The 10 best art cities of the future

2014-02-16 14:00

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Move over London, Paris and New York. Art Cities of the Future & 21st Century Avant-Garde, a new book by the UK’s Phaidon Press, identifies the art hot spots to watch. Percy Mabandu counts them down.

1Joburg, South Africa

Johannesburg Nicholas Hlobo’s Balindile

Our City of Gold is described as unexpectedly beautiful and hard-core, yet amazingly soulful.

This underpins the engaged and creative ­responses artists and cultural entrepreneurs have been shaping out of what has been called the illusive ­metropolis.

The city’s segregationist past gives Joburg a schizophrenic touch, with developed pockets existing alongside shantytowns.

However, South Africa’s economic engine boasts a growing scene with an art fair, a ­blossoming of private- and public-funded institutions and museums.

The variety of creative output mirrors to a large degree the expanding development path and the country’s hard past.

2Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul Gülsün Karamustafa’s Memory of a Square

Rising from the monumental memory of the Ottoman Empire that launched it as a city, Istanbul may have become an international art hub before it became a Turkish one.

This is partially due to the city’s multiple ­geopolitical identities.

It has a ­European side with a flourishing crop of galleries and museums in old ­buildings that used to belong to the ­aristocracy of ancient times.

The drive to liberalise the economy in the post-junta era has found a lush platform in contemporary art.

Istanbul has two competing art fairs.

Turkish artists also manage to critically combine visual strategies of Western avant-garde movements with a focus on their local realities.

This has shaped a unique ­visual culture that fuels its art scene.

3Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut Ali Cherri’s Pipe Dreams

This is a city thoroughly ­obsessed with itself as writers like English author JG Ballard turned to the Mediterranean city for a muse.

This self-obsession created a perfect hotbed for the burgeoning art scene that has placed Beirut on the list of 21st-century avant-gardes.

The scene owes some of its genesis to the years after the Ayloul Festival, which was inaugurated in 1997 but was defunct by 2011.

The work of the Arab Image Foundation and the experimental art space called Home Workspace, located ­strategically behind the Beirut Art ­Centre, have all made Beirut an art city to watch.

4Lagos, Nigeria

Lagos Peju Layiwola’s Oba Ghato Okper (Long Live The King) installation

West Africa’s most populous city has a resilient history as a cultural hub. It hosted the mammoth Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, Festac 77.

It’s also the home of firebrand musician ­Fela Kuti’s shrine, Kalakuta Republic, which has been turned into a cultural museum.

Today, Lagos boasts independent artist-run platforms that ­sustain a resilient art community.

Oyasaf, a foundation that emerged in 2007, and Project Space, established in 2012 by artist Emeka Udemba to support ­artist-led interventions, are only two examples of a sprawling art network.

5Singapore, Singapore

Singapore Ho Tzu Nyen’s Utama?– Every Name In History

This southeast Asian city embodies all the contradictions of its region. It tends to censor artists and has a growing vibrancy in the art market, driven not least by the Tiger economies.

It counts a Biennale and the Affordable Art Fair, which is aimed at making contemporary art accessible.

Singapore’s art scene has a crown jewel in the new National Art Gallery, which sits on a 60?000m² sprawl with the stated ambition of being the main authority on southeast Asian art through its collection and programming.

This has created a home for artists of diverse persuasions like abstract painter Ian Woo, and installation and video artists like Ho Tzu Nyen.

6Bogota, Colombia

Bogota Miler Lagos’

This is a city with the cultural benefit implied from being home to one-fifth of Colombia’s population.

This cross-section provides a unique platform for creating art.

Due to the stigma of crime and danger ­endured by Colombia as a whole, Bogota fell under the radar of the global art market and has developed its scene ­independent of much outside influence.

Institutions like the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, which in the 1980s were the mainstay of culture in the city, have lost their centrality as more initiatives are being engineered by art activists who have helped to ­develop a self- sustainable art scene.

7New Delhi, India

New Delhi Gigi Scaria’s No Parallel

In the first decade of post­colonialism, India’s largest city gained an institutional infrastructure to build a progressive, secular and modern art and culture network.

Its National Gallery of Modern Art opened in 1954 and its National Crafts Museum in 1956?–?to name just two interesting spaces at the heart of its culture.

Artists like Amar Kanwar’s cinematic work feeds from the historic divisions ­between these communities.

Just as many others use India’s antiquity as ­inspiration, some, like Gigi Scaria, ­respond to the city’s creative call by ­focusing on its new hectic urbanism.

The cocktail engenders a lively avant-garde.

8Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo Runo Lagomarsino’s Against Times

In the past 100 years, the city has managed to transform itself from a 19th-century colonial village ­into a modern urban centre.

As Brazil’s largest city, it is arguably the most ­important city in South America.

This translates into a vibrant art and cultural space of the future.

The city’s gallery boom of the 1980s and 1990s has helped to establish what is now a flowering art scene.

This was also helped by Brazil’s new-found economic ­stability. Galleries like Mendes Wood, which was launched in 2010, and Galeria Vermelho in 2002 have been presenting more experimental work.

9Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver Kevin Schmidt’s Prospect Point, 2007

Central to Vancouver’s charm is its geographic isolation on the western edge of the North American continent.

Much of the city’s early art was interested in the physicality of the city’s geography.

A focus on the role of timber and logging as it helped shape its development was a constant motif and theme for early artists like Emily Carr.

That concern would mix with a ­fascination with conceptual art on the North American west coast.

The city has since given space to concepts like photo conceptualism, a stream of conceptual or post-conceptual art photography that ­flourished in the 1980s.

10San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan Karlo Andrei Ibarra’s Remnants

The city’s limited institutions and its fragile art-buying market have forced artists and curators to develop innovative means to sustain their art scene.

Though ­isolated and largely dependent on the US, San Juan does not suffer from a ­constant need to be recognised by the US’s established mainstream.

Due to its attraction as a tropical tourist attraction, its artists have developed an ­aesthetic that mixes the demands of ­leisure tastes and social agendas.

The collaborationist nature of art practices in the city found apt representation in the ­Puerto Rican art team of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, who represented the US in the Venice Biennale 2011.

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