Duty Free Art, 2015
Today, so-called “free-ports”—tax-free trade zones where commodities are bought, sold or simply kept in storage—likely play a more central role in the geography of contemporary art than any other institution. Seen together, free-ports are home to an unrivaled collection of artistic masterpieces, the greatest museum on earth, but one that remains hidden, for no one to see. Hito Steyerl’s Duty-Free Art (2015) is an incisive critique of art’s current social function as a catalyst of global inequality and an ameliorative veneer for autocratic regimes. Using WikiLeaks documents, Steyerl tells the story of how the Louvre, The British Museum, and architecture firm OMA, all assisted the Syrian Assad regime’s plan to establish a network of museum’s “to promote Syria’s economic and social development and strengthen national identity and cultural pride.” Seen from above, contemporary art is described as a proxy or a screen—hiding the point of impact and masking accountability. Steyerl asks, however, what if one were to reverse this screen, and look from below?
Film still ©️ Hito Steyerl