Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cultural Intelligence: What’s missing?

Looking back on the year, the art market racked up success, while cultural heritage had setbacks.
Beyond criticism of high-end collectors for tainting the aesthetic integrity of modern and contemporary art, an art fair in Bangladesh, international sales of contemporary artworks from Syria, and recognition of emerging artists in Africa each reflect the potential of the political economy of cultural property. On the other hand, deliberate destruction of shrines in northern Mali and destruction of historic sites throughout Syria reflect a decade of targeting in political violence since the demolition of the giant statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan.
Photos: Xu Ming/GTIn the balance, cultural security did OK, but what’s missing in the perceived value of cultural property?
On the surface, expansion of the art market develops the political economy of art, but what are the long-term effects on cultural property? In China, for example, a focus on the art market as an aspect of economic development attracts capital and investment in infrastructure to the benefit of cultural heritage. How the resources are applied, however, has ramifications for the treatment of cultural property. Interest in art as an asset class risks casting cultural property as a commodity. As a result, perceptions of the value of historic buildings and sections of cities may factor the economic, versus the cultural, significance more into decisions on conservation.
What might restore balance to the short-term pragmatic and the long-term aesthetic considerations of cultural property?

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