in Features | 13 OCT 05
Featured in
Issue 94

How has art changed? Part three

Some questions seem so obvious they are almost never asked. With the proliferation of museums, biennales and fairs, and the sheer amount of work now being made, shown, and sold, the art world has obviously changed substantially over the last 40 or so years. But what have been the most important shifts in art and the structures that surround it? frieze has asked 33 artists, collectors, critics, curators, educators and gallerists to respond

in Features | 13 OCT 05

Jack Hanley

Has owned the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco since 1990. In late 2004 he opened a gallery in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

Globalization has certainly affected various aspects of the world in the last 40 years, the art world included. Consolidation of art presenters such as the Guggenheim’s worldwide expansion and also new entrant AEG (the rock concert promoter) moving into art shows like ‘King Tut’ at LACMA echoes what happened in the 1980s in the rock promotion field. Biennials/art fairs and cheap international air tickets coupled with Internet blogs and websites now help to create ‘branding’ for artists at ever earlier ages. The interest in diversity/multiculturalism that initially sprang from political movements now often looks a lot like other areas of Pop art assimilation of the ‘other’. The same internet that brings mind-boggling problems like instruction manuals for terrorists and meth-lab cookers also makes searching for that elusive drawing, print or photo merely a question of price and a simple mouse click. Does this e-Bay/Google phenomena make completing a collection less interesting or is this a great levelling of options previously available only to wealthy world travellers? If the search for an artwork is really an internal search for growth, then what does it mean if it happens at warp speed?
There has also been an MBA-ification of museums and art schools, which have shifted more control for programming, curriculum and personnel into the hands of trustee-like business people and away from historians, academics and artists. The business models applied to these areas then favour ‘business plan’-type directors and grad students and artists, which might explain AEG’s interest in moving into art museum programming. The X-Box/iPod sense of hardware and software now applies quite efficiently to art world structures. ‘Performance’ art can be packaged and monetized as easily as collateralized and loaned collections.
The sense of accelerating time and ‘too much information’ is related not only to personal ageing, but also to planetary ageing. As we develop globally into one community, the loss of frontier and space on this planet will be replaced by a search elsewhere. It is certainly no more difficult now to search online for land in Nicaragua or Estonia than in New Jersey, and civilization-wise we usually do cut and run with a wake of debris behind us, so we might be preparing to move elsewhere. Perhaps the constant recycling of styles, not only Postmodern but also ‘post-new’, is an indication of art and MFA overcrowding. The internet’s effect on visual content may be the most dramatic shift. If the use of ‘chance’ elements in painting, music, dance and other forms brought welcome breaks from the predictable mind and its repetitive patterns, won’t the endless possibilities of computer recombination’s make this as uninteresting as the e-Bay (computer-searched) collection? In the end, making idiosyncratic and kind choices will still be most critical.

Hou Hanru

A Paris-based art critic and curator. He is currently the artistic director of the Second Guangzhou Triennial, China.

The main shifts in contemporary art since the 1960s can be seen in the following contradictions: the Conceptual turn of art language has definitively opened the horizon of art towards the world beyond the visual. However, it has almost immediately turned into a new formalism because of the need for materialization. Contemporary art, in alliance with institutionalization, marketing and media, has gained an unprecedented popularity. However, its ’avant-gardeness‘ and experimentality, in the meantime, have been replaced by art’s new status as commodity and fashion, and therefore it has turned into a kind of gimmick played around with by a well-intentioned new middle class.

Opening up to the non-Western world has been a major shift in the international art world after the Cold War. Along with the boom of events such as biennials all over the world, especially outside the West, contemporary art has gained a totally new position and managed to make itself global. This helps ‘non-Western’ artists become part of the global scene and express their voices. However, an inevitable trend, such as economic globalization, is that similar and sometimes hegemonic norms are being adopted everywhere, and cultural differences are being replaced by a new dynamic of globalization and resistance.

Yuko Hasegawa

Artistic Director, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan.

