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ART: Art (vs.) World

Robert C. Morgan, The Artist and Globalization (Miejska Galeria Sztuki w Łodzi I Autorzy, Lodz, 2008)

One might expect that the art world would resist globalization—but world economic globalization has taken many of its cues from the art market and its unyielding ability to transform anything into a commodity. In the abstract way that the gallery formally anoints any object as art and gives it a place within an art context, globalization provides a similar system of absorption. Akin to a black hole, globalization is constantly pulling everything in, without distinction. Globalization acts as both a unifying force and as a barrier that further exacerbates a division of space and experience which Robert C. Morgan defines as the virtual and the tactile. The virtual refers to the abstract reality that economic, cultural, and technical globalization generates; the tactile represents the everyday physical, emotional, and intellectual experience of individuals. According to Morgan, values rooted in the tactile are being replaced with those of the virtual, creating a disconnect between mind and body.

Throughout the series of eight essays in The Artist and Globalization, Morgan approaches the virtual and the tactile from the unique perspective of the arts. Aware that “art criticism is essentially a conceptual activity,” he grounds his ideas by focusing on relationships and corollaries, rather than a unifying principle. Morgan breaks down globalization into categories: technical, economic, cultural, media, and builds up ideas from art that compel one to “assert a challenge to the virtual world that currently assumes control.”

Demonstrating one of the current effects of media globalization, Morgan cites Ryszard Wasko’s video The Wall (1972). Morgan:

We are shown an outdoor view of an industrial site with a diagonal stairway in which people are passing by…there is a stop-action, time-lapse sequence of activities on videotape in which individuals virtually disappear in the process of walking from one destination to another. While Wasko’s tape functions ostensibly as a kind of documentation, it is more a surreptitious announcement of the video medium as the controlling factor in terms of how viewers are manipulated by the effects of the camera. What we see is not what is there, but what is not there.

In a similar, double-edged fashion, Morgan argues that while globalism is bringing us together, the virtual connection that is superimposed upon us as a result of it is providing a false sense of relationships. New, high-speed technologies are opening the world up to constant waves of information and images, forcing us to read everything faster, no matter what the cost in terms of comprehension. In such an environment, only moving product and data is important and “we are being wired against the intellect.” Morgan argues that we’re in the midst of a grand whitewash. Everything will lose its grounding in the real and no signs will be left, only logos. It is this loss of the ground of the real, or tactility, that makes it hard to experience one’s self in relation to the globalized world, and Morgan issues a call for a new application of time and space to reconnect body and mind, feeling and thought, with space and place.

Although Morgan writes within the context of art, his insights transcend categorization; one questions the very foundation of one’s personal hovel in the “global village.” Art is a starting point, used as a means to open up the world to a greater sense of being by providing new ways to actively engage the mind and body in the age of globalization.


Andrzej Lawn


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2009

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