Monday, October 24, 2016

The magic power of contemporary art, or how representation hides futurity

aLfRedO tRifF

In the context of current theories of aesthetics, philosophers of art and and art theorists miss the   urgency of discussing the art market and its deleterious power on art and art reception.

The art market can be compared to the natural science concept of depleted environment.

By "depletion" I mean a reduction in the art sphere to adequately express aesthetic, social and political needs. 

What is the point of discussing "specificity" as a curatorial point (whether transgression or spectacle or early modernism or whatnot) if deleterious forces behind the art being presented and talked about remain absolutely intact?

Let me bring the point of the environment again. What's the good of addressing recycling when,
... To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.  
The discussion in the NYTimes shouldn't be dismissed as "against recycling" (notwithstanding the cloying feeling of helping the planet).

What if something we take for granted is a scam?

Art defined as (re)presentation

From here on, representation is not the received Platonic/Aristotelian mimesis. Representation doesn't mean likeness. Now it means cause/effect.

Bernheimer's now forgotten early 1960s The Nature of Representation gets it right:
The function of representation is most akin to the much neglected and little known one of substitution.* 
Substitution: one thing presented instead of another. What you see is not what's really there.

When you see a contemporary artwork in a white box, you see a different thing than what the artist made.

The difference is aggregate value.

Let's defer to the Gombrich/Danto definition of representation, and modify it a little bit:
Representation is a making present (again) of what is absent; or more formally, A is a representation of B when it can take B’s place, can function as B’s substitute or as B’s replacement in its absence.**
From the making to the presenting to the buying, each one is causing the other, each one is re-pre-sen-ting.

Let's revisit these three:

1- Making: the Romantic idea of the starving artist, the autarchic poet involved in the act of creation.
2- Presenting: The arthoodication of the whitebox.
3- Representing: The buying and collecting defined as futurity.

Why is it that the making is made to look more crucial than the representing and the selling?

The difference between the represented 14-foot tiger shark in Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death In the Mind of Someone Living and your ordinary jaws majestically swimming in the subtropical Florida Straits is that the latter is not inside a vitrine filled with formaldehyde inside a white box.

There is a bit of magic here: Aesthetically speaking*** The Physical Impossibility of Death is not better or worse than the Carcharodon carcharias, it's just different.

It's represented!!

Ξ The difference is aggregate value, i.e., a differential value defined in the future.

Again, the magic consists in (the market) taking Ξ and substituting it as aesthetic value.

The Physical Impossibility of Death is now automatically art (remember, "represented" as art).

Again, the causal function of representing is hidden from the artwork.

You see the art, you don't see the $futurity$.

How did it happen? First, in the political realm, substitution operates as function of ideals. Take Madison's Federalist #57:
Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, or religious faith, of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgment or disappoint the inclination of the people. 
We know article #57 doesn't generally happen. It doesn't matter. We keep using it.

Are we blind? No. We're cultured.

Let's bring this point of substitution home:

Art Institutions are built around political, economic and cultural practices.

Art & theory always trails money.

Of course, we should end this post with a little bit of Culture (ready for entertainment?)

These are random comments about Hirst's piece in this website:
Sometimes I think the titles are what makes something art. This could have been called "Shark Tank" or "Thing I killed" or "Big angry thing with lots of teeth," and people would nod and walk by. But call it "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," and it's very deep and you pause and consider it way more than if the title was boring. Is it the title that makes it art, or would it still be art if Hirst had named it "Shark Tank?" 
Hirst, is this the same guy who created the butterfly exhibit that caused a great deal of controversy recently? It certainly seems like the same style.
How do you think the decay of the shark meaningful in and of itself? 
Does anybody know how old the shark is?
See? The shark discussion goes on oblivious of the magic.

Is the environment depleted or not?  

*Richard Bernheimer, The Nature of Representation (New York: New York University Press, 1961), p. 24. **Ananta Sukla, Art and Representation: Contributions to Contemporary Aesthetics p. 70 ***See how aesthetics is about value? Something "ugly" or "menacing" (taste attributions to a common jaws) is not what the shark really is.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Donald sniffing poesis

The meeting of relational aesthetics, Gober's leg and & Glenn Harper's critical platitudes

aLfReDo tRifF

Dear artists and art lovers: What's the "next thing?"*

Here is the situation: positing a "next thing" puts the claim as opposed to the morass of the "now." Bear in mind that there is no "next thing," except for a constantly-moving "now" until "next thing" opportunistically fits. And who outside the "now" can do that?

Then there is the conceptual conflict any "next thing" brings forth, namely, the double duty of simultaneously describing and prescribing (more of this later). This is the problem with The Next Thing: Art in the Twenty-First Century, a catalog edited by Pablo Baler, which presents an interesting constellation of art themes.

Let's take a look at Glenn Harper's ponderous essay entitled "The Critical Art of the Future."

First, the obituary:
Both art criticism and the magazine business are dying, as the popular press (the vehicle that art criticism grew along with) is undergoing a radical transformation in the twenty-first century.   
Why does criticism have to die with "the vehicle that art grew along with?" Were these two always together?  

Methinks Harper is inclined to see a cause/effect link here. We know that "radical transformations" bring change. But that A and B are related doesn't mean that A causes B. For example, speculative philosophy didn't die with the radical transformations brought forth by Gutenberg's invention of the movable type in the Fifteenth Century.

This is a better try:
Art criticism is dying because ... with the explosion of the art fair (and biennials often indistinguishable from the fairs), access to art once again exploding beyond discrete exhibitions into mass market tourist attractions.As Jerry Saltz and others have pointed out, the critic is the one person in the art world who is superfluous in the art fairs.
C'mon, art fairs and biennials are just a cog in the wheel. The art market apparatus is a product of social political and economic forces, which according to Max Weber, develop "authority" (Herrschaft). As the authority raises, the role of criticism wanes.

And why bring up "Saltz and others?"

Just for the fun of it, I googled "Saltz" and "art fairs" and got 41, 000 entries!

