BY RYSZARD WAŚKO
BY RYSZARD WAŚKO
BY SŁAWOMIR MARZEC
The increasing today correlation of diverse discourses inevitably leads to their hierarchization in daily life. The more subtle and more complex discourses are written down (read: reduced) into the more straight and readable ones. In this way they become understandable and useful for average people. Thus, the effects are often lamentable – former subtleties challenging our thoughts, imagination and feelings often are reduced to the category of superfluous freaks, or outright anomaly. Art exemplifies it very clearly – now its „essence” is defined by marketing rules and „predominating social problems”; artists and their works became simply derivative from them. And everything happens in the context of such slogans like: „everything is a text” („… a discourse”), „the death of subject”, “the death of man” etc. It seems, that in the consequences, nowadays already the very treat of the problem of an artist as individual person, has subversivecharacter to the status quo. It makes however a chance, to regain the human dimension of art.
How distant, but simultaneously how concurrent and close to us (especially in the shelter of own studio) seem today the creators of prehistoric paintings, Egyptian „givers of life”, the Dogons` „prisoners of own creation”, ancient experts of measure and harmony, migratory, or the rather pilgrimage creators of icons. Artist’s identity is evolving in time, every culture and epoch (and today even every decade) raises own challenges to him. However the artist’s status always carries the stigma of ambiguity balancing on the borderland between contempt and admiration. Already Plato wanted to chase them away from cities, because of causing superfluous confusion with their aesthetical whims and inspiring mindlessness. Meanwhile Neoplatonism propagated the conception of „genius with empty hands”, which led by the worry about ideas, saved them the fall into a matter at all; that is: he hungs around. However there is a myth originated from iconoclastic cultures, which advocates, that after artist’s death, figures painted by him would demand own souls from their author; the consequences were to be so gloomy, that – just in case – better even today approach to practice figurative art with deep anxiety. The artist’s dignity reached the apogee in the romantic conception of genius, who, thanks to the power of will, talent and sensibility, penetrates the essence and brings it into being. Nowadays artist’s status probably was preeminently expressed by W. Gombrowicz: now “artist is closer to reality, because he does not need to pretend that he knows everything – artist just should be able to show that he is alive” (let`s add: alive in the entire meaning).
However who is the contemporary artist? Obviously it is possible to dispute about the notion of contemporary, but here I will concentrate myself on the idea of avant-garde and neo avant-garde artist, and next on the status of the artist in the time of crawling Second Modernism.
There are many varied interpretations of avant-garde phenomenon, however the belief in progress of art and its (efficient) participation in social and political transformations, was its main determinant. That conviction about the junction between art and life, is probably most clearly defined in John Dewey’s idea of experience. He considered, that experiences of art causing real transformation, are more important, than the idiosyncratic aesthetical values of art piece. And artists were to stimulate those transformations through their inflexible radicalism. As we know from the history, the belief, that art would improve our societies, appeared delusive – already Dadaism artists (getting over the disaster of First World War) expressed it through the canon of convulsions beauty situated on borderland of absurdity. Piet Mondrian, who marked the direction of art progress and new sensibility, can be another good example – he became probably one of the first victims of the progress: in the latter part of his life, he was not able to suffer the view of no-straight lines (as tree branch)… And art directly engaged in social and political transformations, which took place for example in Soviet Russia, where many artists greeted the revolution with hope on rational and free world, carried tragic, and often physical defeat.
Meta/art is the next essential avant-garde feature: art about art, art through art, art in art and so on, which, first of all, operates on the level of artist’s self-consciousness and analyses every possible problems and contexts ensuing from art praxis. This tendency was concluded in Conceptual Art confounding art into linguistic, logical etc. games. And it ended practically in total failure too – topped by the conception of artist without art, where question about art became secondary. Probably it was most clearly performed in Cezary Budzianowski’s action titled „Who will recognize the artist?“, which took place in one of supermarket in Lublin in 2001. The megaphones repeated these title question so long (around 20 minutes), until someone found the author, brought him to the cash desks and received chocolate box as the prize. The question about the reasons of the recognition (the artist`s name, description and achievements were not passed) hung with heavy cloudon the routine of our behaviors.
