in Features | 13 OCT 05
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Issue 94

How has art changed? Part two

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

Harald Falckenberg

Born 1943, a collector of contemporary art who lives and works in Hamburg.

Surely the most significant upheaval of the postwar period took place from the mid-1970s. It was the end of big ideas and social designs. In the days of Joseph Beuys the word was still, ‘every human being is an artist’; then Martin Kippenberger turned it round and said ‘every artist is a human being’ while Punk chanted, ‘we’re pretty vacant, and we don’t care!’ It was the death of Modernism and the beginning of an era which – with no attempt at a meaningful new departure – defined itself as the period thereafter, the Postmodern era. In political terms it was marked by a conservative turn, with Margaret Thatcher coming to power in 1979, followed in 1980 and 1982 by Ronald Reagan and Helmut Kohl. Faith was placed in global markets, with yuppies fighting on the front line. Museums and galleries began to be run as businesses and were increasingly driven into the non-independence of private–public partnerships, framed by an atmospheric event culture with more than 50 biennials and triennials worldwide. ‘Desire’ became a leitmotiv of the 1980s, and it continues to characterize today’s boom in desire-laden art à la Leipzig School. The curators of the international events have established well-oiled networks of connections. The artists help implement the curators’ ideas, loyally following them around the globe. The notion of an artistic oeuvre as a life’s work is almost forgotten. The generation of artists born after 1950 plays by the rules of a fast-paced culture industry that craves novelty. The pop star is their paradigm. After what is usually a brief career they can still get that professorship at the academy. Critical artists cultivate their wounds in post-Structuralist discourses. The artist-as-genius model has expired. Now it’s all about context, social praxis and the right strategy within the ‘operating system of art’. In their new roles as culture analysts and service providers, artists – luckily, not all of them – have adapted to a development, which, as Pat Hearn contemptuously put it, has led them ‘from criticism to complicity’. This doesn’t worry artists like Koons and Prince in the slightest. For us there is comfort in the certainty that a time after the Postmodern era will come.
translated by Nicholas Grindell

Andrea Fraser

A New York-based artist. Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser was published by MIT Press in August 2005.

We’re in the midst of the total corporatization and marketization of the artistic field and the historic loss of autonomy won through more than a century of struggle. The field of art and now only nominally public and non-profit institutions has been transformed into a highly competitive global market. The specifically artistic values and criteria that marked the relative autonomy of the artistic field have been overtaken by quantitative criteria in museums, galleries and art discourse, where programmes are increasingly determined by sales – of art, at the box office and of advertising – and where a popular and rich artist is almost invariably considered a good artist, and vice versa. Art works are increasingly reduced to pure instruments of financial investment, as art-focused hedge funds sell shares of single paintings. The threat of instrumentalization by corporate interests has been met in the art world by a wholesale internalization of corporate values, methods and models, which can be seen everywhere from art schools to museums and galleries to the studios of artists who rely on big-money backers for large-scale – and often out-sourced – production. We are living through an historical tragedy: the extinguishing of the field of art as a site of resistance to the logic, values and power of the market.

Carl Freedman

Director of Counter Gallery, London.

Responding to this survey is initially an exercise in contesting the nagging impulse for wishful thinking. Wasn’t it all so much more negotiable then? A structure that was decipherable and as impressively devoid of function as the Atomium in Brussels. And even the brilliantly surfaced 1980s, drenched in the hallucinatory texts of High Postmodernism – ironically, doesn’t that now seem like a peaceful haven? Changes are many, especially the expansion of art in an ever-international direction, productively co-opting peripheral territories into the centre, even if, inevitably, the craving for newness leaves some of these discoveries waning in the back draught of fashion. What is also clear is the increasing normalization of art, in that it is increasingly both produced and managed by a new type of professional who appears noticeably closer in ambition to others of the professional class than to the freaks and iconoclasts of yesteryear. What has remained a constant – from the supposed dematerialization of the art object onwards – are the persuasive, multifarious strategies of capital. It keeps close to the action, penetrating in all manner of guises, reaching its apotheosized form in the art and commerce spectacles of art fair biennials – probably the most genius example being the wonderful big top day out extravaganza that is Frieze Art Fair.

Isa Genzken

An artist who lives and works in Berlin. In 2006, her artist’s book I Love New York, Crazy City will be published by JRP/Ringier, and her work will be shown in solo exhibitions at Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne and Secession Vienna.

Pop Art, Art Brut, Minimal Art, Concept Art, Arte Povera, Performance Art, Videoart, Photo Art, Landart, Junge Wilde, German Art, Italian Art, US Art, French Art, Britain Art, Artists Films, Gefühlkunst, Architecture Art, Soziale Plastik, Naïve Malerei.

Liam Gillick

An artist who lives in New York and London.

A tension that results from a scepticism about globalization that is constantly confronted by a desire to continue a form of developed internationalism. A repositioning of the critical voice in light of the rise of curating as a semi-autonomous set of critical structures. Shifts in established social hierarchies in light of the challenges of varied politics of identity. The repeated and ongoing exposure of institutional frameworks within a cultural and broader social context. The ongoing reoccupation of cultural and social space as soon as it is abandoned as inconvenient by the dominant culture. The continued specificity of artistic practice. The rise of super-subjectivity in art. The rise of the documentary tendency in art. The impossibility of resolving a singular art discourse or contemporary artistic practice.

Teresa Gleadowe

Director of the MA Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, London.

In the summer of 1966 the Arts Council presented at the Tate Gallery ‘The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp’, the first major retrospective of the artist’s work to be held in Europe. It was selected by Richard Hamilton, who wrote the one-page introduction to a catalogue designed in classic Modernist style by Gordon House. With its Monotype Univers text, monochrome illustrations shown approximately to scale, modest selection of six colour plates and discreet scholarly tone, this understated but informative publication speaks eloquently of a particular set of assumptions about the purpose of art. There is no expectation of box office or of universal appeal.
Forty years on the continuing influence of Duchamp on art theory and practice is still felt, but the world of art is no longer a separate sphere. It is now permeated by the art market, by business and political interests, and by the values of the ‘creative industries’. The museum building boom of the late 1980s continues, linked to agendas of economic regeneration. Biennials have proliferated, and supranational museum brands have been established. The audience for art has exploded in size, with a growing emphasis on diversity and education. Electronic communication has increased the speed at which an exhibition or publication can be realized, and international travel has become an essential component of the activity of the artist or curator. Art has become a globalized field, no longer bounded by the physical presence of the work of art.

Ann Goldstein

Senior Curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

As part of a larger counter-cultural moment in the 1960s, artists challenged the authority of the institutions and structures that defined their work. This laid the groundwork not only for opening up new possibilities for what art could be, but also for who could, and should, enter into its arena. As a museum curator, I am compelled to revisit and represent history, to communicate a greater understanding not only of the past, but also of the present. I recall a meeting ten years ago with some of my colleagues where I described MOCA’s then upcoming survey about the emergence and foundations of American and European Conceptual art, ‘1965–1975: Reconsidering the Object of Art’, which I co-curated with Anne Rorimer. When I finished describing the exhibition and the socio-political context of the work, one of my colleagues asked, ‘Why did these artists feel so compelled to question authority?’ That question was my wake-up call that we can never take anything for granted. Now I would not be so surprised, which is even more haunting. Still, I must not just point fingers at others. I must turn these questions toward myself in my own life and work and ask ‘am I doing what is necessary?’