This one, with plenty of letters asking Saltz's opinions, here, where Saltz enjoys the Art-Fair, or this one, with Saltz (on facebook) talking about New York's Frieze Fair, and so on.**

You wonder how somebody so irrelevant wastes so much time being irrelevant?
In the art fair the seller has direct and immediate access with the buyer, and publicity takes the place of criticism (as the only remaining vestige of a middleman albeit explicitly not an independent one).
My experience is that contemporary fairs keep a Twentieth-Century business model, i.e., buyers deal with gallerists directly —the presence of the artist being a derivative courtesy, sort of a aesthetic aftertaste.  

Art is pretty much an elevated retail business, its supply-and-demand dictated by Contemporary Art's grandiloquent cultural cachet provided by the art market. But the truth is that art business' current model remains pre-industrial.

Harper zeroes in:
... there has been an explosion of MFA programs graduating hordes of new professional artists every year. These artists are ignored by the galleries... but their presence in the filed is a substantial influence on the size and scope of the art world, and the art professional who sifts through the work of all there new artists is not the critic, but the curator.
True, but let's qualify that:

1- Artblicity has taken over criticism, but not because of publicity.
2- Art criticism never sifted through artists' works. In the heyday of art criticism (New York 1950s-1970s) the profession was elitist, partisan & regional.
3- Critics don't have (in fact never had) the sort of power to shift art trends. Art trends happen because of complex interactions between social, political and economic forces.

Now, meet Harper's art critic,
The art critic was someone with inside knowledge or expertise ... who could write intelligently or at least intelligibly, someone who could interpret and judge and categorize (and also describe for a public beyond those attending the Salon itself). With the rise of contemporary art galleries and museums, the art critic continued as a middle man between the artist-gallery-museum on the one hand and the public (general public or specialized audience).
I have to take issue with this characterization of the critic. After all, Harper portrays himself as critic/editor.

1- "middle man" (a term borrowed from sales?)
2- "middle man" (a gender-centric slippage, coming from Harper-the-critic or Harper-the-editor?).
3- a distinction between writing "intelligently" and writing "at least intelligibly," obviously the latter being a less desirable, merely tolerable form. It seems that the critic can get away with something, but this is not Harper-the-critic talking. Is it Harper-the-editor? The reason being that he'd be basically shooting himself in the foot.

On a different level, Harper feels he has an important advice for the critic —thus, his essay's title. Naturally, the problem is only aggravated by my earlier point of the conceptual tension between describing and prescribing.  

With the critic gone, what's to be done? Recall that Harper is preparing us for the future. So, he brings Damien Hirst as an example of a mega artist who has successfully bypassed (?) the critic:
Hirst is certainly crating a media narrative and a public persona. And it could be argued that his art is minimal in terms of form and meaning, even in terms of being art. So is Hirst the new Duchamp, and is Hirst's diamond skull the new model of art with no need for the critic or the art press... ?
Damian Hirst's for the love of god
I have no idea what Harper means by the sentence in blue, above. Why does he have to compare Hirst to Duchamp, unless he finds the analogy useful for his overall argument. But Harper doesn't pursue this point (nor his diamond skull-analogy) any further. Instead, he goes at length to explore Robert Gober's Untitled (1990).

The strategy is to build a relationality argument with Gober's Untitled.

We learn the following:

1- Gober's leg suggests a still life, or reliquary in the form of a crime scene,
2- Gober's realism is disturbing but also ordinary,
3- there's a narrative attached to the work (Gober is inspired by his observation of a crowded airplane returning from europe)...
4- Gober's mother told him her first experience working in an operation theater was an amputation,
5- the leg is macabre,
6- the leg suggests a phallic or birth symbol,
7- the leg suggests the phenomenon of the uncanny

Harper's Conclusion? Art is meant to unsettle the eye.

See that #1, #2 & #4 are presented as descriptive, but they are not. Once Harper uses an adjective to qualify a thing he's in normative terrain, which brings the is/ought perennial problem. #3, #5, #7 are clearly prescriptive (they evaluate the art object).

Harper states that his analysis is not about the object's meaning, but instead about the object's relational role (what it does). So he asks this rhetorical question: "Does the critical superstructure that is possible to construct around that mute leg really help?"
I would argue that the impact of the the work is outside of (even in spite of) the biographical and interpretive matrix of the critic or the museum label. The partiality, the ugliness, the mere "there"-ness is where the viewer meets the artwork, rather than through a side trip through criticism.
Quite obscure. Perhaps Harper is saying that "critical superstructure" the rantings of this hypothetical criticfail when compared to the "there"-ness (thereness means, I guess, the thing's objective qualities). His point is that "experience" is superior to the "side trip" offered by the critic.

But how does one build "experience" without any previous conceptualization? 

This is what he wants to get at:
But the point is not that the object means something but that it does something. It is an experience that the viewer participates in (...) a palpable experience... The aesthetics of the last hundred years, from Russian Formalism to Relational Aesthetics has argued that art is not an object but rather an encounter, an interrelation.
Remember: the object does something. And yet, when Harper writes that the leg is this or that, he's talking not about his "experience" he's definitely not doing phenomenology but referring the object via grammar, semantics and so on.

How does Harper conveying "there"-ness is any different from an ordinary critic backing up her views using concepts clothed in grammar and semantics? I don't buy it.

Before we go on, we should discuss relational aesthetics:
A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space. (RA, p. 113)
Ok, Harper's relational aesthetics strategy makes me think of this cheesy French-Italian film from the 1970s where a young nerdy guy tries to get closer to this young and pretty nouveau-rich girl, who is always glued to a book. "What are you reading?" He asks. She tells him that she is reading Boredom, a novel by Alberto Moravia. "What is it about?" The girl goes through the most minute details: It's about Dino, a young italian artist who has everything. He has a love/hate relationship with his rich mother and has since abandoned painting. Dino tries to find love with a younger woman who had previously been the lover of his neighbor (and perhaps even caused that neighbor's death). This woman is a person of astounding superficiality, which seems to hide some mystery that threatens to disrupt the very boredom to which the narrator has become so attached. As the girl goes on chatting, the nerdy guy becomes more alienated from her narration. When she's done he avers: "I don't have to read 300 pages on boredom to know what's like to feel bored."

