The Globalization of the False: A Response to Okwui Enwezor

George Baker
This society elimillates geographical distallce only to reap distance illternallyil1tbe Jorn! of spectacJtlar separatioll.1 Whemver illdivid~tals lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert is there to offer all absolute reamtrance.2
-Guy I would like to begin rather inauspiciously [ am to respond to such a lecture. that perhaps my lack of qualification institutional positions. Debord

• This paper was delivered at Columbia University on February 14,2002, in response toOkwui zor's presentation, Sawyer Seminar


bo th aspects being part of the cultural effects of globallzation,

organized by Professor Andreas Huyssen.

1 Guy Debord, Th, SDC;'ty of Ih, Sp,d.d"
ald Nicholson-Smith 1994), 120:

trans, Don-

by admitting how massively unqualified

(New York: Zone Books,

At the same time,

1 will

also immediately


is a virtue here, as the situation

of globalizeI

2 Guy Debord, C,,,,,,,,,,ls ,,' Ih. Sockty of Ib, Speclae/"
trans. Malcolm Imrie (London, Verso, 1990), 17.

tion has much to do with the promoting have been a practicing mega-exhibitions. tic importance all intellectuals

or demoting of a certain set of skills and

[ will admit right up front that I am a "biennial Luddite." art critic for about six years now, and yet [ do not go to them that artisto make

[resent their insistence that it is to them that all artistic attenis to be measured. I get lazy in the Face of their attempt I shiver at the thought

tion must be paid. I resist their claim that it is now only through

involved in the field of art into itinerants, in an updated

version of that

the Grand Tour or a parody of forced migration. equated with resisting challenges to Western [ avoid mega-exhibitions opportunity nomenon actually to be near one of these beasts.

resisting biennial culture, or "[estivalism" as it has also been called, is now to be imperialism and cultural hegemony. during the few times when [ have had the opportunity On the other hand, I rarely have the one important pheif

to be near one of these beasts. And this dynamic of exclusion-as that I want to address in my response. of mega-exhibitions to define globalization itself. It seems to me from "the And then the

opposed to all that has just been said about "incluston't=-is [ do not think we will get very far in our understanding we do not attempt more rigorously important global," somewhat question becomes, to view it asa process, differentiating like we do "modernization"

the term "globalization" from "the modern."

what exactly is entailed in this process?

Is it not, as Gayatri we did

Spivak has claimed, the "financialization not unfortunately most, globalization hear much-if

of the globe:'? Is it not, indeed, the Amerart and artists, and so let me "First and foreeconomy corporate

icaniZation of the globe? In this lecture about exhibitions and globalization,
anything-about cite now the words of an artist attempting is the penetration to define globalization:

of the multinational





to Mega-Exhlbltons



into every nook and cranny of human life. It is the latest incarnation ative that has long been accepted talism: Markets must multiply through

of an imper-

as a vital necessity .... the first law of proto-capiforeign trade or they will stagnate and These are the words of
3 Noel Burch and Allan Sekula, "Notes On a Film," Oclob" J 00 (Spring 2002), B3.

die ... What is largely missing from the current picture is any sense of material resistance to the expansion of the market Imperative.'? the photographer Allan Sekula. in hand, a number of questions arise. in terms of rupture, as-in your This language of rupture sounds the discourse of postmodis now replaced by term gets Even with this small range of definitions words-the

Why do you insist on referring to globalization "historical rupture par excellence"?

to me a lot like the language that once surrounded the "rupture" of globalization, replaced now-significantly-by and an aesthetic an economic

ernism within the art world. The "rupture" of postmodernism

or even anti-aesthetic

one. And yet perhaps neither term of a much longer seems

should be properly viewed as a rupture but as an intensification


historical process.

Rupture connotes

amnesia to me. And globalization

much more a strategy of what Theodor tion" rather than the fragmenting exhibitions?

Adorno would have called "false totaliza-

force claimed for it here. spectatorship

My second major question would be: who and where is the audience for mega[ ask this question faced with the crucial importance and audience issues occupy by the end of the lecture, while any trace of an audience seemed strangely absent to me in the earlier half of the talk. [ would venture the following reasons for this absence: on the traditional with exhibitions exhibitions notion of an audience that are too Mega-exhibitions entail a violent assault for art, even an assault on the idea that

art needs an audience or a public at all. If "mega" here means big, we are faced

hig, that

suffer from a gigantism that echoes and scope of a newly global economy. Megaor read in any complete They are con-

serves the contemporary


cannot be taken in, digested, understood,

manner, and this sublime scale serves the function of obfuscation. structed by curatorial authors as labyrinthine porary architecture seem simple compared attempt at being followed, never mind critiqued.

