Multinational art

In the dash to internationalism the national is trampled underfoot, argues Laura Gascoigne.

In November, Lund Humphries celebrated 75 years of publishing books on British art with an anniversary talk at the ICA titled ‘Is there such a thing as British art?’ It was chaired by Tim Marlow, now of the Royal Academy, and debated by a panel composed of Iwona Blazwick from the Whitechapel, Emma Dexter from the British Council and artists Nathan Coley and Yinka Shonibare. Don’t ask me what was said, as the event was so oversubscribed I couldn’t get a ticket.

British art is on a bit of a roll. True, no YBAs made it onto ArtReview’s Power 100 list last year, but Cameron’s gift to his new ‘bro’ Obama of a Henry Moore print of Stonehenge did seem to reflect a newfound confidence in our national art. It certainly upped the ante on the special gift-giving relationship after the boxed set of classic American film DVDs presented by Obama to Gordon Brown in 2009. But while national pride in the art of the past still seems permissible, it has started to look iffy when applied to the present. Patriotism has no place in a global art world. Hence the further questions raised by the Lund Humphries debate: “Is there an inherent, identifiable ‘Britishness’ in the art made in these islands today? Or is any notion of a culturally significant Britishness now redundant?”

In his autumn pep talk to participants in the 56th Venice Biennale, President Paolo Baratta recalled the reaction against national pavilionism in 1999 that prompted the creation of the International Exhibition “to offer the world a global sounding board”. The man in charge of this year’s sounding board is Nigerian Okwui Enwezor and his exhibition, inclusively titled All the World’s Futures, will invite visitors to “read the Giardini with its [sic] ramshackle assemblage of pavilions