I have recently returned to Jean Baudrillard* because of a research project that I have been involved with and organised, together with two curators and friends from the network: Judit Angel ( and Raluca Voinea ( The project is titled Collection Collective, and is precisely what it says it is: a contemporary art collection, collectively owned and managed by its members. It functions according to a very simple principle: each member of the collective offers work according to skills and expertise.

Though the project’s idea emerged many years ago, it was materialised only in 2017, during an exhibition, workshop and public seminar that took place in Bratislava, at There are several reasons why Collection Collective exists. To begin with, I would mention the participant members’ dissatisfaction with policies of cultural institutions (national or international), as well as with the current shape of the art market. For me, personally, this is also a project of institutional critique: Collection Collective proposes to cut through the economic and ideological dependency on institutional collecting policies and their politics of representation. For many of the members involved, it is also a response to the way in which art from certain parts of the globe – certainly Eastern and Central Europe, but even beyond – has entered into private or corporate collections in the West; and to how the power of these collections is reconfirmed by policies of public flagship institutions.

As many will remember, Baudrillard’ chapter in The System of Objects dedicated to collecting still represents an important reference for collection studies, though its reception has not always been sympathetic[i]. Collection studies received extensive development at the end of the 1980s and throughout the early 1990s. In preparation for the project’s launch last year I attempted to review the research literature, and the experience of reading has been both illuminating and frustrating. Illuminating because one finds extraordinary sociological and anthropological work that explains what and how people collect, as well as the significance of collecting for the field of material culture. As Susan Pearce wrote in 1994 – and I believe that we are still in the same paradigm, at least in the Western World – collection studies embrace three broad areas: (1) collection policies, in relation to museums, including research decisions upon what to collect (and what not), and the relation between artefacts and research; (2) the history of collections, from the ancient world to the present day, focusing on processes of acquisition, document editing, and the relation between private collections and museums; (3) the nature of collections and reasons why people collect – both explicit reasons as well as more opaque, i.e. social or psychological motivations[ii].

These academic accounts allow us to understand the complex world of collecting; but I also found them frustrating because I believe that certain assumptions are not tackled, and they do little in challenging the institutional status quo. One of the questions that arose is whether the private subject is essential to an understanding of collecting: is the narcissistic identification between collector and the object collected an essential, necessary condition of the possibility of collecting? Or, is it perhaps a circumstantial one, which perhaps can be countered with a different type of economy, such as the one attempted by our project? And what sort of consequences can we derive from there? Another problem arose from the temporal aspects of collecting. The literature is rich in reflections concerning the preservation of material culture, but it left me wanting for more in relation to the radical distinction which, in my opinion, is to be made between collecting ‘historical’ artefacts and collecting artefacts belonging to our contemporaneity. At stake here is the question of the political agency of a ‘contemporary collection’: is it possible to think of collections as active agents shaping our contemporaneity and, if yes, how? My intention in this text, then, is to approach these issues together with Jean Baudrillard, particularly the early Baudrillard of the System of Objects (1968/1996) and For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972/1981).

Minerva’s Owl

Baudrillard is certainly one of those authors who explain collecting as narcissistic identification between the collector and the objects collected. I do not wish to engage with the psychological aspects of collecting – my aim is, in fact, to articulate a critical breakthrough in this type of accounts. I will focus, instead, on what Baudrillard has to say about collections as semiotic systems; and I do so because, in my opinion, the reconsideration of collectibles as semiotic entities allows us to overcome a simplistic reading of collections as simple carriers of exchange value, or as mere safe deposits of capital.

I want to observe, from the beginning, that the System of Objects does not offer particular attention to collecting art, or to collecting the contemporary; indeed, much more can be extracted from For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, which I will approach later. The System of Objects, particularly Section B, chapter II, titled ‘A Marginal System: Collecting,’ proposes, however, a general theory of collecting, wherefrom a theory of collecting art can derive. But I want to introduce it with the proviso of a suspicion, which can be grasped through the following analogy. In the mid-1970s Baudrillard famously suggested that Foucault spoke so well about a power that is socially pulverised, without questioning its reality, precisely because power, and especially Foucault’s version of power, had been already defunct[iii]. And I am wondering if this is not the case with Baudrillard too, and his account of collecting: may it be the case that Baudrillard spoke so well about collecting, perhaps because that concept of collecting and that type of collector were already extinct?

