Tag Archives: Art

Credentials

Recently at a gallery, a lauded music critic was asked about operating in her newly acquired position at a media conglomerate. The questioner was specifically curious if she felt an increased difficulty in covering “more authentic bands,” given her new environment.

“Ha!,” the music critic laughed, “As if only bands are authentic. That leaves out so many other musicians. Male music critics are only interested in the production qualities of music. Sorry to the men in the room, but we don’t have any white males working in our office.” The room applauded.

The grounds of the music critic’s denunciation of authenticity also betray concurrent devotion to the concept at a different register: namely that certain people appear more authentic than others. The horizon of the music critic’s judgement, shared by most, has been narrowed to a pinpoint. The death of any viable Left reduces politics to psychological struggle and moral posturing, neither of which could overcome the crisis of society. That identity politics today is neoliberal can be seen in the way that the music critic’s department now toes the party line as it covers the presidential election campaigns.

The music critic’s victory in a small fraction of the conglomerate’s hiring demographics may have anemic merit, but her acceptance of the job is a liquidation of any “punk” laurels that might have adhered to her. The cruel truth for “punk,” however, is that the music critic never was an outsider to the all-consuming industry, whose schema accounts for even the hermetic hobbyist. She is a symptom of the streamlined integration demanded by mass society.

Fragments

[Left:] Marble Torso of a god or Athlete, Roman Imperial, ca. 1st or 2nd century AD; [Right:] Barnett Newman, Broken Obelisk (1964-67)

[Left:] Marble Torso, Roman Imperial, ca. 1st or 2nd century AD; [Right:] Barnett Newman, Broken Obelisk (1964-67)

In Aesthetic Theory, Adorno writes:
The truth content of art, whose organon was integration, turns against art and in this turn art has its emphatic moments. Artists discover the compulsion toward disintegration in their own works, in the surplus of organization and regimen; it moves them to set aside the magic wand as does Shakespeare’s Prospero, who is the poet’s own voice. However, the truth of such disintegration is achieved by way of nothing less than the triumph and guilt of integration. The category of the fragmentary—which has its locus here—is not to be confused with the category of contingent particularity: the fragment is that part of the totality of the work that opposes totality.1

In the modern sense, the fragment is no longer a dissociated piece of the whole. Rather it is the particular object that tasks the totality brought about by the farreaching consequences of the crisis of the commodity form. Contingent particularity would be the healthy dialectic of particular and universal in bourgeois society that has since then become antinomical. Particularity in our time is no longer an effect of freedom in social practice, but rather the marker of damage already inflicted on all. At the register of psychology, we can look to Freud, for whom neurotics are just like everyone else, but more so. Integration today rather becomes a terrible adaptation to an irrational totality. But from the bourgeois view that expects the world to follow discernible reason, the moments of unreason are felt as ugly accidents that might have been avoided. The fragment opposes the totality only insofar as it reveals this accident to be a historical necessity.


1. Theodor Adorno, “Situation,” in Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 45.

Art Stolen, Art Broken

Last month I visited the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago for a panel on archeological looting with Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, and Lawrence Rothfield, professor of English at the University of Chicago. “The Past for Sale” is an ongoing research project facilitated by the Collegium, and its goal is to better understand the black market of looted items. In addition, there is the problem of the deliberate destruction of historical artifacts by ISIS.

[Left:] Jeff Koons, Red Balloon Dog Ed. 51/66; [Right:] Description of item and its damage

[Left:] Jeff Koons, Red Balloon Dog Ed. 51/66 (1995); [Right:] Description of item and its damage

After the panel I visited the Collegium’s gallery, which was hosting the Salvage Art Institute’s exhibition No Longer Art. The show consisted of damaged pieces of art which were no longer considered worthy of being shown normally. Given the status of the works, the viewers were allowed to touch them, but it still felt too strange to break that taboo. The damage to these items changed them, and yet they were still products from respected artists. Presented informally as catalogued damage they take on a different appearance. Their inscrutable veneer of a finished product is lost and their materials become more apparent.