Here are two impromptu possibilities to apply to relational aesthetics:

1- Did the girl fail in conveying boredom because of the impossibility of conveying boredom's "palpable experience"? or,
2- Did the girl succeed in showing that Moravia's novel is a "side trip" for the "palpable experience" of boredom?

Harper is not far from the nerdy guy in the movie. He falls for a self-imposed redundancy by failing to prove his point the moment he tries in vain to explicitly play at failing.

This is not the place to discuss relational aesthetics. But for a critic prescribing the future, appealing to relational aesthetics on the basis of it having being "argued" (defended, legitimized or what not) for the last hundred years...

Doesn't that seem odd?

Harper is so taken by relational aesthetics that he forgets art's hardware: the art-object!

Here comes his prescription:
Foster... is wrong to lecture artists about how to reach a critical moment of experience... the critic risks irrelevancy even in a world more open to the critic than today's, if he or she predetermines the tools that artists can work with. 
Now Harper plays art censor (?)
One of the few things I've refused to allow writers to do in the magazines I've edited is to lecture artists about the direction to go with their work (something Rosalind Krauss has done in her categorizations of the "open field of sculpture" and in her more recent comments on material, stating that artists are abandoning their role as artists if they don't concentrate on developing a single medium to its limits.  
On what grounds is using normative tools to evaluate art "lecturing"?
A critical art in the sense that I mean to propose doesn't offer reassurances about the perception or accepted truth of authority. It doesn't accept the role of decorating the halls of power or wealth.
In his essay, Harper doesn't really address "the halls of power or wealth." It's only when he objects to the critic's "lecturing" (in passant) that he becomes aware of his blind spot. Why? Because the relational approach he defends is meant to explain & theorize the very role of (as he mentions) "decorating the halls of power."

Harper is clueless that when he plays the censor with critics who dare to "lecture," he's falling for the very prescriptive role he denies the critic. 

To top it off, Harper closes his essay under a seventh-seal-of-obscurity:
The critical art of the future is suspended at that knife-edge and offers us a momentary suspension of our onrushing but socialized and codified everyday life.
(a post addressing relational aesthetics is forthcoming)
* As we all know, Relational Aesthetics had its heyday during the early 2000s. **Let's add here that Jerry Saltz fell big for the relational aesthetics spell. He bombastically declared about the 2008 Guggenheim "theanyspacewhatever" show of the relational aesthetics gang that "they created the most influential stylistic strain to emerge in art since the early '70s."  

Friday, October 14, 2016

the rubells and the arthoodication of oscar murillo

Oscar Murillo
aLfrEdo trRifF

the spanish paper el país publishes this article entitled: a new basquiat or a new bluff?

the article, by miguel ángel garcía vega, briefly speculates the meteoric rise of colombian/english artist oscar murillo, an unknown a year ago who now sells paintings for $400,000.

what happened?
(...) Until a couple of months ago very few people had heard of Oscar Murillo. He was one of the thousands of young artists trying to make an art career in London. A native of La Paila, Colombia, Murillo moved to London when he was ten years of age. Passionate about art, he graduated, without honors at the Royal College of Art. 
Drawing off the Wall, 2012
On June 26 an unidentified buyer paid at Christie's auction no less than $391,475 (about 290,000 euros) for a large mixed media painted by Murillo in 2011.** A week ago, another work of Murillo, Drawing off the wall, reached a record $401,000 (297,000 euros) @ Phillips de Pury's. The buyer, after a bitter succession of bids (the piece started at $ 30,000) was actor and collector Leonardo DiCaprio. Suddenly, Murillo's art fetched the same value of two of the most celebrated Colombian and Latin American artists: Botero and Doris Salcedo. Yet, Murillo's professional curriculum achievements are still limited.
"curriculum achievements still limited?"

that's the wrong lead. garcía vega is thinking of the "received" model of art success:

i.e., a slower, arduous trajectory of legitimation, 
i.e., being shown, being collected, being published & being "talked about."

as far as anyone can see, artistic success, being a process in time takes time.


1- murillo's works don't appear in temporary or permanent exhibitions of any great museum. he had a brief presence at the Serpentine Gallery in London, where had a performance, and also @ the London Institute of Contemporary Arts (LICA).
2- before june 26, murillo didn't have a single published monograph about his work.
3- most significantly, he didn't have the support of curators or critics.

unless someone powerful can change all of that suddenly.

Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan (1962)

murillo's art is not breaking ground, in fact it's derivative.

but that's not the point.  his work has the artblicity factor!

that is to say, it's marketable, with strong influences from twombly (above), the 1980s graffiti artists, particularly basquiat. in the end his art is what i call "derivative"contemporary." he is young & proficient, comes from a good art school and has a latin american background.

art is not what matters here. it never did.

in fact, contra garcía-vega, murillo is not the "bluff," someone else is.

since the 2008 financial crisis, we've learned that "bluffing" the market is just the market's NORMAL.
it reflects the market's irrational appetite for profit accumulation (the scorpion will sting the frog even at the risk of drowning, that's it's nature).

what we have here is ready-made mechanism of the art/star phenomenon which artblicity endlessly presents and represents.

collectors like dicaprio have to have art advisers to advise him of an "unknown" like murillo. if the bid started at $30,000, how come it ended up fetching more than 10 times its original value? a phantom bidder? a last minute phone call to miami? we'll never know (phantom-bidders?).

murillo is famous now good or him. but this being christie's (an epicenter of the art market) the murillo auction points at something else.


where is the magic if people realize that what makes art "art" is just a market strategy?

contemporary "art" is defined by "how" and "when" and "where" and by "whom" it is presented. 

the Saatchi The Rubells factor

murillo's unbelievable ascension is a result of a deliberate and well-planned strategy.

i'll take the rubells' side of the connection.

the question is, how does arthoodication work?