When asking this question I have in mind one of Walter Benjamin’s statements, proposed in his ‘Unpacking my Library,’ the essay included in Illuminations. Benjamin developed here, at large, an account of his passion for books, of the non-functional and non-utilitarian value of collected artefacts, and the dialectics between a collection’s order (the closing of a collection within a ‘magical circle’ of meaning) and disorder (the necessarily open character of collections, reconfirmed with every new raid in book shops). These themes are to be found in Baudrillard’s chapter as well. But Benjamin also proposed that the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner – pointing towards the advent of public collections. Benjamin considered public collections less objectionable socially and more useful academically; however, he maintained that ‘objects get their due’ only in private collections. And he added:
I do know that time is running out for the type [of collector] that I am discussing here and have been representing before you ex officio. But, as Hegel put it, only when it is dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight. Only in extinction is the collector comprehended.[iv]

In other words, what I am suggesting here is that Baudrillard may have developed, in a systematic manner, suggestions that Benjamin had already offered three decades earlier; the possibility of this systematicity, however, may be generated by the very disappearance of its object, or perhaps its transformation into a very particular paradigm. Is this the case?

Singularity and Seriality

To remind ourselves what Baudrillard has to say about collections: together with antiques, collectibles fall outside the system of functional objects belonging to the world of practicality. I am mentioning antiques here because Baudrillard thought there are profound affinities between the two: narcissistic regression, the obsession with origins (maternal filiation), and with date, signature and authenticity (paternal filiation), the suppression of time, and the imaginary mastery of the temporality of birth and death[v]. And I also mention antiques because Baudrillard seems to place certain paintings, especially those belonging to the first stage of the sign-order, those faithfully representing a more or less transcendental reality, within the realm of antiques. The significant difference between works of art and antiques, then, is that the former still require a rational reading, whereas the latter embody a mythical quality corresponding to their factor of authenticity.

When differentiating antiques and collectibles, it is important to note that although the ‘research question’ of the System of Objects is included in the first sentence of the Introduction – ‘Could we classify the luxuriant growth of objects as we do a flora or fauna, complete with tropical and glacial species, sudden mutations, and varieties threatened by extinction?’[vi] – only when Baudrillard reaches the marginal, non-functional, system of collecting does he introduce an analytical definition of objects (following Littré’s definition): an object is anything which is the subject of a passion and possession; figuratively, says Baudrillard, but ‘par excellence’ (otherwise said, as a best example, or a best paradigm, from a series of examples of objects one could make a passion for) ‘the loved object’[vii].

Passion, therefore, is an attribute of emotional investment. But investment is hardly possible if the object signifies poorly. For example, a red and black chair generically means ‘thing one can rest on, which happens to be red and black;’ it is even conceivable that a plain red and black chair is taken as a more complex sign, whose signified may refer to the colours defining Middlesex University’s brand identity; but it is hardly imaginable how one could develop a passion for a plain red and black chair, unless something like Middlesex University is part of a person’s biography, and he/she decides, at any point in time, to collect all types of chairs that Middlesex University has used, in its entire history, for the purpose of allowing students to rest during lectures. This is how we can understand Baudrillard when he claims that ‘[i]f I use a refrigerator to refrigerate, it is a practical mediation; it is not a an object, but a refrigerator. And in that sense I do not possess it.’[viii] Objects, then, are necessarily tied up to subjects: ‘no longer simply material bodies offering a certain resistance, they become mental precincts over which I hold sway, they become things of which I am the meaning, they become my property and my passion.’[ix] Thus, to come back to antiques: though they can be collected, they still retain a certain practical functionality, in that we can still use a Louis XIV chair for sitting, just as much as we can use a plain red and black chair for sitting, which accidentally may have occupied Middlesex University’s buildings, in the 1960s. Essentially, this is unlike individual samples, or paradigms, of a collection, which are abstracted from use and devoid of practicality.