The idea of institutional artistis another, though softer variant of the conception artist’s without art. In the 60`s important transformations took place in the avant-garde bosom – some important artists‘ group came into being (as Art Workers Coalition), which aiming to their fuller freedom, decided to become independent from art institution through… taking them over. The process is known as institutionalization of avant-garde, which – in the consequences – congealed on regular posts. This phenomena found the theoretical subsidiaries in (very popular and practice even today) Dickie`s thesis about art world and as well Danto’s one about art institution. They claim – in shortage – that art is that, what given art world considers as art. Although this very simple and pragmatic approach has some infirmity, especially in countries – like Poland – where the communities of values and senses, often are replaced by self-seekingcoteries.
The institutional artist is the man or woman with new proprieties, competent mainly in sociablegames, efficient in bureaucratic meanders and promotion systems. The measure of his/her greatness is the quantity and amount of exhibitions, catalogs, grants and so on.
Incessantly, in the sphere of avant-garde, the tendency of engaged, critical art comes back, which uses to fail in every possible ways. How is it possible to criticize and transform the society through performing it in front of narrow connoisseurs team, which usually are sensitive and consciousness of the problems people? And furthermore through reducing art into fair meanings, which usually are far-off even to the level of third-rate journalism, and which often does not overcome even the frames of the one-dimensional political correctness. Anyway, nothing does make the politicians and businessmen more gladden, as the transformations of real problems into symbolical ones. Though obviously we should avoid such general view – I respect H. Haacke, the classic of this tendency, who, invited to MoMa, displayed documents disclosing financial swindles of the bosses of this institution.
The contextual tendency is worthy of mentioning too. It claims, that art is resulted from given context. However it appeared, that there are many contexts, in which any sensible and valuable art is simply not possible. It concerns in large rank also the avant-garde idea of liberation, or emancipation. Art treated as an arm – in noble otherwise battle for social liberation of feminists, gays, ethnic minority etc. – often falls into similar problems like contextual art. Art is here usually reduced to a sociological symptom, or diagnostic, which pushes out symbolism through own „authenticity”. And it is, in my opinion, inadmissible, because thanks to the symbolism (understood in all manners), art introduce the beneficial „surplus” to the totalisation of cultural realities.
Popular art, art of subculture, blockers art etc. is fairly specific, however it is still the legacy of avant-garde idea of emancipation. But under the slogans of authentic spontaneity, the inadmissible reduction of art happens here again – the automatist of spontaneity should provoke our suspicions about it’s schematize. We are not more free because being not consciousness of our conditioning. The authenticity of expression of given context becomes here the superior value, what is easy to recognize as the echo of Marxist idea of socio/biographic art. Blocker artist, that is: „artist fully authentic” is practically an usurper, and only his/her willing decides about his artistic status. The authenticity invokes the idea of art accompanyingour common life – getting over its fears and hopes. The artist has to be here “himself” and express the pure “himself ness”, supporting in this way (by his biography and activity) a material for sociologically disposed art curators and critics. The situation is perfectly concluded by prominent NY art critic R. C. Morgan, who asks about “the ability to distinguish between what is significant and what is symptomatic in culture”.
It coincidences with another – merely suicidal – thesis advocating, that art is the expression of personality. If it would be truth, then obviously the expressions of every pathological type of personalities would be more attractive. Nobody would be interested in the expressions of really normal (intelligent, sensitive and responsible) persons. And of course famous personalities` expressions would be desired – how many people would prefer to have on the wall Tysson`s painting, instead of “any Olitsky`s” one? Anyway, some years ago Madonna bought some paintings of Braque and Picasso, repainted them a little and… sold for better prize. In spite of quoted examples I will obstinacy claim, that art is not the expression of personality. Because personality – in certain frames – isfluxional, and it is possible to re-form, “re – build” it according to our dreams and reason, not only to express its (always accidental) state.