The most important shift has been from man, money and materialism to collective intelligence, co-existence and consciousness. Broadly speaking, the 20th century gave birth to a multitude of experiments, new conceptual styles, and material forms that have been categorized into the enclosed territory of art by institutional discourse. It cannot be denied that this art was the privilege of the few. However, since the 1990s there have been many attempts to open up this enclosed territory and to diffuse art into the public arena. Daily activities have been appropriated into artistic projects that encouraged the participation of the viewer. Metaphorically speaking it could be said that newness has shifted from the content to the interface. Today, when new conceptual styles and forms have reached the point of saturation and are no longer expected to be fresh, the ideological newness regarding display and transmission should be taken into account. The important question in such an endeavour is: to what extent should a subjective interpretation and self-discovery that are gained through viewer’s participation be encouraged?

Dave Hickey

An art critic who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.

First, I am not a part of this any more. I am still writing but obsolete, a dead man walking. Most of my younger colleagues, the art critics who should be in the ascendant today, died of AIDS in the 1980s. Those that survive are academics or tabloid celebrity geeks. Art dealers who once represented an informed aesthetic now show one of each. Museum directors and curators who once proudly promoted an engaged view of things now show one of each. Magazines that once implemented an informed agenda, now publish one of each – pro and con. With the exception of collectors, everyone in the art world today is either a public servant or journalist – a poll watcher or a bean counter – implementing ‘fairness’. With the defection of critics, curators, museum directors and editors from the realm of informed decision-making, only collectors vote on new art, so they drive the market, which, as a consequence, is radically front-loaded, frivolously quixotic and egregiously sentimental. Other than that, everything is peachy.

Matthew Higgs

Director and Chief Curator of White Columns, New York.

My feeling is that only a nostalgic (or curmudgeon) would argue that things were better (or, even, more interesting) in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. ‘Right now’ – i.e., the present tense – is always the best time for what we do. Certainly there have never been more people interested in and involved with contemporary art, which is a good thing. (‘Art for all’, as Gilbert & George might say.) I know that some people grumble about art fairs and biennials, but these are probably the same kind of people who would grumble about their favourite bands becoming popular. Technology insists that things happen and are absorbed a lot quicker these days, but that’s OK too. (Only romantics would have it another way, and don’t forget: Ars longa vita brevis.) What’s sad? Call me old-fashioned, but art seems to be losing its regional dialects and accents, becoming instead a kind of visual Esperanto, but, hey, you can’t have everything. What’s bad? The art world remains too professional and too bourgeois … some things, I guess, will never change.

Jens Hoffmann

Director of Exhibitions, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.

The past four decades have seen countless changes and shifts in the sphere of the visual arts; to mention them all would clearly occupy far more space than is available here. For this exercise, which could be called ‘a short history of art in a nutshell’, singling out one development that is particularly relevant to the current conditions and realities of the art world is the only adequate response.

What was once a space for experimentation, resistance, critique, subversion and Utopian desire has become a homogenized, affirmative and commercial affair. From being an independent and truly radical practice, which it essentially was until the late 1960s and early 1970s, art has become generally not much more than entertainment, commodity production and spectacle – in other words, an embracement of amusement and excess. This is the most severe change that has occurred in the context of visual art over the last 40 years.

Julius Koller

An artist living in Bratislava. From 1970 until 1990 he was engaged in the permanent art of life, ‘Universal-Cultural Futurologic Operations (U.F.O.)’. His current post-Conceptual artistic programme includes sign communication with historical context.

In 1965 I graduated from the Visual Arts Academy in Bratislava and began my professional career as a painter. However, during my studies in 1963 and 1964 I had already been producing assemblages, Conceptual objects, Conceptual paintings and collages. Inspired by Dadaism, and especially Duchamp, I took note of the historical significance and creative energy bound in the anti-art revolution and the spiritual transition in visual arts started by ready-made intellectualism. In the following years in my artistic work I reflected critically on classic Modernism through actions rooted in the world of arts and inspired by my everyday life circumstances.

