Friday, November 09, 2007

Après-garde Art: Almost an Epiphany

In a somewhat meandering piece on the value of "après-garde" art work, Financial Times writer Peter Aspden almost convinces me he's got a point, but....
Much contemporary art of recent years has set out to shock, despite the disingenuous disclaimers of its practitioners, in the hope that public outrage will be identified as a symptom of the artist’s avant-garde brilliance. But it is not necessarily so. There is a difference between genuine outrage and knee-jerk Daily Mail polemicising. Now there is a sense of near-ennui when confronted by the frantic efforts of certain artists to make headlines.

The truth is, their argument has been won. The rich and varied strains of contemporary art are now accepted by a public that is thirsty to see their results. That is because their art speaks of its time, and is all the more satisfying for it. The reason we live in a contemporary art boom at present is not entirely down to hedge fund speculators and restless Russian oligarchs. We have a genuine confluence of public feeling and the artistic imagination.

This is nowhere more vividly illustrated than at London’s Tate Modern, where the latest Turbine Hall installation, Doris Salcedo’s “Shibboleth”, aka the giant crack in the ground, is attracting extraordinary numbers of spectators. Last Saturday, more than 34,000 people came to see the work. To put it in some perspective, only three football matches in England attracted a bigger crowd than that.

It is a profound work, nothing less than a literal defacing of a temple of culture to protest against the fissures that still divide mankind. It is art of the here and now, and we are privileged to have it.
I wish, just once, someone who insists much of contemporary art "set out to shock" would name names. I understand it's considered widely understood to be the case, but like much conventional wisdom, when one gets down to specifics it often turns out not to be that defendable a position.

I got confused by what seems a contradiction in Peter's argument. He notes early in the piece that "[A]rt that is behind its time arguably serves an even more important function....[it] expresses something that is already in the air but has not yet been creatively articulated." But then suggests that "contemporary art...speaks of its time, and is all the more satisfying for it."

Again, I think I know what he's getting at, but as with the assumption that many artists set out to shock, I'm not sure it stands up to close inspection.

Note: Shaky image above is not an earthquake photo, but rather Bambino (who's celebrating his birthday today!!!) contemplating Salcedo's "Shibboleth" at the Tate.

Labels: art criticism


Blogger Mark Creegan said...

happy birthday Bambino! Its interesting to compare this installation with Urs Fisher's latest disemboweled gallery install. Something in the air?

11/09/2007 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

me too...

Happy Birthday Bambino!

11/09/2007 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

No way. Bambino and Supergirl share the same birthday!

11/09/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

No way. Bambino and Supergirl share the same birthday!

Hmmm...Come to think of it, I've never seen them both in the same place. ;-)

11/09/2007 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

Is it really Bambino's birthday, or is this just another one of your shock tactics, Edward?

11/09/2007 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Jonathan T. D. Neil said...

Perhaps Aspden's problem here is that he thinks the "new" or the "avant-garde" are no longer categories available to, or under the control of, individual producers outside of the culture industry. In this light, Salcedo's install at TATE Modern and Serra's recent show at MoMA cast some interesting shadows. Both rely upon significant alterations to the infrastructure of their institutional hosts. And I think Salcedo's may be the more interesting here, insofar as crews had to jackhammer out significant portions of the TATE floor plate to present the work (this is not at all like wrecking a little drywall and some aluminum studs). We all know the MoMA story. But these are big institutional plays, and perhaps this is what makes them exactly "apres-garde" in Aspden's account; it's big and institutional, which almost by definition means it must correspond one-to-one with what the public wants (or for which it will pay to see; that's another credit to TATE and Salcedo--the turbine hall is free).

Oh, and "shock" belongs back in the 1920s, unless, of course, you're Thomas Hirschorn.

11/09/2007 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

When I told Supergirl she said, "Behind every great man is a great Scorpio."

11/09/2007 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Happy birthday to Bambino, the nicest guy in Chelsea, and probably all of New York.

Back to art. I don't know if "most" contemporary artists set out to shock people; in fact the sheer number of artists working today makes all generalizations impossible. Even if we whittle it down to artists with gallery representation who are selling art -- which cuts me out, for example -- there are still far, far too many artists out there.

So let's cut it down a bit more. Artists showing in New York? Artists showing in Chelsea? Really, there are still too many. I've been going to Chelsea galleries for over two years and I think I still haven't even set foot in half of them.

So if we want to make generalizations, I think we have to enter the realm of fiction -- the realm of what people say, not the realm of what they do. I find myself, wandering through the marsh in search of some ground to support the assertions even I've made regarding the avant-garde, unable to even find a soggy hillock.

