While galleries and museums maximize footfall with an eye on the bottom line, the artwork is often claimed as a haven from the giddy pace of experience. What are the temporalities of the contemporary art world, and how might they be affected by the coronavirus crisis?
Art and Revolution
Commissioned by Eric Hobsbawm for Einaudi’s Storia del marxismo, a synoptic survey of avant-garde movements in the era of 20th-century revolutions. Disputing the received view of a series of chaotic, short-lived experiments, John Willett traces the emergence of an internally coherent cultural renaissance, stretching from Moscow and Vitebsk to Mexico City.
Art and the New Space Age
From Buckminster Fuller to Robert Rauschenberg, visual culture was enthralled by space travel in the age of Gagarin and the Apollo moon landings. As tech billionaires lease Cape Canaveral launch pads for private-enterprise extra-terrestrial ventures, more critical takes from a range of new artists.
Fashion Seduces Art
After the debate on value-setting between Luc Boltanski, Arnaud Esquerre and Nancy Fraser in NLR 106, Chin-tao Wu examines relations between the luxury industry and high art. Why are James Turrell, Daniel Buren and Olafur Eliasson producing works for Louis Vuitton and Chanel?
The Juridical Economy
Art as the uncanny double of law in the work of Kant, Schiller and Hegel, and its confrontations today with the law in avant-garde practice, as the juridical category of the person either expands beyond even the corporation, dismissed as ‘artificial’ by Hegel, to new fictive forms, or contracts to captive sub-human shapes.
The Coming Exception
The artwork has long been understood as a political-economic anomaly, while art practice is sometimes seen as a stand-in for liberated human activity. With value itself seemingly in a state of crisis, might the artwork prefigure a world beyond it? From Ruskin and Whistler to Harun Farocki, Sven Lütticken charts the trajectory of an exception.
The World As Gallery
First global art movement or mere identity of a New York set? Potpourri of avant-garde practices or formalist tautology? A survey of Conceptual Art’s crystallization, among international neo-avant-gardes and the artistic networks of global centres, between an abstract global imaginary and its concrete contestations.
The Decline of Decadence
From Nietzsche to Lukács, decadence was a matter of cultural disintegration and social atomization under pressure of capitalist modernity, but such talk has dwindled. Malcolm Bull asks whether the private languages of conceptual art are decadent or undecadent. And is the market a substitute communicator of shared values?
Performance Art After TV
Relations between TV and performance art since the 1960s as a tangled skein of complicity and contestation. Sven Lütticken traces shifts in modes of acting, working and self-presentation, within a televisual world itself now being absorbed by cybernetic and digital systems.
Art of the Industrial Trace
Looking down at man-made landscapes from an airplane window: entry-point to an allegorical materialism, mapping art onto its double in production? The role of the indexical in earthworks, crop art and aerial photography, and the limits it places on allegory.
Idolatry and its Discontents
Amid rhetorical dust-storms over purported Islamist threats to Western values, Sven Lütticken finds antecedents for contemporary struggles over the image in Judaic and Protestant bans on idolatry. Multiple meanings of the veil and varying forms of iconoclasm, under the aegis of the spectacle.
The Feathers of the Eagle
Lifting, swiping, zapping: popular expressions that have been aesthetic tactics since Dada. Sven Lütticken recasts the history of such practices of appropriation—not excluding those of Warhol or Debord, sometimes misplaced—as so many exercises in mythology. Anticipated by Flaubert, theorized by Barthes, staged by Broodthaers, is time running out for such creative misuses of past or present, as ‘intellectual property rights’ tighten?
Managing the Avant-Garde
In the age of franchise museums and mega-shows, what role for the artist? Borrowings from the revolutionary avant-garde in the practices of present-day creator-impresarios, seamlessly fusing the realms of commerce and culture—and the refusenik stance of Kabakov’s conceptual counter-projects.
After the Gods
Mythology as the ‘condition and subject of all art’ in the varying conceptions of the early German Romantics and neoclassicism: from Schelling and Schlegel to Winckelmann and Goethe, meditations on Laocoon and anticipations of the Gesamtkunstwerk—issuing into the uncanny mythopoeias of modernity in Melville’s Confidence Man and the White Whale.
