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Niru Ratnam

Towards the end of the 20th century artists from around the world increasingly started to address issues linked with globalization, for example, the movement of peoples, the movement of trade, the growth of international brands and the seemingly receding importance of the nation state. In addition, curators also started responding to globalization, particularly those curators working on large-scale international exhibitions such as biennials. But how might we describe ‘globalization’—a term that was hardly used before the 1990s—and why should it have anything to do with the way we approach contemporary art? And what are the consequences, if any, if the canonical Western conception of art is opened up to practices from around the world? Do these new practices simply enlarge what we might consider the canon or do they question the structures of that?

‘Globalization’ is a term that emerged in the late 20th century and rapidly entered common currency. There is no single widely accepted theoretical definition of it, but academics and commentators have used it to describe phenomena that range from the rise of multinational corporations, the erosion of the power of the nation state, advances in communication technology, the increased movement of labour and migration and the creation of international forms of governance. Some commentators do not see any of these phenomena as new, and argue that globalization in fact is an on-going long-term set of processes that could include the invention of the telegraph, the development of international trade and the rise of European empires....