I was once invited to a dinner hosted by a German collector and accidentally sat on a beautiful wooden chair, one of the 1001 chairs that Ai Wei Wei installed for his documenta 12 work, ‘Fairytale’[x], which the collector had recently purchased. Of course, I became aware that I was sitting on a Ai Wei Wei chair only after the collector had subtly told me so; and although I was allowed to continue to use it – at the end of the day, Ai Wei Wei’s chairs had been used within that documenta precisely for that purpose, to provide ‘islands of calm’ and facilitate discussions among visitors – I preferred to change my seat, because of the discomfort I immediately experienced. I had unwillingly proved my ignorance by not recognizing the chair for what it was, and I felt as if I had broken into the collector’s private world. This is to say that artists often break the clear-cut, analytical distinctions, such as those that Baudrillard is establishing here. Nevertheless, the point that Baudrillard makes remains valid: it is at the level of signification that the project of classifying objects is possible. Therefore, if we understand what kind of objects collectibles are – even if, as my personal story suggests, a purely, non-functional object remains a mere theoretical possibility – there are two essential traits in the logic of collecting, which I find intriguing and I want to discuss further.

The first one points to the necessity of understanding collections as semiotic systems, whose logic rely on the relation between paradigmatic singularity and syntagmatic seriality. The singularity of each member of a collection stems from the fact that it is possessed by the collector; it is a process of narcissistic identification and projection, where the collectible’s paradigmatic character determines the possibility of the subject’s self-recognition as singular being. Syntagmatic serialisation allows that narcissistic identification can be projected to an unlimited number of objects, where the subject always posits him/herself as the last object:[xi]
The serial nature of the most mundane of everyday objects, as of the most transcendent of rarities, is what nourishes the relationship of ownership and the possibility of passionate play: without seriality no such play would be conceivable, hence no possession – and hence, too, properly speaking, no object. A truly unique, absolute object, an object such that it has no antecedents and it is no way dispersed in some series or other – such an object is unthinkable.[xii]

Therefore, as Baudrillard explains towards the end of the chapter, collecting amounts to a project of transforming an open-ended objective discontinuity among objects into a close subjective one. This is why collectibles have a poor relation with the world, although the possibility of there being another object, which is not yet included in the collection, leaves a door open to it.

The other essential aspect here is temporality. Baudrillard follows Maurice Rheims who implies that collecting presupposes a loss of any sense of the present time. Baudrillard considers the erasure of the present as a wall against anxiety towards death; not in the sense that the collector attempts to attain immortality, but rather in the sense that the collecting subject attempts to control his/her existence through cycles of opening up and closing off the collection series. As Baudrillard explains,
the organisation of the collection itself replaces time. And no doubt this is the collection’s fundamental function: the resolving of real time into a systematic dimension […] Indeed, it abolishes time. More precisely, by reducing time to a fixed set of terms navigable in either direction, the collection represents the continual recommencement of a controlled cycle whereby man (sic), at any moment and with complete confidence, starting with any term and sure of returning to it, is able to set his game of life and death into motion.[xiii]

This is, indeed, a stunning quote. I think that Baudrillard is right here, but in a way that offers food for thought in relation to the possibility of collecting the contemporary or, better said, in relation to the temporality of collecting the contemporary. If we take this thought to its logical consequences in what regards contemporary art, it appears that even if each singular collectible in a collection is ‘contemporary’ or addressing ‘the contemporary,’ the serial organisation of a collection of contemporary art suspends any sense of the present time (and, indeed, from any form of temporality): a collection of contemporary art appears as non-contemporary. The problem I identify here is that of agency that takes place in the ‘now’ of the ‘current time’; if much of contemporary art claims agency within the world of practicality, it follows that its potential inclusion in a collection erases the truth conditions of this claim. In a collector’s private apartment, an Ai Wei Wei chair can always be mistaken with an ordinary chair.

Signature and Value

Baudrillard had a difficult relation with the artworld: Sylvere Lotringer explains this well in his introduction to the Conspiracy of Art (2005). This is a collection of Baudrillard’s writings on art that begins with the famous essay bearing the same title, which was published in 1996, and which famously claimed that:
As long as art was making use of its own disappearance and the disappearance of its object, it still was a major enterprise. But art trying to recycle itself indefinitely by storming reality? The majority of contemporary art has attempted to do precisely that by confiscating banality, waste and mediocrity as values and ideologies. These countless installations and performances are merely compromising with the state of things, and with all the past forms of art history.[xiv]