Formal rigour, social interrogation, poetic intensity: Jean-Luc Godard stands in the premier rank of contemporary artists. In this striking reconceptualization of his work, the movies take their place among sound compositions, TV, texts, videotape and graphic art, as elements of an ongoing multimedia installation.
Threads from the history of Mexican surrealism: the Blue House in Coyoacán and Breton’s protegée as avant-garde antidotes or postmodern devotional objects. The components of the Kahlo cult and its basis in the artist’s own practice of self-fabulation and masquerade, concealment and display.
Secrecy and Publicity
Can the legacies of the classical avant-gardes be renewed as effective strategies in postmodern conditions, or are they condemned to mere pastiche? After Bataille, Warhol and Smithson, the possibilities of counter-media, and uncertainties of counter-publics.
The Art of Theft
From Dürer to Barbie Doll, icons and images have been illicitly copied, quoted, parodied and purloined. As corporations wage war on such misappropriations in the name of copyright today, how far do the arts of détournement and culture jamming offer radical applications of a classical tradition?
Between the Cultures of Capital
T. J. Clark’s landmark study, Farewell to an Idea, takes the art of modernism to be a convulsive attempt to imagine modernity in forms other than the triumph of capitalism. Malcolm Bull suggests it might be better conceived as a fold in the overlap between two contrasting cultures of capitalism, classical and commodity, of which only one is left today.
From Media to Mythology
From Lessing to Greenberg, criticism of the arts was founded on the distinctions made between them. Does technology today irreversibly ruin these? Sven Lütticken asks what a radical practice that accepted convergence between artistic media would look like.
MoMA 2000: The Capitulation
Time was when New York’s Museum of Modern Art plumed itself as an uncompromising guardian of Modernism. The arrival of its ‘themed’ re-hang—mimicked now at London’s Tate Modern—reduces a hundred years of defiguration to a stroll through an aesthetic department store.
Origins of the Present Crisis
Postmodernism is typically seen as a recent sequel to modernism. T. J. Clark queries Perry Anderson’s account of the break between them, and concludes that there is more continuity of conditions than meets the eye. It may be too soon to judge whether modernism has passed.
Magritte and the Bowler Hat
Why did Magritte populate his surrealist images with bowler hats? Peter Wollen takes us from the oneirics of the Belgian painter to the antics of Tintin and Chaplin, the purism of Le Corbusier, memories of Beckett, fantasies of Bond and Kundera. Emblem of working men and city toffs, cabaret girls and Orange parades—what icons have matched it for multiple meanings?
Chris Ofili and the Limits of Hybridity
“Aside from a typically cheeky demand to be presented with the cheque up-front, there was little surprise in Chris Ofili’s 1998 Turner Prize victory. His solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London, had been a huge success, pulling in large crowds and excellent reviews. His lush, psychedelic, highly . . .” read more
From the Naked to the Nude
“The representation of the unadorned human body by artists—the transformation of the naked into the nude—was reckoned among the highest goals of European art from the Renaissance until well into the present century. But preconceptions of what such images should look like have changed radically during that period. . . .” read more
Radical Art at documenta X
“documenta X was an extraordinary event. From June to September last year, the exhibition mounted a fearless challenge to today’s general premise and practice of art, and indeed to the entire art and culture industry. The tenth documenta awaits—and deserves—a sea-change in the predominantly negative responses it . . .” read more
Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection
“Children, it seems, find it hard to understand the ontological status of stuffed animals: ‘is it alive or is it dead?’ Mortality is of course one of art’s traditional Big Subjects, coolly invoked and illustrated in Damien Hirst’s famous work The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of . . .” read more
In and Out of Love with Damien Hirst
“On weekends at the Tate Gallery, long queues of pretty young, pretty cool people would form before two tall glass cases arranged to make a narrow corridor. Each case contained one half of a cow which had been split lengthways from nose to tail, and the queue was . . .” read more
Success and Failure of Peter Fuller
“The British have not been well served by their most popular critics of modern art. Their specious prose and philosophical posturing often masked confused, contradictory thought, producing a writing that was both patronizing and mystifying. They tended to be isolated by an atmosphere of philistine hostility which rarely . . .” read more
Painting Desert Storm
“John Keane’s exhibition of paintings, Gulf, depicting the Desert Storm campaign, aroused controversy because, faced by the righteous exercise of Western military might, it failed to demonstrate the standard mixture of endorsement and high-minded awe, rather making unaccountable suggestions about the operation of financial and media interests in . . .” read more
