Monday. 22/3/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Real art

Considering how much the art market has had to adapt to operating remotely over the past year, it shouldn’t be surprising that the kind of works that are sold online has evolved dramatically too. The annual Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report last week confirmed the obvious: global art sales took a big hit last year but online sales doubled in value. Meanwhile, those who have already made careers in the digital medium are attracting greater attention.

For many, this can be hard work: try getting excited about viewing a digital replica of a painting inside a digital replica of a gallery. It feels a little bit like your grandfather putting on multifocal lenses to tap in numbers on a touchscreen: he’s adapted but not seamlessly, and from time to time he wonders about the point of it all. A case in point is performance artist Marina Abramović (pictured), who last week announced that she will partner with the editorial arm of WeTransfer on a “digital manifestation” of her method, releasing a “meditative task” that is supposed to encourage “the exploration of being present in time and space.” That this should be coming from someone whose most famous work is The Artist is Present feels contradictory and challenging – which is perhaps the point.

Abramović appears proud of the democratic potential; her project is expected to reach 70 million people. It’s this supposed widening of audiences that is also behind much of the recent excitement over NFTs, or non-fungible tokens (the art world’s new favourite acronym now that OVRs, online viewing rooms, feel very “last year”). These tokens of ownership over digital files may be attracting younger collectors but it still feels hard to marry the idea of accessibility in art with anything in the so-called “crypto” realm. I can’t help but wonder whether or not these concepts of possession, speculation and currency now being explored offer an entry point that fosters lifelong love of an artwork – the kind of passion that lasts until they become grandparents themselves.

For a closer look at Marina Abramović's latest project, listen to our interview with Holly Fraser, editor-in-chief of WePresent, on the latest edition of Monocle 24’s ‘The Stack’.

Conflict / Nigeria

Taken

Northern Nigeria was offered some respite earlier this month when 279 schoolgirls (pictured), who had been abducted by gunmen, were released in the state of Zamfara. But the sad reality is that such abductions remain so commonplace that they barely break international headlines. Ever since Boko Haram abducted the girls in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in 2014, other groups have copied its tactics. Some 800 students have been taken since December. The problem is that dealing with such bandits, who are running what they consider to be a lucrative business, requires a very different response to fighting ideological jihadists. “There is a lack of coherent strategy between the federal government and state governments,” Nnamdi Obasi, senior advisor at International Crisis Group, told Monocle 24’s The Foreign Desk. “Some states negotiate with the abductors and offer amnesty while the federal government refuses to negotiate and continues military operations.” Making this a higher priority on the security agenda is key, says Obasi. “Otherwise we will be seeing much more of this for some time.”

Politics / Bolivia

Trading places

There’s often a vicious cycle in Latin America’s polarised politics: one government deposes or defeats its predecessor and then proceeds to purge members of the previous administration. Just look at Bolivia, where former president Jeanine Áñez (pictured) has been imprisoned and last week declared that she is depressed and on hunger strike.

Áñez faces trial as part of a so-called “coup case” over the forced resignation of another former president, Evo Morales, in 2019. Morales himself, of course, faced similar accusations of terrorism and sedition and now that his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party is back in power under Luis Arce, it has turned the tables. “Instead of going after Áñéz and other political opponents on what many consider specious charges, the MAS could have preserved and even bolstered democratic practice and institutionality,” says Paul Angelo, a fellow of Latin America studies at The Council on Foreign Relations. “The latest turn of events stands to fuel further division, civil unrest and even violence.”

Urbanism / Vietnam

Tall tales

What’s the future of Ho Chi Minh City? If the academics and entrepreneurs at last week’s city-sponsored urban planning conference have their way, the metropolis will begin razing small buildings in favour of skyscrapers. The idea was mooted by urban planning professor Nguyen Minh Hoa to accomodate a booming population. But while the goal is laudable, the method risks lowering the city’s quality of life by separating people from the street and each other, threatening social cohesion in the process. And building tall does not guarantee density; increases in height can force buildings to be set further apart. Instead, the city would do well to look to the likes of Madrid, whose low-to-mid-rise central neighbourhoods are among the world’s densest and yet still manage to maintain pleasant, green and neighbourly streetscapes. Here’s hoping planning officials in Vietnam’s largest city take the conference’s findings under advisement – and then look to better-built examples elsewhere.

Culture / France

Best of the best

Arts and cultural sectors continue to face an uncertain year, so Chanel has launched a new Culture Fund to support emerging artists, which will partner with leading institutions around the world. Ten individuals in music, performance, dance, and the visual arts will each be awarded €100,000, with the French fashion house looking to back talented people who “are radically redefining their fields”. And as cultural institutions prepare to once again swing open their doors, Chanel is also supporting a series of programmes with the National Portrait Gallery in London, Los Angeles’ Underground Museum, The Centre Pompidou in Paris and GES-2 in Moscow. “At a time when we are navigating our way through complex new environments around the world, we know that artists generate transformative ideas that help us envision the way forward,” says Yana Peel, global head of arts and culture at Chanel. A spring opening may be in the air but fresh efforts to support the cultural sector remain welcome.

M24 / The Menu

Tom Aikens

How Tom Aikens became one of the most successful chefs in Britain; inspiration for picnic baskets; and the week’s top food-and-drink headlines.

Monocle Films / Spain

Campus of creativity

“Foster independent thinking” is a key phrase in modern education but few places get it right. We visit Madrid’s Colegio Estudio to meet the enlightened teachers and alumni.

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