Concept and Criticism
Jean Hubert Martin examined non-Western art during his landmark exhibition “Magiciens de la Terre” at a time when international exhibitions were majorly focusing on Western art only featuring artists from Europe and North America. The “Magiciens de la Terre” rocked the art world by provoking heated arguments among artists that did not acknowledge the works of non-Western artists. Martin featured artistic works from Asia, Latin America, Australia and Africa along the central pieces of art from the United States and Europe to depict the primitivism in unequal treatment of artistic works from the globe. In this paper, the provoking work of Jean Hubert Martin during the 1989 exhibition is examined as greater understanding on the influence of global art circuits and particular locations culture is sought.
Martin illustrated the diversity of contemporary art by using his judgment to select pieces of art that would exemplify the global art circuit. During the Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou, creative works by 104 artists were displayed in the museum whereas half of the artists were from non-Western regions of the world. The curator, as Martin was known, had traveled to all the five continents examining the art and craft items that would appear in his selection without displaying any discrimination escorted by a counsel of art experts from Europe.
The Magiciens de la Terre was designed to overcome the monopoly of European and American art as the only contemporary artistic work that was Avant Grande. The modern contemporary art was supposed to be a universal practice performed by both academically taught and self-taught artists of the world. Therefore, the artistic practice was needed to display the spiritual phenomenon of works gathered from the global world and set among Western art for everyone to view and appreciate equally.
Unlike other postcolonial exhibitions in Europe and America, the Magiciens de la Terre disassociated itself from the superior view of artistic works from the Western culture. Jean Hubert Martin took a bold step towards integrating the non-Western art that was formally marginalized with the Western art that was often central in international exhibitions. The curator was particularly opposed to the “Primitivism exhibition” organized in New York to showcase the superior nature of the Western art. The exhibition in New York had previously illustrated the exclusion of non-Western artists, and the few ritual objects present at the Museum were used to depict the primitivism of other world region’s art.
The Magiciens de la Terre also raised criticism of the Paris Biennial, in which artworks showcased were subjectively selected to represent the culture of France. The hegemonic image of the artworks displayed in the Paris Biennial was contrary to the inclusivity expected in the global art event. The Hegelian worldview promoted marginalization of non-Western art while exploiting their nature as proof of the genius works of the privileged Western artists. Martin’s ambitious exhibition with the integration of more non-Western artists postulated the equality of the world’s art. In the process, the move by Martin was vehemently criticized and attacked in Europe and America for undermining the Western aesthetic standards.
However, by imposing the Western aesthetic standards on the non-Western artistic works, Martin received criticism for viewing global art through unprofessional lenses. Some of the artifacts displayed in the Magiciens de la Terre had religious and cultural dimensions that were neglected by the curator. The curator was accused of favoring artifacts from self-taught artists in his exhibition that left the professional artists with mild recognition for their artistic works. His quest to display artifacts with authentic and spiritual dimensions led to subjectivity and lessened discrimination despite attempts to overcome the Euro-American bias he purported to challenge.
The relevance of the Magiciens de la Terre
France is a nation that prided itself on artistic freedom especially with the exhibition of artifacts from other regions of the world in its museums in Paris. The Magiciens de la Terre, therefore, gave artists from the marginalized regions an opportunity to showcase their work in an international exhibition despite the criticisms leveled against Martin’s exhibition. The significant segments of art dedicated to Asian and African contemporary art influenced immigration to France for more artistic freedom. Magiciens de la Terre is acclaimed for making more artists from marginal regions of the world comfortable to showcase their artifacts on the international platform.
Paris was also able to reestablish itself as the artistic capital for the contemporary modern art of all kind, a label that it had acquired previously although the reputation was slowly being lost. Paris was the home for immigrant artists that brought in their contemporary styles as established in the artistic capital of the world. Martin was responsible for hosting some immigrant artists from Asia and Africa such as Cheri Samba and Sanyu that were yet to make their mark on the artistic platform. The opportunities granted to these non-Western artists also shaped the culture of the global contemporary art of the modern world.
Traditional paintings from regions such as the aboriginal community in Australia decentralized the art discourse and set grounds for progressive development of modern contemporary art. Modernism took a new shape over the years since the avant-garde exhibition by Jean Hubert Martin to enable the adoption of contemporary styles from non-Western regions in France. Most artists from China whose works were showcased in the Magicians de la Terre remained in Paris to practice their art as the worldview on their artifacts was shaped by this display.
The Changing shape of Modern Contemporary Art
Jean Hubert Martin played a vital role in shaping the direction in which the modern contemporary art has evolved with distinct styles acquired from the influence of the Magiciens de la Terre. The first half of the twentieth century mostly valued the contribution of Western artists from the academically privileged schools of art. However, after Martin pushed for the recognition of artifacts from non-Western countries, the art capital of Paris offered these new artists a chance to exercise their trait. The second half of the twentieth century ushered in works from the African diaspora as part of the current contemporary art in the twenty-first century.
Artists from outside Europe are currently allowed to contribute their cultural artifacts in the post-modern art of today. Events organized in Europe and around other regions of the world follow their original expressionism, which is accepted to shape the prevailing artistic styles. Although the European and American artists have more influence on the direction in which modern art takes, the contemporary artists of the new age play a significant role in building the current contemporary art.
Jean Hubert Martin shows plenty of belief in the non-Western artists and their contribution to the modern contemporary art. However, most of the artists that can advocate for the opening up of the modern contemporary art to encompass more expressionism and other modern styles are found in the Western exhibitions. Thus, artists placed in prime position to challenge the Euro-American superiority are from the Western cultures such as Jean Hubert Martin and other influential artists of the region. Looking back at the opportunities opened up by the Magiciens de la Terre, Martin aimed to evoke more response from major international figures that could shape the opinion of other artists.
The new artistic figures from non-Western countries may be skilled in developing contemporary styles to include in the post-modern art but support from the major European artists was required. Various events have been formulated from the Centre Pompidou to support upcoming artists all over the world in regions of South Africa, Nigeria and other new lands. The curators in these modern Biennial events held across the globe enable the incorporation of styles from non-Western cultures such as Okwui Enwezor from Nigeria. Enwezor borrows from the concepts learned in France to display multiple disciplines that were relevant to the African modern art in the post-colonial period.
The response of modern artists towards the immediate experience of art from other regions of the world was at the time skeptical, but in time the acceptance of non-Western art forms has increased. The rest of the non-Western world also joined efforts to support the modification of modern art through their expressive cultural art and disapproving the critics to their craft. Art in different regions of the world draws their significance from their authenticity in representing the expressive culture of their location. The circulation of modernism, therefore, retained the concepts of the Western artists and combined the cultural works of the non-Western art.
Thus, while many other artistic forms have adopted Western styles of art, it is expected that the central periphery shall also allow the circulation of marginalized crafts and styles of art. The marginalized non-Western cultures remain of equal stature to the central Western art forms due to the influence of the Magiciens de la Terre initiated by Martin in the late twentieth century. There is a need for a further connection between the modern forms of art and the historical frameworks of the ancient European artistic works. Martin was particularly attracted to works that contained cultural expressions and fine arts that show the authenticity of the artistic work.
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