Thomas Fillitz, Professor, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna

Anthropology, Biennials, and the Concept of Global Art

Two major interrelated topics have determined my research foci in the last years: my ethnographic interest in the art biennial of Dakar, Dak’Art, and more theoretically, discourses on the concept of global art and problems related to it.

Based on the ethnography of Dak’Art, I shall deal in my contribution with two opposite conceptualisations of the world culture (Hannerz’ notion) of art biennials: on the one hand scholars consider art biennials as core format of a new art worlds-order with the spreading of that format from the mid-1980s on. On the other, art biennials are considered as another system of the dominant European/North American art world, as another hegemony that is defined as ‘biennialisation.’

I consider that discussion within the framework of the concept of global art which was elaborated by several art historians and theoricians. With this concept, they refer to the changes which can be witnessed nowadays, and which call for new approaches and concepts (such as the one of art world).

Scholars in the anthropology of art, however, have by and large not participated in these latter discussions. I argue that anthropological approaches are central to the concept of global art. This relates not only to present-day developments of methods of ethnographic field research (multi-sited ethnography resp. strategically single-sited ethnography, George Marcus 1994). Advocates of the concept of global art firstly rely on theories of an anthropology of contemporaneity (e.g. Marc Augé 1994), and secondly also claim the need to study contemporary art locally with its regional and global connections.

All seminars in the series.