Apart from this dismissal, the earlier For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981) had already offered a well-articulated account of art’s incorporation in the capitalist economy. I believe that the same text helps us to understand the systemic conditions of collecting. For Baudrillard, art underwent a radical semiotic transformation in modernity, when it stopped functioning as representation and becomes simulation. The marker of this transformation is the primacy of artistic signature: it is through signature that authenticity is recognised and that an artwork is integrated in a series – in an artist’s series of works, in the syntagmatic organisation of a cultural system and, let us add, in a collection’s series too. Authenticity and originality are inscribed in the signature’s temporality, because the function of a signature is to recall a moment of authentic invention. It is this very moment of invention through signature, as original and authentic event, which Baudrillard questioned. He maintained that, in modernity, the signature as visible trace of authentic invention replaces artwork as foundation for artistic myths. Thus, production and consumption, supply and demand of work, and I want to add, collecting, are products of the conjunction between the subjective artistic series authenticated through signature, and the objective series comprising the rules of the artworld’s games and social consensus, as codes of the cultural system within which authentication and signature occur. The likes of Rauchenberg and Warhol, which Baudrillard mentions many times, have understood this semiotic transformation well, and their work can be interpreted as functioning within the confines of the formal literality of the signature’s seriality. For Baudrillard, then, the only way in which art can be contemporary is as a witness ‘testifying to the systematic of this full world by means of the inverse and homologous systematic of its empty gesture, a pure gesture marking an absence’[xv] – the gesture of the signature. As such, art can no longer be negative or critical or subversive, ‘as the global system of commodities conjugates it like any other object’[xvi] – any object, indeed, that one appropriates for its sign-value. In other words, even if it is not produced as commodity, art is ‘commodified’ at the level of serialised distribution and consumption.

Interestingly, Baudrillard looks at the art auction, ‘a shrine of the political economy of the sign’[xvii], to demonstrate this position. As he argues, expenditure (capital) does not suffice to explain what is happening at art auctions: one needs to learn to see expenditure as wealth manifested, as well as the destruction of wealth though the act of purchase. This manifestation and destruction of wealth, in what Appadurai would call ‘tournaments of value’[xviii] presupposing competition, challenge, sacrifice, and a community of aristocratic peers, is what transforms consumption into passion, and which may be linked, I want to suggest, to the passion for collecting:
another type of labor intervenes, which transforms economic value and surplus value into sign value: it is a sumptuary operation, devouring (consummation) and surpassing economic value according to a radically different type of exchange. Yet in a certain way it also produces a surplus value: domination, which is not to be confused with economic privilege and profit.’[xix]

The claim here is that transactions on the art market cannot be reduced to mere trade of (economic) exchange value. Artworks can be, of course, traded and stored as assets; but what interests Baudrillard is the exchange that takes place within the economy of artworks as carriers of sign-value. I want to suggest that this semiotic exchange, essentially founded on the metaphysics of the signature, and whose consequence is the production of surplus value as domination – is a problem for the politics of art. My claim is that this is precisely the space where Collection Collective operates.
Reconsidering Collection Collective

What I want to do in the following paragraphs is to offer a few toughts concerning Collection Collective, in the light of what has been explained until now. The first one  follows immediately from the previous section. I believe that through artistic, curatorial and, more broadly, ‘cultural’ signature, cultural workers do take part and support a system that functions through these sumptuary operations of a privileged, dominant caste. But it appears to me that, often, this undisputable fact is presented as ineluctable necessity, and is based on the assumption that the subjective series articulated through artistic signature is a passive agent upon which the rules of the game, or the code, operate. But is this necessarily so? Can the seriality of cultural signature be re-articulated and systematised in such a way that it actually invents and institutes new rules, a new game, and alternative modes of legitimation? I believe that something of the sort is happening in Collection Collective. Although the Collection operates primarily in the realm of representation, it is not a mere symbolic act: the work offered is withdrawn from the economic circuits of the artworld, where it may be dealt as exchange value. In other words, the economic value of the collectibles within Collection Collective is secondary in relation to the way they articulate, as a collection owned and managed collectively, their own economy of the sign. This type of economy is not based on tournaments of value, but on a collective semiotic production that replaces domination with solidarity, cooperation and mutual legitimation. Essentially, and as a project with a testing hypothesis, Collection Collective asks if legitimacy as a process of self-legitimation functions: what are its limits and what are its effects?

