The idea, the Universal and the global: two days in Paris



Publication Details

McLean, I. A. (2007). The idea, the Universal and the global: two days in Paris. Art Monthly Australia, 201 21-23.


More than any other city, Paris invests an enormous amount of energy, commitment and money into visual art as if to shore up its cultural capital from fears of deflation. This formidable cultural capital derives from Paris's formative role in the Enlightenment, its aspirations to be the centre of a universal culture, and the stamp it put on European modernism. The fears are also reasonable: before the end of the nineteenth century even French modernists were fleeing Paris for the provinces once their careers were established, and modernists were rapidly losing interest in things Parisian. Indeed this trend had been evident since romantic sensibilities began to erode the Enlightenment's self-confidence. How long can Paris sustain itself on past grandeur and its self-proclaimed destiny as the capital of the Universe?

When, in 1989, the Centre Pompidou held the exhibition Magiciens de la terre (Magicians of the earth), it looked as if Paris was again positioning itself for a leading role in the emergent globalisation of contemporary art. While the momentum Paris gained from this seminal exhibition quickly dissipated in the 1990s, in the new millennium a concerted if somewhat belated attempt has been made to address this global turn, especially regarding the new histories it demands. This is evident in new displays at the Louvre, the new Muse du quai Branly, and the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art, a new and ambitious research institute a few blocks from the Louvre, which is taking a determined interest in issues of post colonialism and globalisation. I discovered this when, on 15 November last year, I dropped in for a seminar on the work of Rasheed Araeen and the journal he founded in 1987 (and still edits), Third Text.

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