1- commission an in situ production of 50 pieces!
2- print a catalog (with an interview by hans ulrich obrist, wuderkind, starcurator maximus & master of interviews —a predominant arthoodication trampoline—and essays by liam gillick, jonathan p. watts and nicola lees).
3- devise a media blitz, which includes articles written by prestigious reviewers and critics in some of the art market's favorite outlets.
4- sit and wait for murillo's auction.

coming back to the "received" slower model of art success explored above: if  murillo was seriously lacking in that department, the rubells' miami "commission" took care of it in one single coup.

the financial times: 
Colombian-born London-based artist Oscar Murillo is just 27 years old, and the hottest market darling around. Prices for his large abstract canvases, which incorporate dirt and other media, have rocketed from a few thousand pounds just a couple of years ago to a stunning $401,000, made at auction at Phillips New York on September 19, over an estimate of just $30,000-$40,000. Murillo hit the headlines in Florida last year. The Rubell foundation gave him a residency where he made 50 works, all of which they acquired. 
50 works right before the price explosion at christie's. question: what percent did the rubells paid for the 50-piece lot compared to what dicaprio paid for the piece above @ christie's?

a view of the murillo exhibit @ the rubells

the art newspaper, whose subtitle reads: The 26-year-old artist on what it was like to live and work at the Miami collectors' private museum this summer.

it bids "candid-while-paradoxical" murillo excerpts:
1- They saw a solo project I did with Stuart Shave/Modern Art at the Independent fair last March in New York, and they were curious to know more about what I do. 2- It’s a kind of residency but it’s not something that [the Rubells] do as collectors—they did it to facilitate my project. 3- It wasn’t like a commissionI was never told “we want this type of work”, but I knew I was going to have a show in that space and there were certain things I wanted to focus on.
BOMB (with interview by legacy russell):
My gallery called, “Don and Mera want to come to your studio.” And I said, “Well, I don’t have any work in the studio.” The gallery said, “We’ll get some work from storage and bring it over.” I thought, Bringing paintings back to the studio, what’s the point? For me it was an opportunity to show my work in process because the process is very important. Finished paintings they could see in the gallery. So before the Rubells visited, I stayed up all night and made a couple of paintings. Making these works created a residue of the process. And the Rubells understood that. (...) This year they invited me to do something there. They suggested this incredibly large room—I mean, it’s overwhelming! 
why is legacy using interview format here? great vehicle to sell: it sounds intimate, revealing, kind of unfiltered, almost honest. get it?

art in america, (a regurgitation of BOMB)

kaleidoscope, (with a sort of "serious" parlance by isobel arbison)
In its attempted integration of the physical and public with the pictorial and personal, Murillo’s practice might echo many earlier performative approaches, from the Japanese artists in the Gutai Group — in which painting was performed on the horizontal, floor-bound canvas by bodies swinging, sweeping or crawling across its surface (a notable example being Kazuo Shiraga’s use of his feet to paint, in the mid1950s) — to the rambunctious strokes of Yves Klein’s blued-up female nudes moving over blank canvases in front of awe-struck bourgeois crowds in the early days of Art Informel (IKB, 1959).
"integration of the physical and public with the pictorial and personal ... from the japanese artists of the gutai group to yves klein?"

arbison's hyberbolic paragraph is just a sales pitch playing hired hand to the system (i wonder is she actually saw murillo's work, or if this is review-at-a-distance, like i know reviewers do today, with digital photos, showing on an iphone).

the art observer, (much of the same cacophony)

bloomberg: obviously partisan in its there's-a-lot-of-cash-on-the-sidelines mantra:
He’s had the quickest upward trajectory for his age of any artist I’ve seen in 25 years,” said Kenny Schachter, a London-based dealer, curator and writer. There’s a lot of money to be made trading Oscar Murillo at this point.
that's seven media outlets i found selling murillo's commission and exhibit @ the rubells!

murillo's work is arthoodicated. 

yet, one cannot help marveling at the speed and synchronicity of the system to get things done! 

and as if by pure coincidence the rubells own 50 murillos!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Culture: the new religion of the art market (with a little help from Max Weber)

aLfrEdo tRiFf

In all ideology men and their relations appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.- Karl Marx 

In this post I'd like to discuss some of Max Weber's more artsy paragraphs to expand our discussion on the art market, contemporary art & the absence of critical discourse.

First, we need to review some of Weber's nomenclature: Weber approaches Modernity, and particularly Capitalism with ambivalence. In broad strokes, Protestantism replaces medieval Christianity with a new economic form: Capitalism, where the old ethic of spirit & atonement shifts into a new ethic of profit-making & accumulation. That would be a superficial reading.

Rationality for Weber comprises two complementary and antithetical aspects: Wertrationalität (substantive rationality) which is often contrasted with the pragmatic idea of Zweckrationalität (goal-oriented rationality). While the latter is technocratic, the former is bureaucratic. Modernity turns the old "charismatic authority" (Charismatische Herrschaft) into a new "bureaucratic authority." See it as a mind behind the apparatus.

We're interested in Wertrationalität because of its paradoxical nature. This is a normative step above goal oriented rationality. Think of meta consciousness, a mind behind the system. For our purpose, the question is, how could the mind behind the system legitimize and implement practices or policies that endanger the system?

This is the aporetic side of Wertrationalität which can produce value judgments which are non-utilitarian in nature.

The apparent contradiction between the two rationalities becomes enforced by the authority emanating from the system (Herrschaft), which presents a structural redundancy within Modernity. This is fascinating: Rationality being swayed here and yonder by authority.

We need this background if we want to understand our present predicament. Let's move onto three aspects of late capitalist Wertrationalität:

1. The subjugation of the natural world (Global Warming).
2. The pursuit of military supremacy through nuclear technology (Cold War).
3. The subordination of capital, trade and migrations to a global system (Globalization).

To connect the art/market alliance, we're particularly interested in #3.

Reading Weber on art
Magical religiosity stands in a most intimate relation to the aesthetic sphere. Since its beginnings, religion has been an inexhaustible fountain of opportunities for artistic creation, on the one hand, and of stylizing through traditionalization, on the other. *
The dichotomy religion/aesthetics is essential to understand Weber's thought on art. Initially, art & religion are connected. Art is a powerful medium to express religion's purpose (didactic medieval art being an example). These two are brought together by "asceticism," the devout practice behind religiosity, which Weber defines as "definite, methodical conduct of life." Asceticism becomes the spirit of work, frugality and savings, i.e., capitalism's conveyor belt. With the waning of religion, asceticism merely changes its initial rejection of the world for a new worldly conduct.