[Left:] Robert Rauschenberg, Soviet American Array IV, 12/55; [Right:] Description of item and its damage

[Left:] Robert Rauschenberg, Soviet American Array IV, 12/55 (1988-89); [Right:] Description of item and its damage

Stuck

At a recent panel at SAIC put together Platypus titled “The Many Deaths of Art,” artist Ruslana Lichtzier noted that since we in Platypus had run a similar panel a couple years ago in New York City, we too find ourselves stuck in the present as Art itself seems to be: stuck in the process of dealing with the past. Lichtzier is right, of course. And this isn’t a revelation with regard to the self-conception of Platypus, which recognizes itself as a part of the dead Left. It’s necessary for us to work through the past. It can’t yet be forgotten.

The Danger of Art History for the Artist

Nietzsche writes,

It is the most unjust condition in the world, narrow, ungrateful to the past, blind to dangers, deaf to warnings, a little living whirlpool in a dead sea of night and forgetting: and yet this condition—unhistorical, contra-historical through and through—is the cradle not only of an unjust, but rather of every just deed; and no artist will paint his picture, no general achieve victory nor any people its freedom without first having desired and striven for it in such an unhistorical condition. As the man of action, according to Goethe’s phrase, is always without conscience, so he is also without knowledge; he forgets a great deal to do one thing, he is unjust to what lies behind him and knows only one right, the right of that which is to become.1

It is obvious that the standpoint of the museum is primarily retrospective—that of maintaining the past in the present. How daunting such a place is for today’s artists. Comparing the grandeur of the works of the Ancients with those of a 21st century art-student is clearly unfair. The entirety of the past is weighing upon the scale in favor of the Ancient, even if we know it too once was new. But now it stands before us, ready to affirm our self-doubts. In hindering today’s student this way, Art History damages the work of the budding artist. And yet the new and the different ought to come about. The student must have the resolve to forget, so that becoming be allowed to come forth into the world through new work.

The sphere of Art History often confuses itself in its perspective, getting lost in its own methodology and the fruits of its investigations. The reified appreciation of art becomes stretched backward in time so that the unique position of today’s artists loses its quality.

It should be noted, of course, that we can’t completely forget history. To do so would be to regress to the level of the animal. Playing with history and one’s own place within it may be another art in itself. When history might affirm your efforts, then look back and pull from it the potential in it.


1 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, trans. Peter Preuss (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980 [1874]), 11-12.

To My Artist-Friends

The back cover of the CD case of William Basinski's Disintegration Loops (2002)

The back cover of the CD case of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops (2002)

Despite the present conditions, you remain important. Experience of the world bounces off of you prismatically, even if you don’t want that.

You are particular, fragile prisms. Even your most melancholic allow light through. You’ve seen the glow illuminating Mark Rothko’s paintings. But sometimes I worry you might break if presented with the wrong world. There is a necessary nostalgia you’ve held for so long. It was with you in the furnace, imbued in you like an alloy—strengthening you in some ways, and weakening you in others. That alloy is the residue of Romanticism.

Nietzsche saw this in you. His admiration found those fragile points:

Of course, the philosophy of an artist does not matter much if it is merely an afterthought and does not harm his art. One cannot be too careful to avoid bearing any artist a grudge for an occasional, perhaps very unfortunate and presumptuous masquerade. We should not forget that, without exception, our dear artists are, and have to be to some extent, actors; and without play-acting they would scarcely endure life for any length of time.1

——
1 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974 [1887]), 155.

Isa Genzken Retrospective at MCA Chicago

genzken_retro

For the next few days, MCA Chicago will be hosting a retrospective of the German artist Isa Genzken. I had no previous knowledge of Genzken, and went at the suggestion of my friend Emma Pavlik—an artist in Cleveland, Ohio. My experience of the exhibition initially was by looking at her most recent work first, then seeing the rest in reverse chronological order. I’m not sure which way would work better for the retrospective. It was interesting watching certain gestures or themes revert to smaller forms as time went backwards.

