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08 March 2015

This Exhibition Is Closed To The Public

On the circulation and consumption of certain goods at a particular moment in time (i.e., ours):

"To brutally summarize a lot of scholarly texts: contemporary art is made possible by neoliberal capital plus the internet, biennials, art fairs, parallel pop-up histories, growing income inequality. Let’s add asymmetric warfare — as one of the reasons for the vast redistribution of wealth — real estate speculation, tax evasion, money laundering, and deregulated financial markets to this list. [...]

"It is defined by a proliferation of locations, and a lack of accountability. It works by way of major real estate operations transforming cities worldwide as they reorganize urban space. It is even a space of civil wars that trigger art market booms a decade or so later through the redistribution of wealth by warfare. It takes place on servers and by means of fiber optic infrastructure, and whenever public debt miraculously transforms into private wealth. ...Or when this or that regime decides it needs the PR equivalent of a nip and tuck procedure. [...]

"Seen like this, duty-free art is essentially what traditional autonomous art might have been, had it not been elitist and oblivious to its own conditions of production. But duty-free art is more than a reissue of the old idea of autonomous art. It also transforms the meaning of the battered term 'artistic autonomy.' Autonomous art under current temporal and spatial circumstances needs to take these very spatial and temporal conditions into consideration. Art’s conditions of possibility are no longer just the elitist 'ivory tower,' but also the dictator’s contemporary art foundation, the oligarch’s or weapons manufacturer’s tax-evasion scheme, the hedge fund’s trophy, the art student’s debt bondage, leaked troves of data, aggregate spam, and the product of huge amounts of unpaid 'voluntary' labor — all of which results in art’s accumulation in freeport storage spaces and its physical destruction in zones of war or accelerated privatization. Autonomous art within this context could try to understand political autonomy as an experiment in building alternatives to a nation-state model that continues to proclaim national culture while simultaneously practicing 'constructive instability' by including gated communities for high-net-worth individuals, much like microversions of failed states."

The latest edition of the e-flux journal is largely devoted to the topic of the Anthropocene. Of the few exemptions to this them is the essay "Duty-Free Art" by artist Hito Steyerl, adapted from a lecture/presentation she gave last year, devoted to — among other things — the recent boom in "secret museums" in the form of squirreled-away freeport art troves around the globe.

07 March 2015

06 March 2015

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Pt. 38

So, this past Tuesday eve, MoMA opened its doors to offer the art press an advance preview of its new exhibition devoted to the career of Björk. And in the days since, negative reviews have been piling up. Far from being a backlash against the subject of the show, all disapproval and animus has been leveled at at the Museum and -- more specifically -- at curator Klaus Biesenbach.

Ben Davis at ArtNet News declares it a "fiasco" and causticly likens it to “a fashion show and a theme-park ride,” “a forced march through a props closet,” resulting in “[a] special purgatory between for half-baked celeb worship and muddled exhibition design.” This he attribtes to the notion that:

“...The regnant post-studio, post-pop, performance-obsessed sensibility has created an art climate where it is not only acceptable but inevitable to honor celebrity itself as a kind of talent.”

At ARTnews, contributor Michael H. Miller likewise deems it a curatorial fail, feels embarrassed on Björk’s behalf. Miller can forgive much about the show (even the Volkswagen product-placement tech tie-in), but ultimately condemns the exhibition as a case of misguided institutional “starfucking.”

But the most withering assessment so far comes from Roberta Smith at the NY Times. A few highights from the opening paragraphs:

“Given the number of Björk fans it will probably attract, the show’s future as a logistical nightmare seems clear. ...But the show reeks of ambivalence, as if MoMA, despite its frantic drive to cover the entire waterfront of cutting-edge art and visual culture, couldn’t quite commit. The museum has certainly given more space to less. Marina Abramovic, whose cheesy retrospective, ‘The Artist Is Present,’ took over half of the Modern’s sixth-floor galleries in 2010 (another Biesenbach project), is not as genuine, innovative or visually inclined an artist as Björk.

“... [The] exhibition stands as a glaring symbol of the museum’s urge to be all things to all people, its disdain for its core audience, its frequent curatorial slackness and its indifference to the handling of crowds and the needs of its visitors. To force this show, even in its current underdone state, into the atrium’s juggernaut of art, people and poor design is little short of hostile.”

Of which one takeaway might be that Smith holds Björk in higher regard than Marina Abramovic. Another being what serves as a unifying complaint about the exhibition: That it's a poorly-executed result of a museum trend of the past two decades -- one in which turnstile-conscious panderings to pop-culture appeal degenerate into a cynically complacent, slipshod production.*  Whlie several critics have compared the thing to an evening at the Hard Rock Cafe, a trio of staffers at Hyperallergic conclude:

"Maybe, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, that’s why we were all so intensely disappointed by the exhibition: we were expecting an exhibition. Had we shown up to preview 'The Tunnel of Björk' — and had said tunnel flowed a little more smoothly — we would have liked it?"

"But if we wanted 'The Tunnel of Björk,' wouldn’t we have gone to alterna–Walt Disney World?"

"That’s exactly where we went."