The second suggestion I want to offer refers to an earlier claim, that Baudrillard’s account deals with a Minerva’s owl-type of collector. I want to qualify this observation: the private collector has certainly not disappeared, but there are transformations regarding collecting subjects which are worth reflecting upon. One of them relates to the question of how public institutions collect, or how collecting depends on certain institutional subjects, such as board members, trustees, directors, and curators. A whole field of enquiry, called institutional critique, looks at this. Baudrillard did argue that, contrary to what is commonly believed, museums and museum collections act as guarantees for aristocratic exchange: their reserves, like banks, are necessary for sign exchange, as they secure the universality of artworks and the aesthetic enjoyment of others who do not partake in the exchange game[xx]. But what are we to say about such collecting subjects as corporations and hedge funds? Interestingly, it is through looking at this types of subjects that we can understand how the concept of collecting is currently changing. Take, for example, Generali Foundation’s collection of contemporary art. Generali is an Austrian insurance company and I find insurance companies very interesting because they are entities that like to participate in the game of life and death by placing bets on human temporality. Generali Foundation, as a fact, has one of the most comprehensive collections of contemporary art in Europe, and one of the best in the world. I find really interesting the following paragraph from their mission statement:
The Generali Foundation represents an effort in cultural and social responsibility that has remained largely unparalleled in Austria and even internationally: a corporation has lent sustained support for more than two decades to the creation of an accentuated and thematically focused collection of art and moreover backed and frequently initiated a critical discourse that has addressed not only artistic and art-theoretical concerns but also social and political agendas.[xxi]

What I find fascinating here is how the concept of ‘corporate social responsibility’ is what Baudrillard would call an ‘alibi’ for a sumptuary operation relying on a very complex type of semiotic exchange. Yet, I believe we should look closer at what this operation, in fact, presupposes. To begin with, we are dealing with an exchange between a very abstract (though legal) type of subject, and a series of practices and discourses, with their own social and political agendas, which operate in the concrete. On the one hand, then, the social, cultural and political meaningfulness of each paradigm included in the collection’s series; and, on the other hand, a seriality which an abstract subject can no longer conjugate meaningfully for, as Baudrillard maintains, the meaning of the collection is ultimately given by the collector’s subjectivity, and subjectivity is, in this case, empty. In other words, if Benjamin’s and Baudrillard’s collectors still attached a subjective meaning to the series of singular paradigms collected, a meaning that was ultimately assured through the collectors’ subjective self-identification, the threat posed by the abstract serialisation of collecting processes is that meaning is obliterated. I believe that these sort of indeterminacies demonstrate why something like Collection Collective needs to happen: in relation to anonymous and abstract subjects, Collection Collective does not position itself as a supra-subject, but as a collection of subjects that are attempting to collaborate, and as a self-curated collective that recognises both affinities and differences. This is why friendship and mutual recognition remain core values according to which the Collection is being developed.

The third observation, which I want to make, and which follows from what has just been said, refers to the temporality of contemporary art itself, and the relationship between seriality, temporality, and agency. Baudrillard did observe that the play between singularity and seriality determines a collection’s removal from present temporality. And I have claimed that the ensuing consequence is the invalidation of art’s claims to agency. Perhaps this is why some of us may look suspiciously at collections of contemporary art: they seem to be incapable to deliver what their included collectibles had promised. Yet, I want to take Peter Osborne’s argument seriously, which claims that what makes contemporary art ‘contemporary’ is already a process of serialisation; the ‘contemporary’ in contemporary art points to the coming together of art’s different temporalities, a global disjunctive unity of art’s different but equally present ‘times,’ ‘the convergence and mutual conditioning of historical transformations in the ontology of the artwork […] and the social relations of art space […] that has its roots in more general economic and communicational processes.’[xxii]

In other words, the logic of the field of global contemporary art – which expands incessantly through the addition of new subjects, topics, concerns, and geopolitical spaces, and which nurtures relations of colonisation, domination, as well as resistance, and counter-hegemonisation – functions by following the play between singularity and serialisation. Nevertheless, what is missing is the ultimate collecting subject giving a definite identity to this series. The task and the challenge, then, are to reclaim signification while imagining who, or what, can fill up the empty space. Two possibilities present themselves with spectacular clarity: on the one hand, the meaningless hoarding of artworks in vaults, and the semiotic poverty of abstract serialisation; on the other hand, the possibility of rearticulating meaning, through a transformative process of collective semiotic production. Collection Collective has certainly embarked on the latter route.