The activity including new technologies into the art realm, belongs to the avant-garde tradition of progress too. In the initial step the technical complexity usually causes, that rather tinkering men, than humanists (acting with the feeling of senses and value) use to deal with it.
Technological progress, of course helpful and desired, but totalizing the Cartesian heritage of isolated, idiosyncratic reason, use to reduce us into the condition of user, or element of technological system; that is „the duralumin art in duralumin epoch creating the duralumin society and duralumin human being”…
In this short and (of course!) provocative way I expressed – not aspiring to objectivism – my rate to different avant-garde conceptions of an artist. There was colloquial opinion, that in Modernism, artist’s subjective ness was the reason of art works (Heidegger: „The artist is the source of art”). We should say it more precisely, that yes, artist, but treated as artistic personality, that means: written into specified ideological and institutional contexts. It leaded to another specific “emancipation”, which separated artist from the gesture of art creation (that is the disregard of the next sentence from above quoted Heidegger’s sentence: „Art piece is the source of artist).
The two great avant-garde projects: the meta/art and the junction, unification of art and life, appeared as disaster too (though in some moments beautiful and fruitful of great works). Yet today we are rather tired both the enigmatic analysts of next art re/contextualization (closed in their expertness), both so called engaged artists, running over the world and forcing – saying not ad finem figuratively – to ruminateover every eaten hot-dog.
In common conviction, avant-garde produced peculiar “art of artists” (using O. y Gasset`s terminology): art devoid of wider public (however, according to statistics 70% of society is the functional illiterates, so it is not necessary to deplore over it too much). Finally avant-garde, as Marcin Czerwinski said, fall down under the heaviness of own emptiness, and was replaced by Postmodernism. Confusion round the term is tremendous. So we should at least emphasize the distinction between Postmodernism, Pop-postmodernism and Postmodernity, which – in my view – is possible to identify with neo avant-garde. Namely, I regard Postmodernism as the artistic program of radical eclecticism. Pop – postmodernism, could be described by the slogan „everything goes”, which on the pop-culture ground creates the vulgar trivialization of Postmodenity. Postmodernity is the attitude, which advocates, that nothing, any rule, any convention, any truth and so on, does not discharge us of complete responsibility for our acts and thought. It is obviously utopian challenge to permanent consciousness, full sensibility and endless creativity. Where reality – paraphrasing Zygmunt Bauman – is rather a task, than something given. However, in practice, nobody is able to match the requirement of permanent creativity and full consciousness. And rather we should deplore over it, than mystify it.
Big Narrations homogenized the modern world, but the lack of belief in them is the main Postmodernity feature. And crucial here is the unbelief in possibility of understanding the world athwart one universal, static and final type of rationality. It ennobles and radicalizes plurality, simultaneity and equality of different ways of perception, which often lead to the fragmental sense of reality. So the postmodern world appears as dynamic and infinite complexity, where practically pointless is the discussion about any conceptions of an artist, which use to be related with definite vision of the world, art and human being. In this context the artist’s status slips away of any durable qualifications, so we should not talk about the conceptions of artist, but about strategiesof artist. Postmodern artist occurs in dependence on concrete circumstances, in dependence on concrete recipient/participant. And considering the popular slogan about the death of subject and man (Foucault, Deleuze etc.), even the discussion about artist stands up here something improper (J. Derrida: „The game of life is the artist”)
Postmodernity responded to the reality shaped by the global processes of mass medialisation and commercialization. And the processes forced artists into specific strategies and behaviors, as Paul Virilio noticed: into political correctness, and optical correctness, which are clearly performed in so called festival art. Commercialization, as the apologue of interchangeability and equivalence, eliminates idiomacy and exceptionality. The artist appears here not so much as producer, but rather as commercial traveler. Art – as J. Baudrillard defines – became the super commodity, pure signality, where important become just the mark, logo of this perfect (because perfectly superfluous) commodity. However the very possession of the super commodity “ennobles”. The fluctuation of fashion, displacement of client intends and support the need of possession, are the basic market rules. According to them, artists should unceasingly change themselves, showing new striking offer. Or – what is the worse – he should invariably last in given iconography, performing own trademark. Any way, the basic slogan here is: „art is to sell a painting, not to paint it”.