As far as how all this might wash at “street level,” perhaps the best feedback comes from the comments section of a post at Stereogum:

“Is there any reason for a bunch of Bjork’s photos, songs, and videos to be shown in an art museum? Similarly, was there any reason for Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic to participate in the Dance That Caused 1000 Cringes? Is there any reason why we need to listen to Kanye West ramble on about his nonexistent fashion career?

I’m not saying musicians can’t do other stuff, but nowadays it seems like everyone in the public sphere needs to diversify their portfolio even if they have nothing of value to contribute outside their primary discipline.”

Relatedly, Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic writes about how Kanye has at least some idea about how the differences of how mass-produced culture and high-art culture works; whereas RZA and some of his Wu colleagues (in reference to this recent possible “conceptual” non-enterprise) don’t.

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* Or, as Jerry Saltz wrote: "I greeted its June announcement with dismay, writing,...'MoMA [is] destroying its credibility ... in its self-suicidal slide into a box-office-driven carnival ... Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass vitrine, Queen Marina staring at smitten viewers in the atrium, the trashy Tim Burton show, last season's gee-whiz Rain Room, and of course the wrecking ball Diller Scofidio + Renfro is about to swing.' What made me know back then that the Björk show would likely be another embarrassing pop-programming nadir in a string of embarrassing pop-programming nadirs was the way MoMA — more than any major museum in the world — has gravitated to spectacle almost for its own sake." Mind you, this was penned the critic who fawned over being invited take part in that Jay-Z video; but he Saltz returns to scold modus in towards the end of the piece as he veers into a museum/cultural politics screed.

19 February 2015

From the Repository

Yes, the "Decades blogs" to which I was a contributor went into stasis a good while back. But there has been the scattered infrequent post from a few contributors over the past couple of years, albeit mostly very short and offhanded. But contributor William popped up in recent days at the' 90s blog to offer a longer piece -- a defense of Adam Curtis’s latest doco, Bitter Lake.

I’ve yet to watch Bitter Lake. In fact, I haven’t been (as you might’ve noticed) on the internets quite as much recently, and only found out about the film a few days ago, immediately queued it, and plan to get around to it by week’s end. But nevermind, William’s piece doesn’t have much to do with Bitter Lake specifically, or with its content; but rather a response to critics’ gripes about Curtis’s methods as a filmmaker -- about Curtis’s heavy-to-exclusive reliance on readymade archival film footage, his vault-raiding recontextualizations of presentations of things past, etc..

William offers some interesting comments in the early paragraphs, broader observations that fall well outside the sphere of my own critical misgivings about Curtis. One example:
“The internet was hailed as great breakthrough in multimedia, which it is of course. But it has also produced a revenge of the written word, and of those who believe writing is the senior service of media. Platforms like tumblr or pinterest have ended up devaluing images by reducing them to a churn; twitter actively defaces them, using pictures and video as fodder for jokes, constant fact-checking or abuse. Live-tweeting programs seems like a way of refusing to surrender to the pull of video and sound.” 
Of course, with Curtis we’re talking about footage culled from news and entertainment media -- that domain where glamour and atrocity, the sacred and the profane, the significant and the trivial meet on the same plane. Where truth and falsehood often cancel each other out, simply by dent of their coexistence within the same realm. Where signal to noise are deeply intertwined in a way that is deeply symbiotic, and sometimes even a little bit synergistic, as well. At his best, Adam Curtis is all too aware of these contradictions, and very often plays with them, employing them extensively in productions like It Felt Like A Kiss.*

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

With that latter idea mind, the latter stretch of William’s piece had me thinking of Michel Foucault’s comments on the archive in The Archeology of Knowledge. Specifically about the archive and its relation to what Foucault labels an “historical a priori":

“...All these various figures and individuals do not communicate solely by the logical succession of propositions that they advance, nor by the recurrence oft hemes, nor by the obstinacy of a meaning transmitted, forgotten, and rediscovered; they communicate by the form of positivity of their discourse, or more exactly, this form of positivity (and the conditions of operation of the enunciative function) defines a field in which formal identities, thematic continuities, translations of concepts, and polemical interchanges may be deployed. Thus positivity plays the role of what might be called a historical a priori.”

[...] This a priori does not elude historicity : it does not constitute, above events, and in an unmoving heaven, an atemporal structure; it is defined as the group of rules that characterize a discursive practice: but these rules are not imposed from the outside on the elements that they relate together; they are caught up in the very things that they connect; and if they are not modified with the least of them, they modify them, and are transformed with them into certain decisive thresholds. The priori of positivities is not only the system of a temporal dispersion; it is itself a transformable group.”

[...] “It cannot take account (by some kind of psychological or cultural genesis) of the formal priori but it enables us to understand how the formal prioris may have in history points of contact, places of insertion, irruption, or emergence, domains or occasions of operation, and to understand how this history may be not an absolutely extrinsic contingence, not a necessity of form deploying its own dialectic, but a specific regularity.”

In this context -- that being the present cultural context -- we could perhaps consider the film archive as the bedrock of a mediated empiricism.

17 February 2015

Yes, I've Been Away

But reason enough to finally poke my head up is to pass long that that Mount Maxwell Radio has posted a new podcast mix. Music and miscellaneous audio, amounting to fifty-two minutes of hauntological hypnagogia, as transmitted from the scenic shores of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

03 February 2015

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