Autographs and Images: Snapshots of Berlin and Prague
“The changing visual environment of formerly Communist countries, in flux under the pressures of capitalist enterprise and economic chaos, is so provisional, its elements apparently so unwarranted, that it raises many questions in the mind of any visitor from the West. This essay is about some of those . . .” read more
A Phantasmagoria of the Female Body: The Work of Cindy Sherman
“When I was in school I was getting disgusted with the attitude of art being so religious or sacred, so I wanted to make something which people could relate to without having read a book about it first. So that anybody off the street could appreciate it, even . . .” read more
Scenes from the Future: Komar & Melamid
“‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying, and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’ Gramsci’s famous dictum, written in his prison notebook in 1930, seems to describe two apparently disparate situations—the Soviet Union, plunged . . .” read more
Class and Impressionism
“One of T.J. Clark’s objectives in The Painting of Modern Life is to make us ‘unlearn our present ease with Impressionism’, and in this he succeeds magnificently. By raising the issue of the representation of class (usually dismissed as irrelevant in art history), he opens up the whole . . .” read more
Art and Biology
“I expect that some who saw the poster for this series of lectures on ‘Art and Science’, organized to celebrate 150 years of the British Association, wondered what contribution to this topic might be made by someone associated with the Marxist tradition of writing about art, a tradition . . .” read more
“Marxist aesthetics has long since rejected the reductionism of those who sought to ‘explain’ art simply by reference to its supposed determination in the interests or ideology of particular social classes. The shift away from economism, from the unsatisfactory and intolerant division between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’, has engendered . . .” read more
The Fine Arts after Modernism
“The London art community is very like a gymnasium. Every time you enter into discourse with your colleagues you first have to take a look around and see what posture everyone is adopting today. The collapse of the central, modernist consensus has led to exceptional enthusiasm among those . . .” read more
Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia
“Intellectual currents can generate a sufficient head of water for the critic to instal his power station on them. The necessary gradient, in the case of Surrealism, is produced by the difference in intellectual level between France and Germany. What sprang up in 1919 in France in a . . .” read more
Image of the People
“Each of Timothy Clark’s two books merits a separate study. Both are important works, especially fascinating for a French reader. But I shall confine myself here to Image of the People, since its field is narrower than that of The Absolute Bourgeois, and for that very reason it . . .” read more
Oil Painting and Its Class
“The original authority of oil paintings has been destroyed, in the main by modern means of reproduction. Yet the bourgeoisie has, so far successfully, striven to mystify and rarify the values of oil paintings; not least by using new techniques of reproduction themselves. But these same technical transformations . . .” read more
Art as Form of Reality
“The thesis of the end of art has become a familiar slogan: radicals take it as a truism; they reject or ‘suspend’ art as part of bourgeois culture, just as they reject or suspend its literature or philosophy. This verdict extends easily to all theory, all intelligence (no . . .” read more
Art after October
“After the Bolshevik Revolution the old schools and academies of art were dissolved and their property requisitioned. Soon afterwards, on the initiative of the Department of Fine Arts set up by the People’s Commissariat of Education, under Anatoly Lunacharsky, they were reopened with an entirely new constitution. . . .” read more
The Moment of Cubism
“I find it hard to believe that the most extreme Cubist works were painted over 50 years ago. It is true that I would not expect them to have been painted today. They are both too optimistic and too revolutionary for that. Perhaps in a way I am . . .” read more
Marxism and Art
“Hard on the heels of Lukács’s two books, The Historical Novel (1962) and The Meaning of Contemporary Realism (1963), comes Ernst Fischer’s The Necessity of Art: a Marxist Approach. Divided between two publishers—Merlin Press and Penguin Books—the succession is yet a meaningful one, for Fischer, an Austrian Marxist, . . .” read more
Introduction to 'Motifs'
“Throughout the world, art and art criticism are perplexingly fluid. It is at this moment that socialist artists and art critics can intervene decisively, staking out the arena for debate, indicating and achieving the next steps forward. In this section of New Left Review we shall publish a . . .” read more
“the paintings of the blue period brought Picasso an early reputation in Paris, and perhaps as a consequence there has been a tendency both to minimise those prior to 1901 as “early works”, forming a prelude to his real development, and to lump together all those of . . .” read more