* This is an abridged and extended version of a conference paper with the same title, presented at ‘Applied Baudrillard’ – 2nd International Multidisciplinary Conference on Baudrillard Studies, Oxford Brookes, Oxford, UK, 5-7 September 2018


[i] Susan M. Pearce, On Collecting: An Investigation into Collecting in the European Tradition (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 8.

[ii] Susan M. Pearce, ‚Collecting Reconsidered,‘ in Susan M. Pearce (ed.) Interpreting Objects and Collections (London: Routledge, 1994), pp. 193–94.

[iii] Jean Baudrillard, Forget Foucault, trans. Phil Beitchman, Lee Hildreth, and Mark Polizzotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 2007), p. 31.

[iv] Walter Benjamin, ‘Unpacking My Library. A Talk about Book Collecting,‘ in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 2007), p. 67.

[v] Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict (London: Verso, 1996), p. 76.

[vi] Ibid., p. 3.

[vii] Ibid., p. 85.

[viii] Ibid., p. 85–85.

[ix] Ibid., p. 85.

[x] Anon. ‚Documenta 12 – Retrospective,‘ accessed August 18, 2018. Available at:

[xi] Jean Baudrillard, op. cit., p. 90.

[xii] Ibid., p. 93.

[xiii] Ibid., p. 95.

[xiv] Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art: Manifestos, Interviews, Essays, trans. Ames Hodges (New York: Semiotext(e), 2005), p. 27.

[xv] Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1981), p. 108.

[xvi] Ibid., p. 110.

[xvii] Ibid., p. 112.

[xviii] Arjun Appadurai, ‘Commodities and the Politics of Value,’ in Susan M. Pearce (ed.) Interpreting Objects and Collections (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 87.

[xix] Jean Baudrillard, op. cit., p. 115.

[xx] Ibid., pp. 121–22.

[xxi] Anon. ‚Mission Statement – Generali Foundation,‘ accessed August 16, 2018. Available at:

[xxii] Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (London: Verso Books, 2013), p. 28.




At the end of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, as collection studies legitimised themselves as an autonomous field of inquiry, several surveys estimated that in the Western world between a third and a half of the adult population would identify as collectors.[1] This must be understood in the context of the post-war affluence of the West and a consumer society that has exponentially multiplied possibilities for spending, within which emerging economies (Russia, China, India and Brazil, among others) have been readily integrated. So much is collecting present in our everyday lives, that today Amazon and eBay entice us to spend our disposable incomes on collectibles. However, an unchallenged assumption runs across the field of cultural studies – the assumption that collecting is essentially individual and subjective. Certain tropes reinforce it: the collector’s drug-like addiction to new purchases, the aesthetics of compulsion and uncontrollable desire, the fashioning of self-expression, the manufacturing of a heightened self-esteem, the exquisiteness of authorship, the display of individual taste and cultural capital. Nevertheless there is no reason to consider the private subject as a necessary condition for the collecting experience: is there a possibility to invert this assumption and pose, at least as a working hypothesis, a different kind of subject: a collection collective subject? And how could this subject be imagined?

Collectibles are strange entities, because they are not extinguished in the process of consumption. We would see a collectible car in a showroom rather than on the road. Collectibles are not means to an end and do not have a utilitarian value though they are useful: a work of art can satisfy one’s aesthetic and intellectual needs, for example. As sources of sensuous and intellectual pleasure, they are self-replenishing. Walter Benjamin understood this well when he explained that the relationship between a collector and items collected points to the enclosure of ‘a magic circle’.[2] What is magical about collections is that they reconstruct a world as well as offer the representation of a better world: ‘The period, the region, the craftsmanship, the former ownership – for a true collector the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia whose quintessence is the fate of his object’.[3] For Benjamin, collecting is revolutionary.

Collections are worlds of meaning, representations of totality, order, structure, and stability. But since collections are never complete, they are always haunted by their dialectical others: disorder, anarchy and instability. For every totalizing collection, there is always a new entity to be added, items eliciting the compulsive desire for possession. Psychoanalysis interprets this dialectic between order and disorder as part of a self-reassuring therapy: a collection works as a reparative device against existential dread, against ontological insecurity, an instrument to temporarily alleviate recurring cycles of repressed traumatic experience.[4] Beyond a psychoanalytical account, which remains conscripted to the private chambers of the neurotic subject, can we think of a therapeutic collective practice of collecting that constructs worlds of meaning against the dread of falling democratic institutions, neo-colonial exploitation and racism?

