Walking on Thorns – Thoughts on the Art World Today

Josh Kline, Desperation Dilation

As consumers, capitalism grooms us to live in the present. Contemporary electoral politics — especially as practiced in the United States — and contemporary twenty-four-hour news media also try and trap our imagination in the present. The past and future, history and long-term imagination, are all obliterated or obscured — crushed by short-term thinking. William Gibson has begun calling the combined onslaught of catastrophes — ecological, pathogenic, military, economic, etc. — that will come raining down in the twenty-first century “The Jackpot” — a slot-machine future that comes up all skulls. Once you see the growing world crisis gathering momentum around us, it’s hard to avoid asking where today’s conditions lead. Boomers may only have a few years left among us, but the generation entering adulthood now will see most of the century. For people who have a strong chance of being here mid-century, this is personal. As an artist, I’m equally as interested in describing and depicting our own era as I am in speculating about where it might lead. I’m not fixated on realism. My work is firmly situated across the border in the world of fiction. Grappling with how people in the future will view our present when it becomes their past is a very useful exercise — especially for Americans. The present moment will end and become something else.

Josh Kline – https://flash—art.com/2020/10/conversation-with-josh-kline/


Possibly for the first time since the fall of the Berlin wall, there is serious global debate on why and how neoliberalism has failed us, and on what alternatives lay ahead.  What we have learned beyond doubt form the present crisis is that the neoliberal rule amounts to power without responsibility: if there is a shipwreck, the commander uses his/her privilege to step down first, not last, from the sinking boat. And that the safe spaces of the happy few are guaranteed, and eventually paid by, the personal risk and sacrifice of the most vulnerable and marginal. This is not just what happens in the outside world, though. The safe space of the art institution itself, again, is not equally safe for everybody working in it, as eloquently shown by the massive layoffs of museum professionals and workers, instantly deployed even by museums with huge financial endowments for which no concrete issue of financial meltdown was at stake. This opens up a dilemma: can art really keep on reasoning in terms of safe spaces in times like these? Can it afford to dwell on issues of social injustice, violence and abuse without taking any commitment or responsibility toward the victims? Can art institutions maintain their social credibility when they mechanically apply to their own employees the same brutal neoliberal logic they customarily attack when it comes to the practices and choices of the political or corporate world? The social relevance and credibility of contemporary art institutions today eventually relies upon their capacity to transform themselves from safe spaces for privileged minorities to inclusive spaces. But what does this mean in practice? For instance, it means escaping from what one could call the philanthropy trap. In many circles, arts patronage is an exquisite form of philanthropy that pays well in terms of promotion of social image, savvy fiscal management and sophisticated lobbying. Before the crisis, global competition among major contemporary art museums worldwide increasingly looked like a global arms race, where securing the latest, biggest productions from blue chip names was the only way to stay on the cutting edge. In this context, falling into the philanthropy trap is not an option, it is a necessity if one wants to stay in the race. The consequence is that any kind of social critique taken from such a position of complacency toward big donors sounds completely groundless, paves the way to innumerable conflicts of interest, and reinforces the conviction that, at the end of the day, art and its institutions are basically the objective correlative of privilege. Moving toward inclusion does not mean inviting more people into the club for a quick sneak peek, to offer them a unique opportunity of illumination. It rather means changing the hierarchy of the priorities, and putting social relevance and responsibility at the top.

Pier Luigi Sacco – https://flash—art.com/2020/11/circling-the-square-art-and-inequality-taken-seriously/
Christopher Wool, Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (The Show Is Over)

Unlike the formal economy, this missing mass or dark matter consists of informal systems of exchange, cooperative networks; communal leisure practices; conduits for sharing gossip, fantasy anger, and resentments; and even the occasional self-organized collective that may or not be politically motivated. Within this dark universe, services, goods, information, and in some cases outright contraband are duplicated and distributed, sometimes in the form of bartered exchange and occasionally as gifts that circulate freely, thus always moving and benefiting a particular network or informally defined community. All of this is disconnected, or only partially connected, from the mainstream market. For capitalism to acknowledge this missing mass would require a radical re-definition of the concept of productivity.

Gregory Sholette – ‘Swampwalls Dark Matter & The Lumpen Army of Art’, Proximity, no 1


No public image should benefit from impunity, for whatever reason: alogo belongs to public space, since it exists in the streets and appears on
the objects we use. A legal battle is underway that places artists at the forefront: no sign must remain inert, no image must remain untouchable.Art represents a counter-power. Not that the task of artists consists in denouncing, mobilizing or protesting: all art is engaged, whatever its nature and goals. Today there is a quarrel over representation that sets art and the official image of reality against each other.

Nicolas Bourriaud – Postproduction


Our power of resistance and invention requires that we renounce our delights in the margins, in obliqueness, in infinite deconstruction, in the fragment, in the trembling exposition of mortality, in finitude, and the body. For the sake of the poor century which is opening, we must, and thus we will, declare the existence of what no longer exists in art: the monumental construction, the project, the creative force of the weak, the destruction of established powers.

We should oppose all those who only want the end, those cohorts of the burned-out and parasitical last men. The end of art, of metaphysics, of representation, of imitation, of transcendence, of the oeuvre, of spirit: enough! Let us declare at once the End of all the ends and the possible beginning of all that is, of all that was and will be.

Against its present decline into inconsistent multiplicity and an energy which is immoral, uncontrolled, and-if it succeeds-fundamentally non-human, the vocation of art, in all its forms, is to reaffirm affirmation.

Let us declare again, on behalf of humanity, the artistic rights of the truly non-human. Let us again accept being transfixed by a truth (or a beauty: it’s the same thing), rather than calculating to the nearest penny the minor modes of our expression.

It’s a matter of affirming. And this is why this draft is a manifesto of Affirmationism.

Alain Badiou – ‘Third Sketch of a Manifesto of Affirmationist Art’, in Polemics (translated by Barbara P. Fulks)