I mean, the best-selling artist I know is Tracy Helgeson. And her art -- which is a fantastic experience -- isn't even remotely shocking.

So who are we talking about? Damien Hirst? Jeff Koons? John Currin? Artists whose names we know because they're controversial, because maybe they do set out to shock. (Or maybe just schlock. Hard to say.)

Wow. Camille Paglia is right -- the avant-garde really is dead.

11/09/2007 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Franklin: I always liked the line from Brain Donors: "It's said that behind every great man there is a great woman, and I'm glad the woman behind me is Lillian; because, quite frankly, I enjoy the shade."

11/09/2007 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Happy Birthday! Jump the crack! Wait, that may not sound right....

11/09/2007 01:47:00 PM  
Anonymous david r said...

Certain things will always shock - the scatalogial- mindless violence - but I think the avante garde is a dated concept. The really shocking thing now is usually the money,don't you think?

"the confluence of public feeling and artistic imagination" is a remarkably upbeat appraisal of art today and if it were true, speaks well of the moment. Every artist needs an audience and if the general public understands Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth as powerful art,that's got to be a good thing. But don't worry, we all know there's great art out there that is ahead of the general public's comprehension. "Shock" just isn't the measure of it any more.

11/09/2007 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Shock tactics are incidental to the avant-garde project. They were more important in the early days than now, but were still incidental – a means to an end, but not the end itself.

When your basic premise is wrong, everything else falls apart. This is why we very much alive intertemporal avant-garde artists don't pay Paglia much mind.

11/09/2007 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Nor is the avant-garde about ensuring 'there's great art out there that is ahead of the general public's comprehension'. That too was just a side-effect.

As Malevich put it, 'Suprematist forms are nothing but signs of the recognised force of action of the utilitarian perfection of the approaching concrete world.'

The avant-garde was and is the vanguard of the future. It is a millenarian project.

11/09/2007 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

everything repeats - we live in cyclical times. This is because everything is recorded now, but also because the record gets rewritten contantly. Before it was spoken and people just forget.

A painting used to be a record of a specific moment and a specific place. But now the avant guard is everywhere all at one. Do I sound like someone? Of course I do, my voice is legion and I want your soul.

Wanting your soul is the will to power and you will be assimilated.

the crack in the floor of the tate is nothing more than a parlour trick. Think of David Copperfield moving the statue of liberty - was that art? Yes and No, signs point to maybe.

If not, neither is a crack in the floor of the Tate.

Being of no vital stream in any current conversation about art, and not adding to anything in historical annals (Chreis Burdens Gallery with the turnstyle jack on the walls comes to mind.)

Or maybe its a converstion about the de-fanged beaurocratized nature of institutional art.

Think how discombobulated Burden got when confronted with the threat of a real gun on campus. Should life meet art? Sometimes.

Have you shot Andy Warhol today?

Disagree all you want, I'll make more.

Double your prices!

11/11/2007 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Lou said...

Art behind it's time is definitely in the air. Peter Plagens does a good scholoarly representation of it in his articles and paintings. The idea is to shake off the irony of post-modernism and pick up on the direction found in the late years of modernist painters who grew feeble enough to discover a simple,soulful voice within - i.e. Monet and Degas going blind, Braque losing his strength, de Kooning with Alzheimer's... that simplicity and sense of wonder is the direction of the future. It's a movement that can't be measured by market analysis.
Lou Scaturro

11/16/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I should be in good shape, then, since I ended up a modernist almost in spite of myself.

11/16/2007 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I would definitely agree with Chris Rywalt, david r, and Mr. Scaturro especially. Very well articulated.

I would also like to add, ignoring the whole discussion taking place here on "shock," that I don't see the two statements you quoted as confusing you being mutually exclusive. I see them as two
valid ideas that are inadequately drawn out.

Say one takes "behind its time" to mean: delivered/encoded in a way that is very familiar to the most prevalent shapes and structures of commercial and independent art with mass appeal, but articulates or elucidates a sensation not yet composed by the existing work.

I would agree that this type of art is satisfying to the viewer in its proximity to a potential response to the ubiquitous work of the "time." It connects with resultant feelings that are simmering in the collective art-conscious.

And say one takes "speaks of its time" to mean that the art is an event in history. Not to say it is exceptionally meaningful (or meaningful at all really), but that it is an event that satisfies some set of the total set of viewers, and is a time-stepped statement in the ongoing conversation that to some group of people constitutes "notable art culture." If this is an accurate interpretation I would agree here also.

Unless the abstraction sabotages my analysis, I don't quite understand your confusion.

10/28/2010 11:29:00 PM  

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