In opinion of many people, mass mediality slowly becomes the basic form of our reality: something, which does not appear in mass media, does not appear at all. The conviction seems to be really – as statistics prove, the average inhabitant of European countries, annually use to spend so many hours in front of television set, as in work. In this context the cry for art understandable for everyone, gets proper horror. Sometimes I fear, that forbidding my children to watch TV too long, I will cause that they will outgrow on freaks, under standards of future society, as the community of advertisements… After mass media principle, artists should compete for spectators‘ attention (the most losing today commodity) with sport stars, models and serial incendiaries. Thepassage to artistic success is here based on the reformulation of art piece into a scheming mediumistic fact. The fact awaking a scandal, which creates „alive social interaction”, is the easiest way. Thanks to this mechanism, every revolt and protest can be treated like… marketing gesture.
The domination of fashion joins all the processes as their common feature. Fashion as a kind of community, but also as the only one today universalform of rationalization, and the basic determinant of individual identity. Fashion does not raise any question, but instead of that, it „indulgently” defines the area of possible expressions. Artists can give up to the dictate (as for example, and with good result Gerhard Richter did, writing down himself into next new trends), or attempts artistic diversion and critique of these phenomena. However the attempts usually are like cobwebby – fighting them, we get entangled in it more. It was possible to observe it on the example of Jeff Koons`s career , who initially mocking kitsch, after years stood its synonym.
There is a large spectre of neo avant-guard strategies, however we can emphasize three basic ones: strategy of simulation, deconstruction and intervention.
The principle of the simulation strategy is quotation and so called „game of remainders” – a trial to excite spectators only through chosen („emancipated”) elements of art. In this context art piece becomes e pluribus unum elements of our consumptive ecstasy. And the primal activity of the art world is here the heroic rehearsals of separation of the (art) element from others, in hope that someone some when will write any meaning in it. Obviously, after R. Ascott, it could be named more stately: that artists only project a contexts, in which spectators shall construct their own experiences, meanings and references (quotation from memory). Likewise the prevailing recently shock poetics, where the artist’s success is just the attraction of even faint spectator’s attention, and where art appears as unforeseeable game of intensity. This procedure ennobles obscene, brutality and anomaly as authenticsphereandsparkling social interaction. Paradoxically, considering the little effectiveness in propagation of declared ideas in this way (of an open society etc.), one should rather perceive it, as a pure demonstration of anomaly… After the strategy, the main values are directness, authenticity and spontaneity. I already mentioned about my restrictions towards spontaneity (automatism, that is de facto schematize), whereas directness eliminates our reflection and – in general – the inter/sphere of meanings. And authenticity, that is the „pure expression of oneself”, does not allow us to build ourselves according to own project and on own responsibility.
The deconstruction strategy creates solely interpretative commitment of the participants, where the re/interpretation course is more important, than its destination or rules. In common parlance the rising of associations, reinterpretations, and quotations is perceived as something irresponsible and empty. But we may look thereon a little bit friendlier. Then deconstruction could be regarded as dramatic trials of rescue the humanistic legacy of disinterested reason in the world, which “is devoted to extremities, not equilibrium” (J. Baudrillard). Though, it happens on the level of disinterestedness, which, in our pragmatic time, appears as senseless game of words. Deconstruction actualizes the idea of truth as incessant transformation of meanings, which is to prevent us to congeal in one given sense of reality, treated here as disabled illusion of fulfillments. However on the other hand, the multiplication of senses can effects in depreciation the idea of sense; it reduces a sense into a meaning.
