As far back as art historians seem to be able to go, art has always existed as a means of resistance, a catalyst to revolution, and a construct for exposing societal and political flaws. With the continual privatization of the art market all over the world, guiding it out of the hands of restricting state and religious direction and patronage, artists are freer than ever to combine their own dissatisfactions with the existing power structure, stereotypes, preconceptions, etc. with forms of art that are more experimental and avant-garde. Increasingly, the once European and U.S. dominated art market has shifted considerably. Though cities like London and New York are still the major sellers of art, and Paris may always be the prime location for exhibition, some of the highest selling and most talked about art is coming out of places like Beijing and Dubai. Themes that are common are usually similar to the same values coming out of Western contemporary art like feminism, war, and consumerism. Aesthetically, the two hemispheres have been producing vey similar looking art as well. Some point to this as an achievement in the universality and pervasiveness of art, though the point has also been made by some scholars that European art has had its own form of ‘colonialism,’ and Middle Eastern art (and for that matter, African and Asian) has been overly influenced by Eurocentrism, to the point where the unique Middle Eastern artistic tradition has been overshadowed and replaced with art that is a product of European art history. If this is the case, the Middle East seems to be beating the West at their own game. In 2008, Farhad Moshiri became the first Middle Eastern artist to sell an artwork at auction for over $1 million (specifically $1.05 million), and the numbers have only been growing since, with the Dubai Art Faire attracting some of the most elite in the art world, to the point where they have been the ones donating to the Louvre.
In a post-9/11 world, it seems as though anything related to the Middle East is translated through the lens of terrorism, whether it is pro or anti war. It is not uncommon for news stories or interviews with Middle Easterners to solely focus on how the war has affected them, their opinions on it, the racism that has been engendered by the event, etc. Though these things can’t be undermined, it is important to realize that there are other issues at stake in the Middle East, and there is a lot of art that reflects this. They also have their genres of landscape painting, illustration, political cartoons, splatter painting, and so forth.
Though European and American connoisseurs of art seem to be receptive to contemporary art coming out of the Middle East, for many this is still fairly new territory. U.S. museums usually have much less Middle Eastern art in comparison to their European collections, and after the controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad there was a considerable backlash in some prominent museums (most notably the Met), where many ancient works of Middle Eastern art were put into storage out of fear of reprisal. Even U of M, as progressive as it may be, added for this Fall its first course on Middle Eastern art in years. However, it does seem as though there has been a significant integration in the recent past of the Middle East into the global art market, and it only shows signs of increasing popularity.