An attempt to bring clarity into a muddled debate.

Over the last few decades the contemporary Culture Industry has cemented a small number of readymade definitions of art into the public consciousness -by now accepted as absolute standards which shape and control the production and reception of art to a near-total degree- and has in this process -tacitly- not only confused but redefined the idea and definition of what it means for an artist and art to be autonomous and free. The media in the UK have embraced the Culture Industry’s definitions and standards with particular enthusiasm and thus predominantly focus on -and promote- works, which are politically, correct, provide spectacle and shallow entertainment or define art as a currency. Whereas in Germany the increasing absence of autonomous art from the contemporary art world is at least occasionally taken note, the debate in the UK seems completely disinterested in or oblivious to this fact. However, even when the question of Kunstfreiheit/the freedom or art and the absence of autonomous art is the focus of the public debate in Germany, this situation is very much assessed and judged using the Culture Industry’s own logic, vocabulary and pre-defined standards. Thus a critical distance is not only diminished but has become close to impossible.

The following is an attempt to clarify and define what substantiates freedom and autonomy in art and to highlight the vacuum that is produced by the absence of autonomous art from the public realm.



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.





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


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


In jüngster Zeit ist das künstlerische Schaffen in eine Phase der Banalisierung getreten, die in erster Linie auf Marktmechanismen, auf den Erfolgsdruck des Künstlers und auf seinen Narzissmus zurückzuführen ist. Kurz gesagt, der tiefere Sinn des Kunstschaffens scheint ganz allgemein verloren gegangen zu sein. Wir sollten uns deshalb in Erinnerung rufen, was unter dem, was wir „Kunst“ nennen, eigentlich zu verstehen ist. Weiterlesen


Art, and the experience of looking at art in galleries or museums, has dramatically changed over the last few decades.

We believe that the forces that are driving this change have by now distorted art to a degree that we feel compelled to not only declare this a crisis, but to urgently call for a dramatic and fundamental revision and rethink of art in every area of its agency to avoid its own complete obliteration. Weiterlesen


Wann immer ich unter der Woche eine Galerie besuche, erlebe ich eine Situation, an die wir uns anscheinend gewöhnt haben, und das schon seit einigen Jahren. Ich spreche nicht allein von den kleinen Galerien, sondern hauptsächlich von der großen, oder, wenn Sie so wollen, von denen, die auf dem internationalen Parkett der Kunst eine Rolle spielen. Weiterlesen



Joan Waltemath: When you said during a recent panel discussion that you thought there was a complete loss of critical consciousness in the art world, that really made my evening, the recognition that what is being written now is not critically conscious and that there must be a reinvestment in critical awareness in order to have art. If market value is really what determines what is being shown and seen in museums, well, market values are really the same everywhere, are they not?

Robert C. Morgan: It seems to me that we are in an era now where it is not enough to be from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Indonesia, or Mongolia, but you have to somehow take what that culture is about, and your own experiences within that culture, and make it palatable on the level of a kind of global system of exchange. In other words, you have to use the vehicle of some westernized post-colonial political theory to explain it. In fact, to prove it. But there is a fundamental problem here because art is not something you prove. Art is something that provokes, that generates ideas, and hopefully takes you to another level of feeling where you begin to open up and realize yourself as another inhabitant of the world. But that role for art has been temporarily displaced. Weiterlesen


Neulich hat mich ein Dealer aus London besucht, der (glaube ich) nach Berlin von der Biennale in Venedig gekommen ist. Gleich beim Eintreten in mein Atelier fragte er mich: ‚Richard, do you know the actual tendency in art?‘ Ich antwortete: ‚I do know it. But, tell me what’s that?‘ (ich dachte, dass tatsächlich etwas wesentliches entstanden ist). Und er darauf: ‚The Name of the new tendency in art is art market!‚ und brach in Gelächter aus. Weiterlesen


Für mich gilt seit Beginn meiner künstlerischen Tätigkeit, dass ich Kunst sowohl als eine Form der persönlichen und gleichermaßen gesellschaftlichen, im weitesten Sinn politische Äußerung und Reflexion ansehe, dass sie emanzipatorisch wirken kann, wenn sie es schafft das Individuelle und das Allgemeine zusammen zu bringen wie auch immer. Weiterlesen


The freedom of expression is the foundation of artistic freedom. I see art in this context as a platform to form opinions and create perspective towards our life in reality, as we know it. It is not possible for me to talk about it, without being personal. My works focus often on political and social issues. Since I was born and educated under the communist regime, it is hard for me no to response to injustice, oppression, inequality and other issues.


© Maciej Toporowicz

© Maciej Toporowicz