Intervention is the next neo avant-guard strategy, understood as the direct commitment into social life. The art piece use here to expose every figure of evil, and goes not only beyond art conventions, but often also behind the standard of social behaviors. The purpose is the attempt of elimination every (wide comprehended) pain, and stigmatize every symptom of social, ethnic etc. constraints. It islaudable idea, if it does not turn into aggressive and insolent activity, what in Poland is often manifested as so called critical art. However the call to pluralism and tolerance, too often ends in the endeavor to locate the caller on privileged position. Instead of initiate a dialogue, many artists use just demonstrate, that they executed the sensible and best choice of life or politic attitude. And, in their conviction, it lets them treat other people as passive and ignorantmass, which could be shaken, provoked and stimulated to creative activity (that is: to follow the artist’s “proper” choice). But fighting the conservative fundamentalism by the fundamentalism of progress (as we already know, it exists) – in practice – leads only to further radicalization of the attitudes. Any way, the strategy of intervention follows Nietzsche’s dream about artists creating „without resentments and remorse”, however with marketing handbookin the pocket…
Recapitulating: Hegel thought that the autonomisation of art reduces its rank. However the experiences of recent decades portray, that the commitment and confounding into given social, political etc. contexts, also depreciates art.
Second Modernism, new cultural formation, slowly rises on the edges of neo avant guard. The formation, in my conviction and hope, abandons the utopian thinking based upon the mechanism of deriving human identity from idealized or reduced vision of reality. It rather tries to endow people in instruments of wrestling with reality, it tries to help us ridding off from contemporary forms of cultural totality throughout supplementation and compensation. It is the soft version of Modernism, as the conscious of final infiniteness, as incessant search of dynamic equilibriums and optimum. Though it is the aware of necessity of acting in varied horizons and on different scale. After the postmodern experiences, we probably sufficiently realized, that not so much human being breaks up and disappears in the formulas of neo/structuralistic narrations and social or economic sociologisations, but rather those formulae are incapable to define living people. To define in a way, which would facilitate and appreciate our life, without reducing us into a product, an element or a function of a given general system or vision.
Anyway, Second Modernism recovers anew responsible and critical working. So in some sense, it is a return to the idea of moderation. As I believe, extremes are reasonable, if they facilitate to sketch the current optimum and compromises; to endure in the complexity. Here the subject of art is not the image as ideological, institutional, comprehensive etc. „correction” of reality, as it was in Modernism. Either it is not the game of pure images and their re/contextualizations, as it took place in Postmodernism. But the matter is an image as economics of our seeing. Seeing close to W. Welsch`s meaning: as the basic rationality present in the ability of shaping the world. And in my opinion, the image is to let us, so to say, see our seeing, that is the schematizes of our consciousness. I write here about consciousness in large meaning, concerning also non-verbal sensibilities and these subtle forms of rationalities contained in mood, corporeality, attention and so on.
If Modernism formulated conceptions of the artist ensuing them from wider systems, meanwhile Postmodernism celebrated the casualness of the world in the figure of artistic strategies, afterward Second Modernism refers to the idea of practice. Compensationis probably its basic artistic praxis, which outlines we can find in O. Marquard`s texts. He maintains, that every human working to be sensible, should make allowance to our irreducible infirmity. Marquard recommends the practice of sluggishness, which supported with ambiguity and multitude of interpretations, would protect us to killing each other on the behalf of “better”, or just only more „authentic” world. It let us also to get rid of the necessity of euphoric manifestation in face of every novelty and every otherness. Artist, according to him, should harmonize human situations, should spread them with alternative solutions. And as well, artist should care about the needs and values displaced from the ground of „sole real currentness”. The compensation does not rely here upon psychological getting over the reality, but on the care about optimal quality of our existence. Even in a defiance of the current cultural reality.
