Dr. Katrin Sperling

Nur der Kannibalismus eint uns. Die globale Kunstwelt im Zeichen kultureller Einverleibung: Brasilianische Kunst auf der documenta


  • Geboren 1978
  • Studium der Ethnologie, Religionswissenschaft und Grafik & Malerei an der Philipps-Universität Marburg und der Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Recife/Brasilien
  • Beschäftigung als studentische Hilfskraft am Institut für Vergleichende Kulturforschung an der Philipps-Universität Marburg
  • August 2005: Magisterarbeit ("Was ist die Kunst wert?" - Eine ethnologische Betrachtung bildender Kunst als Medium für das Bild Brasiliens)
  • 2006-2009: Stipendiatin des Promotionskollegs "Formations of the Global"
  • Kontakt: katrin.h.sperling[AT]web.de


Forms of expression of cultural life worldwide have always been subject to permanent change. Especially since the 1980s processes of radical reconfiguration of the cultural have been easily noticeable. In the economic sphere it has been quite common for a long time already to talk about "globalization" with respect to those transformations. Because developments in the cultural field now have to be considered along with consequences of globalization, Cultural Studies scholars are now also eagerly discussing such "global" phenomena. One important result of this new orientation is, among other things, the dislocation of the starting points and the widening of perspectives of cultural analysis. For example, the claim of comprehending and explaining the other as something totally different of the self is more and more replaced by the theoretical elaboration of categories of differences, amalgamation, and overlapping as well as by the development of concepts of border-crossing or the so-called spaces of "in-betweenness" or, in short, spaces of (re-)negotiation of culture in the global era.

My dissertation project is situated in this context of scientific reflection of cultural phenomena referring to globalization processes and focuses on the international art world. This very field emerges as a stage of cultural clashes and exchanges. With the founding of museums, the conception of international blockbuster-exhibitions and, last but not least, due to the mechanisms of the art market, new locations of cultural negotiation come into being worldwide. In these contexts it is possible to examine processes for information about the emergence as well as the reformulation of cultural forms and values in a global publicity.

The development of the art world which has been come to be considered "international" or "globalized" has begun spreading across the globe from the West similar (or even parallel) to the spread of the capitalistic economic system. Talking about the development of the international art world means talking about the proliferation of the institutions of art like academies, museums, galleries, auction houses, art fairs etc. The function of these institutions is based on European patterns with regard to the mediation of formal-aesthetic concepts as well as to economical perspectives. Indeed, the exchange of stylistic features and ideas has not been occurring unidirectional - as the influence of African and oceanic aesthetics on the European Modernity obviously demonstrates. However, Western (colonial) supremacy led to a clear hierarchization of the international art world in favour to the European and north-American participants. Just recently, a succesive change of the Western dominated art discourse is noticeable. Not only those artists directly concerned and often marginalized - designated as non-European or non-Western - but also representatives of academic disciplines such as Cultural Studies and the Studies of Fine Arts as well as Art History become aware of the massive discrepancies in the international art world.

Projects like the documenta in Kassel turn into spaces of international discourse about the fine arts. If we understand art as a form of expression or media of culture those rooms or spaces appear as locations of negotiation of cultural forms or phenomena in the present situation. Furthermore, the international art market as the place where art is presented as commodity plays a significant role. The artworld as a whole can at least be seen as a big platform or stage on which the discourses about the current cultural configurations are taking place. Thus, representative, symbolic, social and economic dynamics are overlapping in a unique way within the art world. It is a challenge for contemporary cultural studies research to elaborate appropriate theoretical frameworks for grasping these complex fields of investigation.

The dissertation project aims in a first step at the creation of such a theoretical framework specific to my object of investigation. To exemplify the current state of negotiation of non-Western artworks I will focus on Brazilian contemporary fine arts and its representation within the international art world. I will concentrate on discourses which came up recently in the course of the last three documenta projects.

One of the main issues of the project is the attempt to find an answer to the question how contemporary art as cultural form of expression entangled in such a complex network like the international art world is negotiated and, as the case may be, if and how discourses about art are about to change in the so called era of globalization. The discussion about the notion of "worldart" is characteristic at this point. Therefore it is the initial step towards generally rethinking concepts of globalization and globality as key concepts. Finally, questions about artistic, cultural or even national identity of the artists will be raised alongside questions about power relations which are responsible for forming such powerful mainstream categories of dualistic thinking (the West vs. the rest of the world) and the enduring hegemonic structures.


  • Nur der Kannibalismus eint uns. Die globale Kunstwelt im Zeichen kultureller Einverleibung: Brasilianische Kunst auf der documenta. transcript, 2011. (ISBN 978-3-8376-1768-9)