The career of art historian, writer, and curator Michael Peppiatt has been enriched and informed by his friendships with an impressive cast of artists: Francis Bacon, Sonia Delaunay, Jean Dubuffet, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, Brassaï, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, to name a few. Recently Peppiatt directed and wrote the introduction for Voices of Contemporary Art, a new journal presented by Singapore’s Art Plural Gallery that explores 27 diverse contemporary artists around the theme of globalization in the art world. Following this recent project (not to mention his expertise on Francis Bacon), we caught up with Peppiatt to hear about this new publication, his impressions on the record-breaking Bacon sale, and his insights on globalization and Singapore as an emerging art capital.
Artsy: Can you give us a teaser to Art Plural: Voices of Contemporary Art and your introduction on how the globalization of art has surpassed the traditional duality of east vs. west?
Michael Peppiatt: We are only at the beginning of the globalization of art. Obviously with the greater availability of images via the internet artists everywhere can see what other artists are producing. The internet creates a dictionary of the art forms that are being produced, and subsequently impacts the way art evolves. However, it is too soon to predict where this will lead.
Artsy: Given your vast experience in the western art world, what are your impressions of the Asian art world? Why might Singapore be a rising art capital?
MP: I have to confess, it is true that most of my experience has been rooted in the West. It’s clear that my knowledge of Asian culture is not extensive, but I have always been interested in Asian art. Clearly Singapore is in full expansion and effervescence, and the dynamism and wealth here is very apparent. It is a good base for an art capital and indeed it has a thriving art market, but of course the wealth is only the beginning. The more Singapore can invest in teaching people about art the better. This kind of development has happened before in history. For example, during the late 19th century in the U.S., the economy was thriving but the art world was still niche, and now over 100 years later the country showcases the greatest art museums and collections. Indeed if Singapore needs a model, they cannot do better than follow what happened in the U.S. over the last century. With the establishment of the National Art Gallery and Pinacotheque in Singapore, the island is clearly progressing in the right path and can look forward to a bright future as an important art capital in Asia.
Artsy: You’ve spoken about the danger that globalization poses to many artists, and the necessity for artists to use it in their favor. Can you cite examples of artists who have used globalization in their favor and how they have done so?
MP: Artists have always used whatever means that are at their disposal. Art feeds off of other art, and has always done so. The Greeks used Egyptian imagery, the Romans used Greek imagery, and so on throughout the history of European culture. Probably all artists with true originality have used globalization as inspiration.
Artsy: Given your expertise in Francis Bacon, what were your reactions to the recent $142 million sale? What about Bacon’s work makes it so desirable in the global art market?
MP: I was delighted that a piece by an old friend of mine has become the most expensive artwork ever sold. He is the most powerful artist of the 20th century. I am pleased that this has been recognized by the market, but also surprised because Bacon is anything but an easy artist. He makes great demands on the viewer and so it’s very encouraging that such a difficult artist is also the most highly prized. Indeed if the best art makes the most money, then the future of art seems to be assured.
Michael Peppiatt began his career as an art critic in London and Paris in the 1960s, and eventually became editor and publisher of Art International magazine. In addition to curating numerous exhibitions worldwide, he is the author of numerous texts including Francis Bacon in the 1950s (2006), Les Dilemmes de Jean Dubuffet (2006), Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait – Essays and Interviews (2008), Caravaggio/Bacon (2009), In Giacometti’s Studio (2010), and Interviews with Artists 1966-2012 (2012). In 2005 Michael was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Cambridge for his published work in the field of 20th century art. He is a member of the Society of Authors and the Royal Society of Literature, and in 2010 he joined the international board of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. He is currently curating a Miró exhibition for Germany and writing the first of several memoirs.
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