The praxis of compensation is completed with the „self-building” idea, but not in finely aesthetical sense, as happened in Postmodernism. Probably Kierkegaard can be regarded here as the precursor, who considered art as a kind of individualized approach to existence. Art joining various perspectives and dimensions, becomes both the way of the artist individual development, both the confrontation with the horizon of qualities contained in the tradition, or confounded in own biography. Art stayed here (as previously) an initiation of new kinds of communities – these immediate ones, but also the communities crossing given time and place, which would open anew metaphysical dimensions of existence. The artist of Second Modernism is convicted to be in a way, to be awanderer.As it is, not only every synthesis is premature (P. Ricoeur), but also … every instantiation too. The Postmodern ontology of casualness abolished the world predictability and reduced our responsibility to aesthetical and consumptivechoice. It turns out however, that we are forced to act, act on the global scale. And because of that, we are sentenced on the ethics of responsibility. Not so much universal ethic of Modernism, but ethic unceasingly and critically verified into an universalisation movement, it means: co-ordination the consequences of our workings.
Unlike the Postmodern „waiting-room”, unlike the Modern “machine cutting” of reality according to a given project, Second Modernism bases on the consciousness, which restores the horizon of our dreams and hopes – quality, senses and value, towards which we can strive. It restores also the horizon of past – our confounding: obligations and calls. Above all it releases us from the duty of being entirely „current” – probably I am old-fashioned here, but I think, that life in its full complexity and variety is the purpose; or at least the attempt of matching it. And art creates the chance on such growing life. So there is no reason, as I think, to wasteart on the expression of „currentness” (yet always deficient).
We should look for wise dependences, we should increase our rigors in the face of prevailing today arbitrariness and passiveness; that is to practice fight for own greatness – as Zbigniew Warpechowski, prominent Polish performance artists, calls. Art is alive of our life, of our sensibility, intelligence and passion. It is alive through participation in our existential questions. And being of an artist is not the finial of human nature, but rather a chance to be the man or woman more. Well, I hope that Second Modernism could restore the comprehension of art as a kind of humanistic practice evolving our vigilance and care.
BY MILENA BURZYWODA
Some years ago, after graduating from the Academy of Art Berlin (today ‚UdK Berlin‘), I had the opportunity to teach first year art students at this same academy as a guest lecturer. The quality of discourse with those students, developed and pushed over time, was characterised by an intensity and intellectual hunger and rigour, which, in my experience, is close to non-existent within the contemporary art world. In this situation I also discovered that my love and passion for art -which I had believed to be singular and unparalleled- was in fact equalled by my love for teaching. I am thus very excited about the launch and potential of the ArtistUndergroundAcademy.
As a self-declared ‚artist underground‘, fiercely suspicious and critical of the mechanisms of the contemporary art world / art market, and thus working strictly outside of it, this self-imposed isolation has guaranteed my freedom, yet has also produced its own powerful limitations and challenges.
The context which the contemporary art world provides neither meets with the requirements of my own work, nor does it provide a context for the kind of discourse about the situation of art on the whole which I believe is urgently needed.
I see the existential need to invent and produce the context that is missing.
Artistunderground is driven by the Utopia that this seed-like movement has the potential to initiate real change and can impact on the situation on the whole. At the same time our outlook is focussed on the small scale – even to only find a small handful of people to work with in order to push and develop our questions regarding art in the 21st century in a radical manner I would regard as a huge achievement.
BY JIM MCANINCH
On the art front I got some really good responses but reaching beyond your friends to curators is really a struggle. This is a symptom of the problem; people who understand the work are not the curators who are the gatekeepers.
We are trying to make our way in which the commodity artists have sucked all the air out of the room. Four or five years back I was talking to David Antin, Eleanor Antin’s husband, and saying: „David there is this thing – the million dollar sale. Once an artist arranges to make that happen by any means they are in Valhalla. It is a group of artists who can claim commodity status and their access to exhibits is pretty well guaranteed.“ David had advanced Parkinson’s disease at this point so his reply was slow, almost theorem like: „To the extent to which the artist accepts the attainment of that benchmark as significant when it is attained any other meaning that might exist in the work is erased.“
So here are in the only world where meaning exists. Underfunded and overly significant (said somewhat ironically).
