Contemporary Art – Slave of opposition ?!

I am noting down my thoughts, to release inner pressure, and to reflect on my journey throughout this course (not a statement, rather a verbal image):

From all my reading and research I got the deep impression that with increasing self-critique as part of artist’s identity, the avant-garde in all its difference became just a struggle with defining itself. Greenberg related the restriction of a discpline with focus on painting and sculpture to its own materiality conditions as the foundation to achieve ‘purity’ as an aesthetic expression of art.  From that on, and with some precursors as e.g. Duchamp, the artist was trapped in a dialectec discourse between opposites. Either embracing Greenberg’s and following Fried’s formalist conceptions or to oppose. Either co-opting with high art and institutions or oppose. And since Plato’s conception of division and the idea of sameness in order to distinguish claimants form false claimants, simulacra, the question turned around representation. Either literally of an external world mediated or self-consciously of the opposites of what art should be, or not be.

With Hegels’ dialectic of negation and the master/slave dilemma, and with Kant’s separation of faculties of reason, social and aesthetics, it seemed that art would never be able to find its role through critique and opposition. All avant-garde movements since mid/late 19th century were basically at the edge of marginalization and opposition. Seeking for an identity, and living in a paradox of aesthetics and politics as Rancière described the dilemma of free play in society. How can the artists consider their work as an expression of free play with all other fields in society since Enlightenment and equality? And at the same time challenging the notion of art as a relevant differentiating cultural form? Kant considered the free play of imagination as the area of aesthetics, a disinterested apprehension with universal validity based on pleasure. But does the notion of aesthetics and reason help to understand contemporary art?  Where artwork could be only interpreted as deferred signification of visual and verbal information placed by the authority of an artist?

It seems the entire discourse  goes back to where it begun: The work of art actualized by the artist as a contextual work and social product. Where the artist claims a renewed authority, opposed as ideology of modernism. A role of an author that was rejected by Barthes when he proclaimed the ‘death of the author’. And an authority in cultural life that institutions, museums and gallery had and that was, and still is, focal point of critique.  Andrea Fraser argued in her ‘Artist Statement’ (1992) with her role as an artist, as between co-opting, stepping outside, appropriating and critique of a culture she herself is part of. Fraser and Rancière are coherent in describing the role of the artist at the border of others. Constantly changing territory, or rather the map?, and borders require a constant alert to avoid falling down on one or the other side. Like walking on the edge high up in the mountains.

And perhaps Deleuze is right when he argued for a difference of potentialities and multiplicity of ideas. All based on the same social ground. But what would happen with that edge and the artist on top of it? And what role would an artist play if nothing resides but equality in difference? A question of self identity and others.

It seems that nowadays a departure from subjectivity, i.e. the single Descartian viewpoint in representation, and from singularity, i.e. the artist as the one creator, is occuring. With a denser participatory art in community and relational aesthetics in the sense of Bourriaud. The reception of art is deferred in between.  in between artist and audience, in between artist and institution, in between audience and instititution. What looks like a revival of  the spectacle and happenings, might be just a philisophical expression of a new artist’s identity. Till the next wave..


I found the following image appropriate for my thoughts. Not an expression of dark matter or the end of art and discourse. Not a reduction towards a concept in the sense of Lawrence Weiner. Not a critique of originality and copyright issues. And not an opposite of black and white. So what else?

Meaning is deferred, but is all meaning?

I invite all readers of my blog and this post to freely comment and share their thoughts on that.

And to appropriate Hamlet ‘To Art or not Art to be’


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