The agent which brings this ascetic shift is "sublimation" (Sublimierung). A transformer of drives, sublimation turns raw libido into a spiritual ethos.
This sublimation of the religious ethic and the quest for salvation, on the one hand, and the evolution of the inherent logic of art, on the other, have tended to form an increasingly tense relation. 
As part of this process of economic and technological change, art becomes a new medium to channel society's old religious drive (paradoxically, as we will see, this cannot fully obtain).
This development causes the disappearance of those elements in art which are conducive to community formation and conducive to the compatibility of art with the religious will to salvation.
This is Weber's picture: Art withdraws from the life-world (Lebenswelt) and its communitarian role is left asunder. The new set of values presents art as self-sufficient (for example, l'art pour l'art countermovement, in contrast with the more community driven Arts and Crafts Movement in end of Nineteenth Century England).

But we're ahead of ourselves.            
Under these conditions, art becomes a cosmos of more and more consciously grasped independent values which exist in their own right. Art takes over the function of a this-worldly salvation, no matter how this may be interpreted. It provides a salvation from the routines of everyday life...
Two things here: "salvation" vs. "this worldly salvation." Fast-forward after the end of the avant-garde into postmodernism and beyond to the now. The worldview where art is self-sufficient is dictated by a new authority: The art market. One figures "salvation" should come from this worldly capital accumulation.

Does art become the new religion? Not quite.

Once it has been cut from its epiphanic telos, art cannot congeal to a purpose. Art serves a different master: Time. ** In other words, art needs a form in the theater of the present. Not the passing instant, but a contractual alliance with a permanent present of capital accumulation: A life insurance with which to scaffold its foundation of magic.

This is how time and money form a binity:

Weber was curious about the cultural and economic implications of Benjamin Franklin's motto: "time is money." Indeed, financial capitalism is about instantaneity and money. With the reign of Globalization, capital remains a form of labor substitution, but as financial capital becomes more salient, labor recedes more into the shadows (a collector doesn't pay more for a painting because artist "X" spent more time on it: that's up to the art market, the supreme price equalizer).

 Nowness becomes contemporary art's residual financial value cashing in ae$thetic value.

or better, market value = ae$thetic value

We come back to Weber original insight: Magical religiosity stands in a most intimate relation to the aesthetic sphere. The lost magic of religiosity comes back sublimated as market accumulation. Not social, but financial exchange reaping an aura of inevitability.     

Ae$thetic value as the new self-normativity
Art takes over the function of a this-worldly salvation, no matter how this may be interpreted. It provides a salvation from the routines of everyday life, and especially from the increasing pressures of theoretical and practical rationalism. 
As Weber has it, our disenchantment (Entzauberung) with the world cannot be redeemed with only art. Art is the means, not an end. Art, or better yet, contemporary art is preserved inside a social summum called Culture. This is the supreme constellation of values.

Following Weber's discussion to the now: Culture transforms the old "what's right" of morals into "what's beautiful" of aesthetics. In fact, the kantian prerequisite of beauty as purposelessness automatically vanishes.

"Beautiful" is not an aesthetic category  even if presented in that manner in art catalogs & art publicity but a top-down economic diktat legitimized as "aesthetic" value by the art market.

"beautiful" is whatever sells

Authority (cultural) is directly proportional to economic power.
The inaccessibility of appeal from aesthetic judgments excludes discussion. This shift from the moral to the aesthetic evaluation of conduct is a common characteristic of intellectualist epochs.
Critical discourse doesn't have a place here. Present "aesthetics" excludes "discussion" because critical discourse's nature is resistant to art publicity, the art market's selling arm. When the art market's Wertrationalität takes over, "inaccessibility" becomes a obscurantist strategy with the sole purpose capital accumulation.

As contemporary art presentations multiply and the masses consume it as culture, more and more publicity discourse is produced to support it. "Inaccessibility" is an obscurantist strategy of obscurantism with the sole purpose of profit-making.

Here are some provisional consequences of our present cultural paradigm:

 More auctions (capital circulation to produce capital, Marx's old definition).
 More art fair art, which in turn requires opening up new art fair markets to assuage market appetite. 
 More redundancy, less stylistic diversity.
Multiplication of conflicts of interest, i.e., market vs. art institutions become more pronounced.
 Market pressure foists wishy-washiness into curatorial practices.
 Outsourcing labor to specialists to produce more non-making art.

The danger ahead is that Culture, in its all-pervasive form, stimulates conformity through a pretense of active pursuit. In fact our general sense of achievement is nothing but anomic resignation in the face of occupational specialization.

(to be continued)
*All quotes taken from "The religious rejections of the world and their directions," in H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds), from Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 340-3. ** The definition of productivity is the value of goods and services produced in a period of time, divided by the hours of labor used to produce them. The industrial revolution shortened time per production of each unit, which increased productivity. Marx's idea of surplus value is linked to these correlations.

Friday, September 30, 2016

aren't you "so" sick?

(to my phi classes)

"so" has exploded in our social consciousness as sine qua non ideatory crutch. 

the understanding of human communication is essential for our human interaction. but a great deal of human communication, i maintain, is just memetics.

we just repeat what's "out there" as a way of coping with social pressure.

we adapt rather than starting from scratch.

remember when the filler "like" swallowed the double proposition "as if"?

specialists from anthropology and neuroscience argue that imitation may improve overall social performance. further, imitation may solve the figuring of top-down complex sets of rules that could otherwise prove redundant. and here comes good old grammar.

grammarians out there: is it really a psycholinguistic/evolutionary goal of homo sapiens to (speak) (write) clearly?

to the point, we're living amidst a "so" epidemics.

let's go over the purported grammar of "so,"

1- a conjunctive adverb for consequence, as "i took my umbrella with me, so i didn't get wet" 
2- the pervasive explanatory "so that," as  "i'm being clear, so that there's no misunderstanding"
3- addition, as "i moved to miami, and so did my friend John"
4- degree, as "this pudding is so good"
5- confirmation, as "i don't think so"

still, it's clear that our "so" epidemics exceeds any possible grammatical usage in 1-5, 

what if babbling is an evolutionary form of social bonding?

we're infected. it's a fact. all you have to do is take a video of yourself talking and play it back. 

you'll be surprised at the finding. 

i was.

why more art and less diversity?

aLfrEdo tRifF

there is a growing trend amongst art theorists that more art is produced today than ever before, and yet, today's art has less stylistic diversity.


there are four main hypotheses:

1- the "avantgarde-centrist" argument: (stemming from greenberg's early formalism and subsequent developments) modernity stimulated exploration, while postmodernity thrives on revision. there is no way back to modernity.  