Witnessing the advent of public collections, Benjamin predicted, in the 1930s, the extinction of the private collector.[5] We would need to requalify this prophecy, as today we witness mutant articulations between a collection’s usefulness without use and its exchange value, between meaning making and financial capitalization. It would be safe to propose that the subjectivity of the private collector has mutated as well. It has become more abstract and anonymous as well as more visible and acknowledged. One deciphers it from anonymous collectors’ private parties for public museums or biennials openings, from the abstract collectors of the corporation, and from the ubiquitous logos of private brands sponsoring public culture. Under this new magical spell, institutions of contemporary art opt for blockbuster shows with high visitor numbers, whereas their own collections lie in storage. Private collections are revolving more and more around collectors whose fortunes are built on suspicious businesses or financial speculation. One may also think about the transnational collections kept secret in no man’s lands between borders, the hollow flow of images in Instagram-types of collecting, the speculations of the auction houses, and the artists’ collections with works by other artists.

Almost always too late, cultural producers find themselves entangled in these new relations of power. Although there is a strong tradition of cultural autonomy constructed at the level of production (cultural producers organizing themselves to have their labour rights recognized, compensated, and protected; to fight censorship or abuse) questions of consumption in relation to processes of collecting are rather seldom addressed. What we are asking is whether a model of (art) collection that is owned and run by cultural producers could function. This would be constituted by the works donated by cultural producers who would collectively own the collection. In the very process of articulating a collective collection we seek to de-privatize the collecting subject: rethink the relationship between self-interest and collective goal, between individual addiction and group strategy, between private taste and collective socio-political tactic and between insular neurosis and therapeutic friendship. Through a five-week-long exhibition with artists who have responded to our call, and through a workshop and seminar with artists, lawyers, social theorists, economists, and academics, Collection Collective. Template for a Future Model of Representation seeks to understand the practical ways in which such a subject could be articulated within a collective collection.

What we are proposing is a basic layout we imagine to be developed together with those deciding to become part of it. To begin, we have taken a curatorial role and selected the participants in the first event we have organized in Bratislava. In so doing we have assumed the paradoxical stance of a subjective selection claiming to work for collective goals, even if we consider ourselves, the three curators, already as a micro-collective. When thinking of the artists invited we have tried to imagine them as members of a collective: our previous collaboration with them, exchange of ideas and mutual trust counted as much as their genuine concern for critical practice, historical consciousness, social and political engagement. We asked each artist to offer a number of works, which they could imagine as part of the collection and we have decided together on the final selection.

Once Collection Collective ends, all works will be returned to the artists. The market will continue to speculate on artwork prices responding to private collectors’ demand, whereas public collections will continue to investigate the origin of their art objects, trying to offer them to public inspection while revealing their often painful histories including looting, trafficking or overuse in diplomatic or economic struggle between states. Our Collection Collective does not attempt to situate itself outside of these parameters, but to change the position from which cultural producers and consumers negotiate their roles. If collecting occurs nonetheless and collections are used whether for one’s aesthetic and intellectual pleasure or for financial investment and status bouncing, why should producers not be the very same people who collect and maintain a collection?!

The Bratislava installment of Collection Collective was offered as a template that could be replicated in other circumstances, with other people, in other forms. Even if we hope and expect that the future will see Collection Collective effectively established, we are also open to the possibility that, until then, it remains a conceptual proposal in progress.


[1] Susan Pearce, Collecting in Contemporary Practice (London: Sage Publications, 1998), p.1

[2] Walter Benjamin, ‘Unpacking My Library. A Talk about Book Collecting‘, in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 2007), p. 60

[3] Ibid.

[4] Werner Muensterberger, Collecting. An Unruly Passion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994)

[5] Walter Benjamin, op. cit., p. 67



Angeregt durch die globale Verstädterung, die in Metropolen stetig regionale Ursprünge mit neuen Lebensbezügen speist und eine digitale Vernetzung, die trotz einer potenziell endlosen Verflechtung von Wissen und Information für alle den ökonomischen Weg des geringsten Wiederstandes geht und Komfortzonen der Ohnmacht bevorzugt, widmet sich die erste Ausgabe von ‚Arts of the Working Class’ dem öffentlichen Raum, den Straßen und Gärten der Stadt.

