How to keep up with the big world of contemporary art

A visitor walks past works of Chinese artists displayed at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA).
A visitor walks past works of Chinese artists displayed at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA).
Image: REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV
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It’s fair to say that the first rule of keeping up with global contemporary art is—you probably can’t.

That is, you can’t keep up with all of it. Limitations are annoying, but this one has a silver lining. Actually, two: You get to follow only what you like—no, love; and you will always know that there is an endless potential of art to love out there, just waiting to be discovered.

Don’t be intimidated

Whether you are looking to invest in art—a few hundred, thousand, or hundred of thousands of dollars—or you just want to wander about a gallery, the very first criteria has to be that you like it. I am of the opinion that, though it’s easy to hear the opposite, there is no such thing as “not getting” contemporary art: The idea that if someone isn’t moved by a piece of art it’s because they don’t understand it puts an unfair burden on the audience. To borrow from the Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco’s theories, a work of art says what the audience sees in it, no matter what reaction and message the author wished to convey.

Often, the conversation around art—especially contemporary—seems to be passing judgement on the value of the audience, as well as the author, which can be intimidating. Don’t let it deter you: As a sentient human, you can experience art. Follow what moves you to do so—nothing else is worth it.

Start with the internet

If you are especially interested in discovering art from a country you don’t live in—because you are curious about it, because you discovered an artist from there and want to see more, or because you’re traveling there soon, you’re in luck: The same year that a show in Paris’s Centre Pompidou and La Villette changed the world of art forever, the internet was invented, too! There are so many ways to discover or follow art online and on social media, and there is no right or wrong way to begin. You can find an artist you like and check out her influences, her peers, and her context. You can follow the gallery that represents her and see if you like its other artists. This is how I like to do it.

(Don’t) just look at pictures

There are many brilliant publications about art, the art market, or both. They tend to feature amazing photos, so flipping (or scrolling) through to find something eye-catching as a way to guide your adventures in contemporary art is a very valid method (and, super fun). Here are a handful of my favorites:

Artnet news: Covering both art and the art market, this publication is run by online art sales platform artnet. Artnet also has intelligence reports, price and sales databases, and other services for those specifically interested in investing.

Artforum: A monthly magazine, Artforum is beautiful both online and in print. It also has a Chinese edition, which was launched by Philip Tinari, worth checking for those interested in knowing more about Chinese art. (It works even with Google translate, while you polish up your Mandarin.)

Aesthetica Magazine: Aesthetica is a network and directory of artists, as well as a publication about all arts (visual and otherwise). This is a publication only about the art market. Not a lot of pictures—but, lots of numbers!

Apollo: Apollo is a magazine that covers the global art scene specifically. It doesn’t just have a brilliant title, but is often able to use art as a way into broader conversation about current affairs.

Artsy: A digital-friendly platform for buying art online, Artsy also has a smart online magazine that guides its customers through discovering contemporary art. It is especially helpful when it comes to keeping up with emerging art.

Elephant: Do all art magazines have titles beginning with A? They do not! Enter Elephant. Connected with a London art space, it offers fun insight into the latest trends of contemporary art.

Browse the ‘gram

You’re already pulling out your phone and scrolling through Instagram—you might as well check out some art while you’re at it. Most galleries, museums, and fairs have Instagram accounts, and so do many auction houses. Many of the most important and interesting personalities in art do, too. I live in a constant tension between the urge to follow everything I like and the urge not to follow so many accounts, so the ones that made the cut are a result of careful evaluation purely irrational selection. This is what I have been looking at as I immerse myself in the world of Chinese and global art:

UCCA: The most important contemporary art institution in China

UCCA Dune: UCCA’s new underground museum—that is, literally under the sand

Ai Weiwei: You know, it’s Ai Weiwei

Kochi Biennale: India’s first, glorious biennale

Ghana in Venice: An account dedicated to Ghana’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale

La Biennale: The original

Catag: An account and project by legendary collector Uli Sigg and AJ Poland

Taipei Dangdai: Taipei’s international art fair

Cuban Art News: Updates on Cuban art, contemporary and otherwise

Philip Tinari: Director of UCCA and expert in Chinese contemporary art

Weng Xiaoyu: International curator, working at Guggenheim and on the Ural Biennale