The Emperor's New Clothes
Conceptual art's jinxed the works and crashed the system;
still anemic, the art world has yet to recover, remains without an ideology.
These problems may have started with Duchamp but we carried on, emptied
art of all it's attributes, concluding with form replaced by thought.
At this point, one would expect the body of art to vanish. Instead we got an
undigestable intellectual conflict.
Andrea Zittel designs furniture. Jennifer Bolande picks up a car bumper and mounts it in a gallery for $24,000. The director gushes at Jennifer's savoir faire; "Oh! These kids! They define a territory and achieve instant succes." How exciting!
There were bugs in the system, things a critical mind could not honestly sweep under the rug. Conceptualists were especially irritated by the physical material they still had to contend with. Such as grant application forms and papers to be filled, then the need for assistants to cut wood and build shelves for a project to display the empty beer bottles, consumed while filling out the paperwork. All that to express a dyonisian symbol in an appolonian culture.
What's actually on display? Perhaps the artist's courage and panache, a personality that can sell an idea in opposition to sense and logic and make it stick. Distance from historical standards and you've broken paradigms. Really? The last two decades of ideology have much in common with snake oil, in that actual issues reside in marketing ability rather than greatness of vision. Such a lack of judgement, represented in major collections. Think of Kostabi.
As major exhibitions play to empty halls, consider their lack of importance to anyone except a small group who, redundantly, unfortunately, still manage to occupy important positions. Others paid lip service to the Emperor's new clothes and looked elsewhere; the art world crashed and now pitiful moans arise from the debris, seeking new leadership.
As Robert Storr of MOMA puts it, "art moved from the Cedar Bar to the seminar". Was this such a great move? Where individuality was art's perogative, conformity is now essential for any degree of acceptance. Disagreement with our cultural canon is the mark of country bumpkins, criticism of the status quo... invalid by it's very nature.
It may have started just before the 1960's, when television replaced books and writers moved into the art scene, where money was then abudant. Better organised than barely-literate visual artists - who were more concerned with rendering visions just beyond their own understanding (but was this not the point?), the intellectual takeover of art established a seminar culture where cleanliness, politeness, and cant were badges of membership in the anemia of our times.
And still we have that unresolved problem. Not making art is art, and making art is no longer art. Perhaps we should judge the issue on levels of credibility. Ideology was incorrect, lacked relevance hence lacked meaning. Does anyone care, was it always a pretence? Historical reviews suggests the arts had a purpose and meaning necessary to the social body. Now what was it?
There's hope for the future yet. The art world crashed, the waves ripple outwards, the lack of lucre pushing opportunists into new fields such as media technologies. Painting is already passé, thank god, so the field is clearing a little, leaving behind those driven by the gods of inspiration; "I speak of arms and men, so sing through me, oh muse, of that time when wily Odysseus..."
© Miklos Legrady1994
AESTHETICS ON TRIAL