From the perspective of my ‘Universal-Futurologic Orientation’ over the past 40 years, I consider the key change and process in art to be the opening of art to intellectual and media freedom, embracing independence from restrictive formal–aesthetic (including avant-garde) doctrines, rule sets, traditions or tenets. Hence current art is an adventurous time–space of positions, processes and games that are democratic and élite, emotional and rational, private and public, interactive and intermediary, electronic and classical. The mass–energy relationship established in physics and the uncertainty and relativity concepts stemming from the same source also apply in the world of arts, which have been subjected to an increasing rate of change as a result of internal (individual-subjective) and external (social-objective) environmental conditions. In current art (i.e., over the last 40 years) ideas about constants, time and space have also been subject to revisions. However, we are still far from a universal system shape, i.e., a universal arts theory. As soon as we have one, we will arrive at yet another end of a never-ending story (of art), landing again in a Postmodern academy ... much in need of a new revolt again …

Nicholas Logsdail

Director of the Lisson Gallery in London, which he founded in 1967. The gallery represents international and British artists including
Douglas Gordon, Anish Kapoor, Francis Alÿs and Lawrence Weiner.

The postwar contemporary art world, as I see it, developed out of the long history of Modernism from the 19th century, arguably beginning with Gustave Courbet. While Europe was still recovering from the war in the mid-to-late 1960s, the American art world, and New York in particular, had the advantage of émigré new blood from Europe and usurped the prewar position of Paris as the centre. A new spirit of internationalism emerged in New York, facilitated by cheap airline travel between Europe and the USA. The era of Conceptual art and its interests was greatly facilitated by this and resulted in a great expansion of interest and, ultimately, collecting.

The historic phase of the New York School as a coherent entity started to fall apart in the early 1980s, when, for the first time, European artists were given shows in New York galleries and museums. Out of this came a new development, which one might call a kind of national internationalism: the Transavanguardia from Italy, German neo-Expressionism and the more rigorous work of the British sculptors out of Britain. This was followed by more and more complexity and divergent enthusiasms and a so-called multicultural awareness.

Since the 1990s there has been a series of consolidations and rejections; it seems to me that if one is looking for any kind of mainstream, one can find that in many ways current work finds its reference point back in Conceptualism. During this last 40 years a vast infrastructure of museums, galleries, collections, foundations and collectors worldwide have created a system based on power and money, the likes of which we have never seen before. Almost every aspect of the infrastructure that existed in the late 1960s has seen an increase of resource and activity that must be without exaggeration a hundred times greater.

Libby Lumpkin

A fellow in the International Institute of Modern Letters in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also serves as Executive Director of the Las Vegas Art Museum.

At the top level of the art world 25 or so artists make it all new. At this level neither the principles of art-making nor the art market has changed. Next rung down, art-making is more professionalized – MFA is more like AiA – and the market has expanded to include a greater number of collectors who know little about art. The ‘democratized’ art museum doesn’t seem to have been such a great idea after all. Below that, everything’s about the same.

Joanna Mytkowska

Co-founder (in 1995) and co-director of the Foksal Gallery Foundation in Warsaw, and curator of the Polish Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale.

Since the practice of contemporary art started shaping itself in the mid-1960s, and since its institutions and strategies became entrenched over the subsequent 40 years, it has not changed its nature in any fundamental way. The most visible change in the last decade has been the art world’s opening up to new geographic and cultural territories. The ethnographic perspective has become very popular, which is visible at large exhibitions or biennials, and is slowly becoming an important part of the curriculum of museums and other institutions. This trend, even if sometimes superficial, may result with time in many transformations of artistic activity, as it has activated or revealed new motivations and reasons for making art in places that until now have had no broader contact with the practice of contemporary art.

A more significant change has occurred in the artistic practice of my generation. Critical art, the driving force of many artistic activities, has given way to non-ideological, more concrete, innovative, sometimes mystical attitudes. Artistic statements have become less discursive, but always subversive. Artists co-operating with institutions change the way they function, only they no longer do so within the framework of so-called institutional criticism, but in a way more difficult to define, more sensual and tangible. I have experienced that myself, working with such artists as Pawel Althamer. His action Bródno 2000 was a premeditated shift in reality, an act of directing reality, whose significance has remained personal, local and not entirely fathomable.