narratives whose plot evades any The baroque curves ofcontemarchitects-S, to the layout of current exhibition

design, and the parallel weighty tomes of contemporary are rivaled by mega-exhibition the catalogue for Documenta even biblical narrative by calling themselves

M, L,XL-

catal~gues that mock the now quaint scope of Simply The Book-I refer, of course, to X, a book by the way too large for many to be able which seems a telling destination to

to afford to. purchase it (in fact, with a book this size, you don't own it, you only glance at it in libraries, in other institutions, me). This phenomenological violence that mega-exhibitions pose to their specta-


tors is only augmented

by the social violence

entailed by art's increasing mediado. But it seems necessary to

tion through this form. One often hears that biennials create access to artistic culture for local audiences. contemplate And this they certainly as well how this mediation of art actually bars access to culture for




local audiences, of particularity


full access only to an increasingly

narrow cadre of the spaces

experts and professionals,

creating a class conflict between those tied to the space culture seems to me museums become and

and those whose job it is to circulate endlessly through as contemporary

where art only ever partially reveals itself. Mega-exhibition bound up with the question of exclusion: much more inclusive than their traditional status.

mandate allowed, biennials succeed to seat of artistic importance and spe-

the place of arbiter of the canon, to the judgment cialization

But who else is excluded in this process of the professionalization

of art that biennial culture entails? Your choice of words in the lecture encounters I find it conand various professionals."

gives some clues. You speak of "biennials" as offering "transnational between artists, art markets, institutions, telling that this transnational encounter

excludes the public as traditionally

ceived; it seems to have no place in this new space. ing to locate the nature of mega-exhibitions the "market, institutions, through this globalized and media."

Later you also speak of hop.

within a quite specific nexus: that of museums, collectors, media,

You ,speak of the various "actors" working

space: "curators, exhibitions,

market ..." Some very important wanted anymore. exhibition, Curators critics. Reproduction more, important transformed becomes ty"-as

actors have fallen out of these lastequations. They are not needed or and the rise of the mega-

Artists, for one. Critics as well, and perhaps especially. For in the moment of globalization

what we actually witness for perhaps the first time is the total institutionreplace artists in such an economy in the same way as experts replace becomes more' crucial than production; than the contained. the container becomes from

alization of the practice of art, the onset of art's total administration or total bureaucratization.

These critical goals of postmodernism

twenty years ago, what it called the shift from "work to frame," have now been into the opposite of criticality: recuperation. they have become the iron-clad law I have to admit that it critique"-as to a "theology (Obvious"artistic particulariof administrative In such an economy,

quite distressing to hear a curator denounce "institutional a reiteration of "occidentalist" modernity and as amounting

well as notions of "medium specificity," "artistic autonomy," of modernism" pro po gated from the view of the Western


ly, I hear the journal October, of which I am now an editor, and the work of Rosalind Krauss as the target of such remarks.) strategic and contingent, globalization 'as they were deployed All of these artistic: strategies are of capitalist and the of institutional and historical proper to poised today against the homogenization In this denunciation

yesterday against the nation-state

fascist rigidity of capitalist industrialization. critique as occidentallst, the ascendency memory associated with artistic specificity, of the global curator. cuss our differences on this matter.

in this frustration with the recalcitrance

I hear the new rapaciousness

If I am wrong in this regard, we should disseem to run through the lat-

Two models for the structure of mega-exhibitions





to Mega-Exhlbltons



ter half of your talk. Iwill summarize your positions as the Trauma Model and



the Nation Model.

These models raise at least two questions for me. First, while

Iagree with your important observation that postwar biennials seem to emerge in locations of historical trauma, I wonder if your optimistic portrayal of this emergence can stand. Are biennials the place where the "work of the imagination" takes hold in the wake of historical rather manifestations trauma, a model of transition, or are they of official culture that are bound up with historical trauma in loss through a false euphoria of plenitude?

a much more insidious way, as tools to cover over ruptures, to spread amnesia, to .


deny the magnitude of historical this more pessimistic perspective, the form of cultural mediation "working through." decades an exportation


the mega-exhibition

and the biennial would be was for of the of the

proper to the gap of historical trauma, not its

·It thus makes sense that an exhibition like Documenta
of New York to German soil, an Americanization following the logic of the long Americanization

European world exhibition

world that is now known as globalization. My second question undercuts the first: Are not most biennials and mega-exhiModel that you trace to the Venice Biento the positive globalization you otherwise bitions actually built upon the National position biennial culture in opposition

nale and its immediate offspring, the Sao Paulo Blenalz To ask this question is to
espouse, to see biennial culture as a kind of Olympics Western imperialist model of the nation-state that prcscroesand serves the of this question is to that thus reveals structure


rather than challenges it. This is a

point that you indeed stress. And yet the second implication nationalistic and explicitly occidentalist