Hier, wo sich Blicke und nicht nur Vorurteile begegnen, bietet sich uns die Gelegenheit vom Leben für das Miteinanderleben zu lernen. Hier belehrt uns Realität mit Widersprüchen. So sind es auch zwei Widersprüche, die zum Namen dieser Straßenzeitung geführt haben. Der Begriff der Arbeiterklasse hat trotz und gerade wegen einer Expansion von neuen Beschäftigungs- und Arbeitsmodellen seine integrative Kraft verloren. Damit steht er zur Neudefinition bereit. Hinzu kommt die durch Großgalerien und Investmentmodelle aus der Finanzwelt beförderte Industrialisierung der Künste, die dazu geführt hat, dass, nachdem lange die Kunst selbst als Beispiel für neoliberale Optimierungen antizipiert wurde, nun in den verdichteten Kunstszenen einiger Städte wie Berlin nun eine solidarische Bewegung Rechte einfordert.

Die Mitglieder der Redaktion von ‚Arts of the Working Class’ arbeiten im Kunstbetrieb. Deshalb entgehen uns nicht die Klüfte und Risse, die sich auch dank der Rücksichtlosigkeit im Kunstmarkt vertiefen und die nur ein Symptom gesamtgesellschaftlicher Tendenzen sind. Manche Gräben und Distanzen sind zwar unüberwindbar, aber in ihrer Rhetorik und Perspektive verbesserungswürdig: Wir wollen dementsprechend den Fokus auf das sogenannte Prekariat, auf die freiwillige Leistung lenken, welche die nicht angestellten Kulturarbeiterinnen, Arbeiterinnengenossenschaften, gemeinnützige Organisationen für die Institutionen erledigen. Institutionen sind erforderlich für eine bessere Verteilung gesellschaftlicher Werte, und aus diesem Grund wünschen wir uns, dass diese alle, auch die unter dem durchschnittlichen Lebensstandard leben, erreichen. Mit unserer Anzeigenpolitik möchten wir diese soziale Barrierefreiheit fördern. Deshalb sind Anzeigen von Künstlern selbst gestaltet, und dort, wo freier Eintritt möglich ist, weisen wir offensiv darauf hin. Wir danken allen, die mit ihren Anzeigen die erste Ausgabe von Working Class ermöglicht haben.

Da in der Metropole unterschiedliche Wirklichkeiten auch in Form von Sprache in Erscheinung treten, many languages may appear beside each other within this street journal. Estamos rodeados de gente con diferentes o complejos bagajes culturales. Per democratizzare l’Arte e imprescindibile un esperimento transculturale, con la forza dei cittadini e delle autonomie locali e internazionali. We want to emphasize this form of exchange by publishing texts in the native language of its thoughts. Since some ideas are not possible to translate, their existence between us may find other ways to influence us. Bazı fikirlerin tercüme edilmesi mümkün olmadığından, aramızdaki varlıkları bizi etkilemek için başka yollar bulabilir.

Paul Sochacki & María Inés Plaza Lazlo, Gründer der Straßenzeitung

‚Arts of the Working Class’ kann man auch über Reflektor M kaufen


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”[1] (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”.[2]

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”).[3] 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).[4]

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,[5] 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”)[6]

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,[7] 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).[8] 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”,[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.

[1] E. Pieszak „Trzy dyskursy o spotkaniu z Innym” p. 64, Poznań 2003

[2] R. C. Morgan „Cultural Globalization and the Artist” p. 12, Łódź Biennale 2004

[3] M. Heidegger „Drogi lasu” p. 7 translation J. Mizera Warsaw 1997

[4] M. Heidegger „Drogi lasu” p. 7 translation J. Mizera Warsaw 1997

[5] M. Czerwiński „Sztuka w pejzażu kultury” p. 82, Warsaw 1997

[6] „Estetyka przestrzeni współczesności” p. 47, Warsaw 199

[7] Interview with E. Bai „Corriere della Serra“ 20.03.01

[8] “Postmodernizm – teksty Polskich autorów” p. 100, Cracow 2003

[9] L. Ferry „Człowiek – Bóg” p. 23, Warsaw 1998

[10] O. Marquard „Szczęście w nieszczęściu”, Warsaw 2001

[11] „Estetyki filozoficzne XX wieku” p. 40, Cracow 2000

[12] Z. Warpechowski „Podnośnik” 2001



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.



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.