2- the "art/market redundancy" argument (a bit more complicated): 

we have two protagonists: the art system and the art market.

art system (art schools, curators, museums, artcubes) art market (art auctions)

previous "X" trends, favored by the market & deemed successful become favored by the art system. once the "X" flatlines, the market automatically makes room for "Y" trends, which will be provided by the art system.

the second side of the equivalence has been tackled by baudrillard in his the conspiracy of art.

3- the "end of art" argument: take 1- in the list and add hegel's end of art thesis. in other words, there's nothing else to discover.

4- contemporary art is exhausted: there simply no much more to invent from (this argument resembles the early 20th century skepticism towards the growth of physics, before einstein's relativity and quantum mechanics).

so, more sameness, less stylistic diversity.

is 1-4 true? and if so, which hypothesis is better?

(i will discuss this in a forthcoming post)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

what is artforuming?

aLfrEdo tRifF

at some point during the late 1990s the task given to art writers was to pack less content per article as the publication packed more content per page (see that these are functions with diametrically opposite curves).

what happened? the media industry offered a miscellanea of reasons:

*"higher amount of characters per column interferes with brain's ability to scan through text easily,"
* "the quartz curve: fast and focused and shareable, but not long enough to be a pay-off for readers,"
*"shorter articles are shared more often,"
*"less is more" (dah)
* "SEO favors leanness"
* "the attention span of a regular reader is 9 sec."

wasn't that always the case for the average reader?

never mind, the constant remains,

content = $elling content. 

which, in the context of contemporary art means,

short reviews = $ale$ pitches (disguised as art fact$).

with more content variety one would expect more stylistic diversity. instead, artforum has built a stylistic homogeneity, which oscillates between the brainiac (either theory-laden or theory-related), to epiphanic rantings (the kantian-sublime-prop implicit). many of these reviews feel unconvinced, as if the text vacillates between the needed pitch to $ell and ramain true to one's own duty of good faith to the public after all these are persons, not artforum robots.  

in short,    

Hanne Darboven’s systematic output is intimidating, partly due to its inscrutability but mostly because of its scope and ambitionThis is serious work, as in labor, and it is displayed here to a rare enough degree that initial feelings of awe turn into a strange sense of gratitude.
above is a typical example by reviewer Honora Shea. after the epiphanic declaration in yellow comes a faux pas:
"... this is serious work."  
as if one didn't get a goody load in the first sentence, i.e.,

"systematic," "intimidating," "inscrutability," "scope" & "ambition."

not just work, but "serious work." what's the difference? you expect to move into darvoben's work. yet,
"... as in labor."
as in labor? what else would work mean if not, well, labor?

if one errs once one may err twice:
"... and it is displayed here to a rare enough degree."
what's a rare enough degree?  

so that,
initial feelings of awe turn into a strange sense of gratitude. 
i also share the awing for artforuming.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

more conspiracy theories at The Federalist. Why not? It works

a composite image of multicultural London

aLfrEdo tRifF

I was sent this article in The Federalist, published by Franklin Einspruch. I take the occasion to congratulate him for his piece,

and to argue this sentence:
It’s plain fact that political correctness and multiculturalism derive from notions hailing from the Frankfurt School, which in turn took its cues from Karl Marx.
What an irony, like Trump, Einspruch uses "political correctness" unproblematically. I bring Trump up because he's the man of the moment, misrepresenting ideals of pluralistic tolerance as a sign of decadence within American culture.

eugenics poster in 1920s America

Let's venture a provisional definition of political correctness:

A disposition of speech act awareness and tolerance towards others.     

We've committed these words to the trash can:

1- "n_gg_r",
2- "retarded" or "mongolic," instead of "mentally disabled or challenged"
3- "faggot," (for homosexual)
4- "Indian," (referring to Native Americans)
5- "mankind," (instead of "humankind"),
6- "bum," (instead of "homeless"),
7- "whore," (instead of "prostitute" or "sex worker"*), and so on.


Because words are used in specific historic contexts, and the wronged party has a right to be heard. I cannot speak for a black person offended at the word in 1-. I simply haven't lived his experience. So I defer the usage for the sake of understanding.

Which doesn't prevent me from understanding Kant's use of Menschheit for "humanity." See, "mankind" was not a problem back in 1790s. Today it feels inconsiderate towards women.

meanwhile Trumps ridicules any overture for more conscientious usage

Politically incorrect people don't get it. This is not a fight for the purity of words. No word is pure. In fact, there is nothing essentially wrong with the words in 1-7. Usage is always conventional! But that doesn't mean that convention doesn't matter. It does. A word's meaning has a limited time scope (what, three generations?). New contexts bring forth new meanings. It's conceivable that some of the words in 1-7 may come back clean from their previous dirty dealings. For that to happen the context would have to be very different.

As Wittgenstein made clear, meaning is usage. Usage reflects who we are as people at a given time. And we should be willing to negotiate usage in order to build a better, more civilized pluralistic society.

But why am I wasting your time? Trump's list of politically incorrect Trumpisms is sufficient proof that political incorrectness is a smokescreen for an essentialistic unitary ideology unwilling to negotiate language & speech acts for the sake of social cooperation.

What a waste of time to fight over a word that clearly offends someone.**

Next claim:
 ... multiculturalism derive from notions hailing from the Frankfurt School 

"Multiculturalism," the concept, emerges in the 1980s when the Frankfurt School generation has already disappeared. Adorno, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Marcuse are all dead by the late 1970s.**

You will not find the word "multiculturalism" in any of their canonical texts.

