Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Future of Art: Non-Optical Media 1

Engaging Stares: HAL 9000 (1968); Marina Abramovic (2010)

A while back the New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, complained against what she called "the New Modern." The current historical narrative being pushed by the MoMA, Smith feels, is a " giddy, even desperate, embrace of the new and the next, of large-scale installation and video art, as well as performance art, and generally of art as entertainment and spectacle." Smith finds the focus of the Modern's curators "a symptom of something more than a little scary about where contemporary art is headed, or where the Modern is taking it. (Hint: Conceptual Art is the new Cubism.)"

The Modern was founded by Alfred Barr who in 1936 charted the various nationalist schools of modern art, showing how they all belonged under a single roof a finally a single rubric. Barr, more than anyone else, is responsible for the idea of Modernism as an international movement. AbEx painting was pushed as the "new Cubism." MoMA did not begin to collect New York School painters until after Barr's was dismissed as Director in 1943. During one of the coldest phases of the Cold War AbEx painting was pushed by MoMA as the "new Cubism." AbEx was followed by Minimalism. These movements were both touted by MoMA as specifically American schools. Now Smith reports there is a new end-of-the-line: "what seems to be becoming the Modern’s sacred text: the 'dematerialization of the art object' set in motion by Conceptual Art and its derivatives, Process Art, earthworks and performance." Conceptual Art (and its derivatives) have stronge roots in New York, but it has never been claimed as an American art.
Alfred Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art (1936); Joseph Kosuth, Titled -Art as Idea as Idea (1967)

In an essay for The Queens Museum's Global Conceptualism catalog, Peter Wollen writes:
...it did not simply spread out from a center in Europe or the United States - in other words from traditional capitals of Paris and New York. Conceptualism was a genuinely broad based trend - Japanese or Latin American conceptualism, for example, had their own quite distinct local trajectories with their own unique characteristics... New york terminology (which we owe principally to critics' efforts to understand the work of Joseph Kosuth and Sol Lewitt) eventually superseded that of arte povera, systems art language art information art and so on. The example of North America would cast a long shadow over developments elsewhere, until all were conveniently huddled under the same elastic rubric, conceptualism.
The two main New York players Wollen names, also represents two main strains of Conceptual Art: "Lewitt's approach in his 'Paragraphs on Conceptual Art' is significantly different from Kosuth's in that he is not concerned with the concept of art as such, but with the conceptual basis of making of the work..."
Sol Lewitt, Proposal for Wall Drawing (1967); Marius Watz. Object #3 (2011)

Kosuth then belongs in the line of Cubism, to AbEx, to Minimalism to Conceptual Art that Smith imagines as a sort of purgative Modernism - dematerializing art. For Kosuth: "The actual works of arts are ideas." For Lewitt: "The idea is the machine that makes the art." Lewitt represents an important branch of Conceptual Art being ignored at the moment, but not for long. The most obvious inheritors of Lewitt's scheme are artists who work create instructions the ways he did. In this case the instructions are no longer written to be read by human eyes, but code intended to be acted out by computers; the virtual light of algorithmic media.

Recently I argued that movies are the art of are times. I was defending a bet I made with the painter Michelle Vaughan. Hyperallergic's editor Hrag Vartanian judged that I lost that bet. I accepted defeat, but not that I was wrong. Movies, the combination of moving pictures and sound, are the art our civilization will be remembered for. Figurative bronze marks the high water mark of Greek and Roman cultural achievement. Cathedrals and altarpieces stand in for the highest cultural achievements of Europe during the Middle Ages. History Painting was the art form that dominated Europe in the run up to the Industrial Revolution. Since the early Twentieth Century Moving pictures, accompanied by sound (they always had some sort of score) have been the art that most perfectly captures modern life. Going one step further I argued that blockbuster movies are the art form that most capture the large-scale global corporate enterprises that are unique to our era. But that is not to say I believe movies are the art of the future.
The still-mysterious numbers from Lost; the actual hack from the Matrix Reloaded

During the debate over this idea, one forgotten snark suggested that perhaps Youtube videos of cats are a more appropriate choice for the Art of Our Time. "New Media" is often used to mean art made with computers to be look at on a screen or projected. Five second cat videos are just a minor tributary of "Screen Art", which itself is simply a tributary of the river that is movies. Another commentator on the question of Art of Our Time suggested that perhaps it was Facebook. They were, I think, pulling my chain, but I've thought about that suggestion a great deal. After rolling it around in my mind and wondering what the future of art be, I think that what we should be looking for is Lewitt's idea that "is the machine that makes the art."
Google is closer to the art of tomorrow's civilization - which is not to say "our civilization" because, as Agent Smith points out in the Matrix: "I say 'your civilization' because as soon as we started thinking for you, it really became our civilization, which is, of course, what this is all about." (To Be Continued)
Google Doodle honoring the artist Alexander Calder; Agent Smiths

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