"What marco polo forgot": Contemporary Chinese art reconfigures the global

Aihwa Ong, Lily Chumley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1995, Cai Guo-Qiang set adrift a Chinese junk on the Grand Canal in Venice, marking the seven-hundredth anniversary of Marco Polo's return to Europe. In 2008, as the world spiraled into a far-reaching financial collapse, a historian warned that in the long haul, "New York could turn into Venice." These two historical moments set the stage for a discussion of how contemporary Asian art navigates the world of conceptual geography. An anthropology of art expands beyond expertise on "native artifacts" corralled in Western collections to the active interpretation of contemporary art alongside artists, curators, and critics in cosmopolitan spaces of encounter. Drawing on Cai's exhibition I Want to Believe, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 2008, I focus on the contrasting interpretations of Cai's key installations, that is, the perspectives that dramatize different notions of the global. Is contemporary art the latest form of Chinese entrepreneurialism or an expression of an emerging global civil society? Or should modern Chinese art be viewed as a distinctive kind of anticipatory politics in undoing Western categories of knowledge? In an art of assemblage and juxtaposition, how is China repositioned from an object of Western knowledge to a tool of global intervention?.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-494
Number of pages24
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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