What today is referred to as "multiculturalism" emerges from a series of world events:
1- the end of World War II in Europe,
2- the multinational influence of the United Nations in global affairs,
3- the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination (1965-1969),
4- the end of colonialism in Africa and parts of Asia,
4- the Civil Rights Movement & the passing of affirmative action laws in the US,
5- the trends in migration in the 1970s,

By the 1980s, these diverse processes bring forth ideological, legal & economic shifts that include regionalist, ethnic and gender equality legislations within Europe and the USA. It's the outcome of these processes what we know today as multiculturalism. Only then, one begin to find these early texts addressing the idea of multiculturalism.

Let's investigate this supposed link between the Frankfurt School and Multiculturalism, by taking a look at the sources which make up for said "connection."

1- The first generation of texts on multiculturalism happens in the early 1990s, with authors like, Iris Marion Young's Justice and the Politics of Difference, Nathan Glazer's We Are All Multiculturalists Now, Amy Guttman's "The Challenge of Multiculturalism" in PPPA,  22:3, 1993, Dave Hollinger's Post-Etchnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, etc. By the 2000s we get a second generation of texts which incorporate the post 9-11 and post-War contexts of Afghanistan and Iraq: Again, Will Kymlicka's 2005 Multicultural Odysseys, Multiculturalism and Political Theory by Laden, A.S., and D. Owen (eds.) 2007, Multiculturalism without Culture by Anne Phillips, 2007, etc (by no means I pretend to exhaust these primary sources). 

2- If the connection between Multiculturalism and the Frankfurt School was obvious, you would expect a consensus amongst reputed conservative scholars opposing multiculturalism to share it. But this is not the case.

In his Menace of Multiculturalism: Trojan Horse in America (1997), Alvin Schmidt has a whole chapter for Marx's influence in multiculturalism. Not a single reference to the Frankfurt School is found. In his Perils of Diversityconservative author Byron M. Roth argues against a liberal pro-Marxist academic establishment in the USA and the West, but doesn't mention the Frankfurt School by name. On the often consulted The Disuniting of America by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., where the author examines the idea of multiculturalism in detail, the Frankfurt School never appears as a influence. Yes, there is one quote in Allan Bloom's famous 1987 Closing of the American Mind on page 65, where he mentions the Frankfurt School by name. So what?

Is Einspruch not reading too much into Marxist conspiracy theories?

Finally, even if one could find authors connecting the Frankfurt School with "multiculturalism," that doesn't mean that the latter derive from notions hailing from the former. 

Simply because contiguity is not a necessary condition for causation.  

(And to think that Einspruch's piece in The Federalist is filed under "Philosophy")

* I've learned "sex workers" from my abolitionist students. I'm at the border here: There is plenty of good literature treating the subject as "prostitution." But "sex workers" makes perfect sense, if one holds an abolitionist view. **Imagine a Trumpian defense: "Why should I change usage, if all I mean is the original word as it was used back in the time?" Because when one utters: "retarded" in a class, for example, a disabled student may be offended appealing to "back in the time" only refers to an earlier context where we didn't know better). ***There are other thinkers, which have been quite important for early multicultural thought, for example, Charles Taylor, his Multiculturalism and The Politics of Recognition is a required reading on the topic, as is Will Kymlicka's Multicultural Citizenship

Monday, September 26, 2016

Art Criticism vs. Artblicity

 down with thumbs up!

alFreDo tRifF

Our epoch is defined by two distinct & opposing modes of discourse: Art criticism and Art publicity (Artblicity from here on). The latter owns the show. The former is hibernating. For how long?

To bring Art criticism back we need to stop taking for granted the platitudinal, unproblematic picture presented  and defended– by the artMarket and its minions.

Here is a tentative manifesto:

Artblicity presents advocacy as a blessed redundancy: the advocacy is justified merely by its provenance, its provenance by the $ale$.

Artblicity represents an abduction of critique for the sake of cultural entertainment. Its social media equivalent is Facebook Thumbs up!

By leveling pervading conflicts of interests, Artblicity homogenizes positions and disagreements. This process I have called arthoodication.

Being the mouth-piece of the artmarket, Artblicity is opportunistic & sensationalistic. Hyperbole wins the the masses' approval.

Artblicity stereotypes and distorts art & art discourse with travesties of theory (whether formalism, lacanian or freudian psychoanalysis, diverse forms of post-structuralism, hermeneutics, and other subjectivisms). The more arcane the better.

Artblicity turns art discourse into *art fat*.

Artblicity is epiphanic. Masses have a propensity to happily to embrace artMarket's hubristic Logorrhea. 

Artblicity doesn't really address the art. The art is left at the periphery in favor of perceptions of mea$ure$.

Artblicity pretends neutrality on stage while letting conflicts of interest through the back door.

Artblicity reaffirms commodity fetishism by turning a blind eye to the dirty dealings of the artMarket.

Artblicity is structurally & politically disconnected from reality. Money talks! 

In clear opposition to the former:

Art criticism stirs debate, fosters discussion, and reframes positions.

Art criticism is adversarial, not hostile.

Art criticism is committed to exposing the coverups & lousy dealings of the artMarket and its institutions.

Art criticism fights Artblicity's platitudes & distortions.

Art criticism rewards critical courage: Call a spade a spade!

Art criticism is acerbic & lean.

Art criticism is an inter-subjective social practice not a solipsistic ideological masturbation. Don't forget the juice!

Art criticism fights digressions and non-sequiturs with clear explanations. If nobody understands it you don't understand it.

Art criticism is pluralistic.

