EU-Asia Institute. The opinions expressed are of course those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the institute.