This situation and a sense of puzzlement of how to deal with it is felt by friends people I speak to who are curators, teachers even art dealers who see Gagosian et al as setting the financial bar out of reach. Smaller to middle sized galleries who are not funded by PACE or some other hedge fund sized and capitalized gallery, are closing. Not able to compete with galleries who’s main claim it fame is the smell of money and buildings that rival the construction quality of the homes of Billionaires.
How do we have a conversation in our present? As artist – about culture. Let us leave social media out of the picture – just because it has become the kind of assumed route to reach people yet has the hugely problematic side. I am sure at some point it comes into play but.
The core is about art making not its distribution system.
It has seemed to me that looking back on the art of the last fifty years (perhaps the whole 20-21st century) there has been the component of the artist’s charming and exaggerated claims for the social effects of their work. The Italian Futurists claiming a new world of speed and bullets are an early example. Their claim was to see that everything else but that which they defined as outmoded. Its late, I could go on – but to get to the present…
I see now that for better or for worse most of those claims today are not believed. When people do make claims I doubt them like I doubt the claims of a store bought cereal to make you healthy. That said I think art is serious- that within the set of interactions offered between viewer and art work/event there are serious things that can transpire.
BY JINGYI WANG
Although Post Capitalistic Auction reflects more, I hope, than just a utopian dream, its conception can be traced back to the youthful utopian mind of my 18-year-old self, when I was a freshman at university. A casual conversation between my cousin and myself ended with me asking: “Why do artworks end up in the hands on the rich? Why isn’t it people who really understand art and artists who own their work? Why does money decide everything? ” My cousin’s silence and his indulgent smile gave me a clear answer: “Isn’t that how it should be? Doesn’t everyone agree on that?”
Born and growing up in Beijing, the capital city of newly wealthy China, I have witnessed in the 12 years since leaving university, the rapid and deep embedding and justification of capitalism in every aspect of economic and cultural life — although obviously not on a national, ideological level. In China, as in the capitalist West, whoever holds the biggest share in a corporation, has the final say. In commercial movie making, whoever invests the most money, has the power to make decisions that can extend as far as selecting the cast.
I have no intention of criticizing corporations or the commercial movie industry here, as they are so evidently inextricably bound up with the capitalist mechanism. But what about art? Is it by definition different? In the past, artists such as Joseph Beuys and movements like Situationism persistently tried to de-commodify art. But despite the push to abstraction and conceptualization, art and artists have struggled to extricate themselves from the very material pull of both financial and social capital.
Art auctions are a powerful reflection of the paradox that even though we create an aura of ‘otherness’ around a work of art, its material (and therefore prosaic) value remains. I am not claiming that people who buy art don’t have a true love of art, or that an auction is nothing more than a financial game. Many collectors have a close and ongoing relationship to, and understanding of, the work that they buy. But, as Henri Neuendorf – a journalist at artnet Berlin – observes, others are certainly in it purely for the money. And regardless of who is buying, in an auction environment, it is always and only money that talks. And this is an exchange in which artists have no voice.
Moreover, money translates to social and symbolic capital for the exclusive group of participants in an art auction or fair. Despite postmodernism’s attempt to challenge the elitism of the art world, it has continued to defend the territories of its various cliques. Since it seems unavoidable that everything has its price, that money is power, and that status is also tied to the value of ideas, how can art extricate itself from this complex of forces? The values we attribute to art are a reflection of how we evaluate within the social, cultural, political and economic structures within which it is embedded. In the end, value reflects what are important for us.