.wonder whether we are then stuck with a biennial culture that is either archaically (the Nation Modelr=-and

globalization as a process oj Westernization,
that conversely instantiates trauma.and amnesia. Model, the mega-exhibition me to be a very productive

its critique-or

a mega-exhibition

the global mediation

of art in the form of historical the biennial with the Nation

I am provisionally


with the Trauma Model, but this does not seem to dilemma or position to be in, and perhaps biennials as a solution but as the problem.

should in such a situation not be embraced

Ifthese are two models for the production
similarly bifurcate your approach however, are notoriously exhibitions of the "public sphere" and Guy Debord's incompatible. part of the bourgeois

ofmega-exhtbitions, two models
the Frankfurt School model These models, in the

to their reception:

society of the spectacle.

The question we are left with: Are mega" of that public sphere into the

public sphere that was formerly embodied

museum, or are they signs of the utter dissolution rigid passivity compelled by spectacle? the other-we to

I'm not sure that one has to choose one or

might be engaged in a battle where these two sides of the equation serve. And yet you devise counter-strategies spectatorship on the other. for

are still at war, where we can choose in fact to preserve the public sphere function that all exhibitions conceivably both sides of this equation, offering up the crucial notion of a diasporic public

sphere on the one hand, and a counter-hegemonic




Documents 11, Kassel, Germany, 2002. (Photo, Miwon KWDn)

Both of these strategies depend upon fragmentation, arrives at the opposing of Diaspora to the condition that [ find incredibly useful and important, talk, opposed to one that depends upon totalization.

and your lecture ultimately of the Global, an opposition is for [ think your entire

as a process of fragmentation In fact, throughout

r wish

you had spoken about diaspora as opposed to globalization, of globalization to accidentalism

your earlier theorizations challenges economic

as rupture are actually more about the

posed by diaspora and not by the more thoroughly And yet, just as there are "false totalizations." or the I would also suggest that

process of globalization. of community

such as the captation rigidification

of the public sphere in the model of the nation-state into the "agora of spectacle,"

there are "false fragmentations" through such mediation

as well. I would like to know why the notion of

the diasporic public sphere needs to be expressed in biennials, why it is only that we are meant to see, in your words, "the possibility are able to encounter can be sustained, many experiI would like to know more and why again of a paradigm shift in which we as spectators about how a counter-hegemonic biennials and mega-exhibitions spectatorship

mental cultures, without wholly possessing them."

are the place of their devising (and here I guess I strategies in your work

am asking you to speak about some of your own curatorial





to Mega-Exhlbltons



within the mega-exhibition these institutions' seems dedicated tors.


For the fragmentation

of the institutions


art and culture enacted by biennials today is, as I have implied, another mode of consolidation; the perceptual sublime of the mega-exhibition its spectain this mode to a fragmentation that blinds, rather than empowers, inherent

I don't think we can just wish away the spectacularization of fusing institution and media that all mega-exhibitions for spectacle. media was a euphemism tial 'professionalism' taken are presented


For Guy Debord,

And by the term media, he would explain, a kind of public service which with imparHowever, here "decisions already For what is communicated total administration, are orders; integrated arise. And

. we try "to describe a mere instrument,

would facilitate the new wealth of mass communication for passive admiration.

which has at last attained a unilateral purity."

and with perfect harmony, those who give them are also those who tell us what they think of them."4 Total institutionalization, spectacle. This is the historical juncture and the fragmentation while ultimately
4 Debord,

Co","'.,. 0" th, S06eiy

oj th, Sprctac1" 6.

from which mega-exhibitions of all false totalities,

I accept and support your privileging of the diasporic, the I wonder why it is in the mediation

counter-hegemonic, of the mega-exhibition.

assumed that this force is to be found in the culture of biennials,

We might have to devise new strategies and new diasto reaffirm the right to laziness of the biennial Ludthe Occidental, or worse to appear

porie, as opposed to global, forms. So for one last time: I would like to stand against the mega-exhibition, dite, but hopefully not to end up buttressing

like the raving lunatic from that brilliant film Network, stepping into the media pulpit only to urge spectators to act out their impotence, run to their Windows, throw It up their arms, and yell "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" is instead to urge us to doubt that global biennials prove that the society of the spectacle was a European, imperial phenomenon. might now be envisioned, An anti-imperialist spectacle but I would not see this as a mode of freedom. or critiactually knew and of the false" that
5 Debord, C.""",,,,s .11 the So<i,iy oj the Spcctoc/o, 10.

cality, nor as the mode in which the projects of the diasporic subject would prosper; rather we must be aware and resist a situation that Debord

wrote about and warned against as, in his words, a "globalization could only lead to "a falsification of the globe."





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