China is a big country, its art scene grows very quickly, and because of the complexity of the situation we are not rushing anything. We are just going to see how things will be done and evaluate it. One thing that I keep saying and I repeat it: When I was elected president of AICA in 2008 I said that there [were to be] no changes in terms of who belongs to AICA and who doesn’t belong to AICA.
I must add, we are not a political organization. We are an organization of art critics, we are about culture, we are about intellectuals, we are about art. We do not discriminate on the basis of political affiliations; we just want to make sure that our members follow professional standards and create freely.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
TT: Your organization remains concerned about freedom of expression. For example, the letter AICA sent to China in 2011 after the detention and jailing of Ai Weiwei (艾未未).
MB: But what I am saying is that interfering with national politics is not our role. We are a professional association, representing nearly 5,000 art critics in 63 sections worldwide. As far as freedom of expression is concerned, we are concerned with defending it as much in China as in Sweden, Venezuela or France. When I went to Cuba last year I spoke to critics, museum directors, artists, curators and government officials — the only way we can establish a section in any country is based on freedom of expression which comes from the government or anyone who can prevent someone from joining. So that’s the kind of assurance I got from the Cubans, that anyone who qualifies as a practicing critic to become part of AICA should be able to join AICA. And that’s the only criteria that we use. We are interested in whether they qualify, whether they have credentials that allow them to join the organization and also whether the chapter that is being established is existing with enough freedom to function.
When we send letters to intervene in the cases of censorship of art, we do it very carefully. Ai Weiwei was one example, but we’ve done things in Sweden and South Africa. It had nothing to do with politics per se, it had to do with the way things work in terms of what contemporary art stands for. We are currently opposing censorship in Russia because there are a lot of questionable things going on there in respect of allowing artists to express their artistic views.
It’s more on the level of saying that we, as an art critics association, should function independently of politics and artists must express their views no matter how controversial they might be. In my opinion, it is up to the viewer to decide whether that kind of art merits our attention or not. There is good art with a social or political message and there is bad [art]. We discuss this during our annual congresses and symposia we organize around the world.
PRACTICE OF ART CRITICISM
TT: How is art criticism in Asia practiced differently than in Europe and North America?
MB: In terms of art criticism and how it fits into the global scene: it’s something that we need to discover because honestly I’m not familiar enough [with Asia] to speak about the local art scenes. I know some critics from different countries in this region but it doesn’t mean I can describe what constitutes Asian art criticism. All I know, is that Asia is becoming a very important place for contemporary art, and art criticism as well.