Photo of Isa Genzken's Kinder Filmen (2005)

Photo of Isa Genzken’s Kinder Filmen (2005)

In Genzken’s installation Kinder Filmen (Children Filming) (2005), we look upon the imagined aftermath of a crime scene, where children watched their peers assaulting one another. The wildly bright materials, along with their references to youth, like a Coca-Cola beach umbrella, give the scene an inappropriate brightness. The work is described as using these objects to also indict the state of cheaply made products throughout the world: “Like other works from this period, it relies on mass-produced, found objects that challenge accepted notions of taste, perhaps as a commentary on the cheap, easy, and disposable flow of goods and information available in the present day.” I wonder who writes these descriptions. I’m assuming the writers were the curators at MCA Chicago. I find it interesting that the write-up would juxtapose “taste” with “cheap goods”, as if Genzken is merely having some fun by descending from the heights of proper art to “slum it” with capitalism’s trash. It seems to me, rather, that Genzken understands that this debris is the world we live in. There is no real distinction between a “high” and “low” taste to the degree museum-goers might imagine there to be. Instead of eschewing the creation of contemporary society as something to be rejected in its entirety, she acknowledges that there is a bit of freedom about these new materials and our ability to produce them. The concept of “taste” is itself specious in our time, especially in a museum because our aesthetic experience has become aligned with the expectations mediated by the commodity form. But, even in the bleak thoughts brought to mind by this medium of detritus and toys, there is still a turning point that can be reached by the viewers. In the 1930s, Theodor Adorno perceived this characteristic in the arising production of kitsch, which we still consider today: “Even the most stupid people have long since ceased to be fooled by the belief that everyone will win the big prize. The positive element of kitsch lies in the fact that it sets free for a moment the glimmering realization that you have wasted your life”.1 By seeing through kitsch as being made not really for us, but rather as things we wish to be for us, we might better understand what must be changed for our aesthetic experience, or life in general, to be as true as it could be.

Photo of Isa Genzken's Oil XI (2007)

Photo of Isa Genzken’s Oil XI (2007)

One of my favorite pieces of the exhibition was the installation, Oil XI (2007), which is described as follows:

Oil XI is the centerpiece of a sixteen-part installation that Genzken first exhibited at the German Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. […] The installation and its title evoke the spirit of a world in the grips of the War on Terror, which some would argue was not only aimed at curbing global terrorism but also a militarized effort to maintain control of this natural resource. ¶ […] The installation, with its accumulation of roller-board suitcases, calls to mind a transit station that has suddenly been abandoned, perhaps due to an unseen threat. Three astronauts, identified as NASA employees by the insignia on their uniforms, float overhead as if exploring the ruins of a devastated culture.

The inclusion of several plastic molds of owls implies the scrutiny of ever-watchful security in a place like an airport or other transit stations.

Photo of Isa Genzken's Oil XI (2007)

Photo of Isa Genzken’s Oil XI (2007)

The hovering astronauts, as employees (or soldiers, even), of the U.S. government, add another level of the scope of surveillance techniques in the world, such as the capabilities of satellite imagery. Given the breadth of security measures which includes the might of the U.S. military, one is tempted to jump to the conclusion that perhaps all is lost, that the end of the world is the only way out. Today’s spokesman of cosmology, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has spoken about the unfortunate history of NASA. But just as the exploration of space and the scientific advances made from the development of space-fight came about through military endeavors, there is still a tiny progressive element in the world reflected here. One need only listen to Brian Eno’s album Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978) to feel the channelled reverberations of hope for airports—sent out decades before Eno—washing ashore now, even if the waves are admittedly humble. There is still something to be said for the ability to fly around the world. There is potential in globalization. Only a fool would turn one’s back on that fact.

I plan on writing more about this retrospective soon, since there was so much to digest.

——
1 Theodor Adorno, “Commodity Music Analyzed” (1934-40), in Quasi Una Fantasia [London: Verso, 1998], 50.