Can I suggest a new value system to replace the current one? No, I can’t. But this does not mean we can’t call it into question. And already, the rise of information-based social structures is a challenge to capitalism. Journalist and author Paul Mason claims the transition to post-capitalism has already begun. It doesn’t matter if we agree on what post-capitalism is, or indeed whether we are heading towards being a post-capitalist society, it is clear that the internet and information technology has had a huge impact on our social and economic relationships. Economic and Social theorist Jeremy Rifkin discusses this in detail in his book The Third Industrial Revolution; How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World, as does Futurist thinker Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable. Financial capital plays an unprecedented role in the development of business. On the other hand, big data and attention resources are predicated by many to be the next most valuable capital. Company mergers are more and more prevalent, but at the same time we see that the spontaneous rise of collaborative production and a sharing economy is challenging private ownership and the monopoly of big corporations. The behavior model and values of the digital generation should address a familiar question but in a new context. What change will this make on how art is accessed, possessed and valued? Rooted in this social and economic change, Post Capitalistic Auction looks into our current value mechanisms, as well as trying to propose new parameters.
Post Capitalistic Auction is an opportunity to bid for art using currencies other than money. But it doesn’t exclude money, and doesn’t intend to orient the bidding towards a non-money or anti-money result, since capitalism, as a long-establish economic system functioning in many ways like a religion, is deeply bound up with how human beings co-exist on many levels. In Post Capitalistic Auction, different values come together in dialogue. People within or outside the art field, with or without auction experience, are equally involved. Artists, collectors, dealers, critics, art lovers, art sceptics, etc. encounter each other and present their perspectives. There is reflection, but not judgement, there is investigation but no manipulation, there is dialogue but no exclusion.
This project is planned as a long term, ongoing series in different countries, aiming to investigate within different social and art economies and ecologies. Imagine how different the results of Post Capitalistic Auction will be in Beijing – a new booming market, where the evaluation of art is highly financialized, in comparison to London, where there is not only a strong tradition in both the mainstream academic and underground art scenes, but also a mature capitalist art market, in comparison to Berlin, where the spontaneous art scene has been developing in recent decades. Bergen, as my current home city, is a natural place for it to begin. What surprised me, interestingly, is that, during my communication with artists in Bergen, it became clear that there is not a strong culture of exchanging private money for art. Not many people collect art. And it seems there is not a commercial gallery that operates as most do. There is not yet an auction house in Bergen. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Post-Capitalistic Auction has no point here. On the contrary, Bergen, whose art scene could be defined as insular, and is obviously highly dependent on public funding, will generate its own discussion reflecting the possibilities of valuing art. Bergen’s rather unique position further convinces me of the importance of conducting this project in different cities, so to form comparative research results.
People might say that this project is riddled with paradoxes. That is very true. I hope this is also where the significance and value of the project lies. Post Capitalistic Auction is an investigation, a case study in how we value art, and, finally, in how we evaluate value itself. It will not immediately, in reality, change the rules of auctions or of the art ecology. Nevertheless, at least for one night, we can make an alternative and very real auction happen that both reflects the value system we have undoubtedly accepted for too long, as well as being a vehicle for envisaging future possibilities.
Since Joseph Beuys declared that „Everyone is an artist“ in the 1960s, the call for the ‚democratisation‘ of art has become one of the most powerful forces in the realm of culture and has since dominated, shaped and controlled art to an unparalleled degree. Yet the fact that this phrase’s vast success does not lie in being a powerful concept for art itself, but instead has -inadvertently- become one of the most successful advertising slogans of all time, perverting Beuys‘ original utopian intent into its very antithesis, is a truth that remains strangely hidden in plain sight. Weiterlesen
BY SŁAWOMIR MARZEC
It is my firm belief that we are about to reach a point where art has to be reconsidered. Art as a whole, rather than its particular aspects, facets, functions, determinants, uses or criteria. Not art institutions and forms of exhibition, mechanisms for promotion, selection or museal inclusion. The time has come to redefine art; to ask whether art is still possible nowadays. Or are we to make do with substitutes and simulacra? Might it be that performative marketing and aesthetically refined advertisements suffice? Only internal fluctuations of the art world? Weiterlesen