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New Left Review 113, September-October 2018


Zöe Sutherland

ARTWORK AS CRITIQUE

Since the 1990s, there has been much discussion about the impact of globalization upon the production, circulation and exchange of art. Somewhat inverting this line of inquiry, Marcus Verhagen’s Flows and Counterflows looks instead at how artists have engaged with these social processes through their works. [1] Marcus Verhagen, Flows and Counterflows: Globalisation in Contemporary Art, Sternberg: Berlin 2017, €20, paperback, 196 pp, 978 3 9567 9270 0. Verhagen’s interest lies not in simple representations or illustrations of globalization—‘rote symbols of displacement or exchange’—but rather in works that contribute new ways of thinking about it. If attempts to represent these processes take us—as Fredric Jameson and T. J. Demos have argued—to the limits of our signifying systems, then artists need to re-consider their modes of representation. Verhagen is attentive to the ways in which artistic practice has been able to articulate a critique of its own globalized condition by developing new ‘conceptual and affective parameters’, drawing out the tensions and contradictions that lurk within familiar discourses and revealing the ideological stakes involved. Flows and Counterflows is thus first and foremost an examination of the political-aesthetic operations of the artwork—an analysis of the ways in which art practice has been able to offer critical perspectives on globalized conditions.

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