Art criticism identifies derivative art by:

1- seeking originality, novelty and richness, while,
2- unmasking contemporary art's artfair art, artlibor, arthoodication,
3- deferring easy praise in favor of judicious patience,

Art criticism's relationship with other art practices is unstable, incomplete, uncomfortable and enriching.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Inverse: a convergence of hubris & bad theory in contemporary art

laura lima's the inverse (photo: fredrik nilsen studio)

alFreDo tRiFf

This interesting article, written by Monica Uszerowicz for Hyperallergic got my attention. It reviews Brazilian artist Laura Lima's recent show @ ICA, entitled The Inverse. 

here's Uszerowicz's description:
... a massive swath of rope, deep blue and thickly knotted, traverses the entirety of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami’s Atrium Gallery, looping itself over beams and columns and scraping the floor. The varying thickness and gradient of color throughout renders the rope an overwhelming morass of textures, and at any level of the space from which it is viewed it’s difficult to determine if it’s one rope or many.
it continues:
... the rope, gradually dwindling in size, ends in a makeshift room where, as outlined by the artist’s intent, it “merges with a female body.” To be clear, the rope ends in the woman’s vagina, sheathed, as it were, by a finger cot — a detail not explicitly shared with museumgoers.
you get the picture by looking at the photo above. Lima's installation looks imposing, except that one has to look carefully (behind one of the four central columns towards the back) at the protruding, tiny human lower extremities.

This is what happens next:
A few of the performers, unsurprisingly, felt uncomfortable with the rope’s placement; one in particular, who thought insertion was optional, felt coerced. Though it’s described in more detail here, there seems to have been some miscommunication: the ICA’s staff didn’t want their performers forced into anything that made them uncomfortable; meanwhile, Lima insisted on the insertion of the rope as essential to the piece — to her understanding, it was empowering.
How is that "empowering?  Here's Lima's justification:
I set the piece up so that you have to move yourself to discover its details. There are many things that arrive at the perception of the viewer — some are more important than the others — and I like that some of it gets lost. It’s not going to be obvious. You don’t know what’s going on behind the wall — but she is there. She knows a lot about the piece, and she is committed to engaging with the idea. In some ways, this is a universal subject, for centuries or millenniums, this subject of women. It is a more empowering thing. They are going to do it by themselves and they are, in a certain way, the ones who will take care of the piece.
I call this bad theory: The performer is, "there," ... "knows a lot about the piece," presumably because, (ahem) she inserts the rope inside her vagina? And she is "going to do it" and is, "in a certain way, the one who takes care of the piece."

Behind Lima's galimatias of empty constatations one can detect reified theory threads to buttress a system geared to legitimize contemporary art's presentations. I call this hubristic process arthoodication.* 

Meanwhile, Uszerowicz acknowledges that "a few of the performers, unsurprisingly, felt uncomfortable with the rope's placement." She tries hard to negotiate a mid point between her journalistic voice (in green below) and Lima's own (in red):
... by hiding this hugely important component of the show, Lima hopes that it will affect the viewer’s understanding of the work in some subconscious way. And maybe silently holding the literal end of the rope inside one’s own body could feel somehow special, even if it is a secret and especially if Lima had previously discussed it with the performer at length.
This is how Uszerowicz presents the disconnect between Lima's demands and the performers' reports:
Taken from the perspective of the artist-as-designer but not participant, these ideas seem reasonable.
"Reasonable?" Methinks too charitable.

How is the insertion of the rope inside a performer's vagina subconsciously relevant, whatever that means from a psychological standpoint (I'm just trying to fathom a science that could articulate Lima's declarations) if the performer only shows —as Uszerowicz explains,
... her feet... poking through a mouse-sized hole in the room’s wall?
and how could anyone in the audience address a performer's mental states by just looking at her legs!

Consciousness is exclusively a first-person report. The only way to address "conscious" or "subconscious" behavior is to obtain a performer's report, which is what Uszerowicz does in her piece.** In fact, her unease with The Inverse transpires in the piece's title: "When a Body is Reduced to Materiality for an Artwork."

Yet, as much as Uszerowicz digs into it, she cannot bring herself to shake her dithering between justifying Lima's demands, on aesthetic grounds, and her misgivings that these demands cause the performers emotional distress.

My position is that Lima's insertion demands make no sense within the aesthetic scope of The Inverse. Why? Because the performer's behavioral interaction with the public is minimal, a mere lie-there on the floor for three hours, inside a wall, showing one's legs through a hole. Furthermore, if inserting a rope inside the performer's vagina makes no difference to the piece, then the undue emotional stress caused to the performers is wrong. 

There is more: In a second article, Claire Voom confirms the performers' reports:
When Lima entered, she asked if Performer A was wearing underwear and replied, “Perfect” when she said she was not. Lima made her change into a beige dress to match her skin tone, complete with a sewn-on flap meant to cover her genitals as she lay down. Lima also placed a finger cot on the rope and handed her lubricant, telling her the penetration wouldn’t hurt.
This is what matters: the performer's first-person report:
I felt so lost and alone ... I was hoping for someone to enter the room and speak to Laura. … Laura handed me the lube and said, ‘OK, now put it inside of you. I will be waiting for you on the other end of the wall. … Don’t worry, you are safe. I’m watching you, and no one can see.’
performer A adds,
But I wasn’t safe ... I felt like I had no choice, and I also felt completely responsible for it because I didn’t say no. I inserted the rope. I laid down, and she adjusted my legs and opened them. She whispered through the hole, ‘Good, now everyone can see you.’ I started to cry. Something changed; I wasn’t the same. I was waiting for her to leave so I could remove the rope because there was so much discomfort. I peered through the opening, and once she left, I pulled it out and hid it by the side of my leg. 
This is a new detail: Even if the performer silently cried inside her hole, the audience would not have noticed. Behavior is by definition response to external stimuli. Only in this case, the performer's response doesn't matter. What if Lima showed the performer's face? I'm speculating, but at least the performer would've had the proper outlet to negotiate her emotional distress with the audience (as Levinas suggests, the face is a powerful medium for emotional redemption).

Visualize a troop of Lacanian feminists, taking issue with Lima's The Inverse. They take the structuralist approach (i.e., the artist's intentions are secondary to the work's reception) and decide to charge Lima with outdated patriarchal forms of female fetishization to please Eurocentric aesthetic modes of reception (evidently, a charge as hubristic as Lima's demands).

One last point: there is no question that these events are now part of The Inverse and Lima's resume. Perhaps after this reality check, she will modify her future performative demands. But then again, given the media attention received in Miami, perhaps not.

* What I mean by this is not a judgment against theory, nor contemporary art, but the hubristic confluence of both. ** A propos of bad theory, William James makes this point about first-person report: "human experience prevents the imposition of conceptual fixities."