Conceptually confusing the art world
Scanning the last nine years of Western visual art production reveals a cultural stand-off between various art regimes caused by the digital: post-conceptual, pop, and post-internet art, plus art displayed on Instagram and other social media channels. This link-essay curiously slides along those surfaces, following the hypothesis that the internet caused a shift that is not only disturbing the set-up visually, but also conceptually. To show this, the links discussed will visit sites that track down contemporary dislocations of the art audience. Scrolling down into recent history and up into the future (i.e. Berlin Biennale 2016 curated by DISmagazine), the aim of this essay is to get a glimpse of the fascinating mess we find our presence in.
Understanding the digital as a tool assisting artists to become visible and famous by displaying and distributing: a) yourself, b) your art, or c) your view of the world, is just the tip of the iceberg. Even so, being irritated by #museumselfies is a start – something has changed within the contemporary art regime. But what is it? Chapter 1 and 2 look into the moments that would have made Walter Benjamin’s spectacles sparkle: finally, art has been appropriated by the crowd! Or are #museumselfies just simulating participation?
In any case, the effect of this appropriation has by now reached its nucleus: the art world. Since a few years, Instagram pictures opened a window into the world of once elite art circles, and soon the crowd started to follow curiously. What could not be foreseen however, is that the audience also entered the frame conceptually, thereby upsetting the set-up of art consumption. So what is the effect of this conceptual transformation? Trying to pin down this in some more detail, it helps to look at an art form which always had a much more direct relationship with the crowd/the market: pop (chapter 3, 4, and 5 explore).
Unsurprisingly, the historically manifold relationship between the artist and the pop star has recently intensified, thereby revealing a new seamlessness across the borders of their disciplines. This essay provides links to three different examples, starting with Jay Z’s (chapter 3) many entanglements with art: collecting, posing in front of art pieces and performing in galleries inspired by another mega-star, the Abramović.
Not just positioning oneself close to the creative energy of fine art, but by actually doing art, Shia LaBoeuf’s (chapter 4) collaboration with artists Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö goes one step further trespassing between Hollywood stardom and art production. Both pop-chapters reveal an interesting shift: as the public has become a market, art and pop potentially share the same audience. Early on, LuckyPDF’s (chapter 5) projects started to reflect the extent of this shift with projects like School of Global Art. Thus, it is only logical that their (current) website lists companies like Samsung or Migros, publication platforms like YouTube or the BBC and art venues like Tate or the ICA all on the same level; all of them locations in and on which they realized their art projects.
Embrace the market
Visually claiming the already written-off position of the avant-garde, projects like DIS Magazine (chapter 6), or Shanzhai Biennale (chapter 7) embrace digital slick surfaces even more than Lucky PDF’s gender-fluid, multiracial utopia, based on the clear selection criteria of looking good clean. Their visuals respond to stereotypical market requirements often invoked by big consumer brands – this is the moment that gives the art world a hiccup. While art fairs and art markets have always been part of the art world, the secret rule was that the market should not pervade the artwork itself. An artwork might explore brand mechanisms, but should not cater to them. Balancing along the thin line between parody and affirmation when surfing, a word-wide-web-chic stirs up enough irritation and gets one recognized; at least for one remarkable moment.
Of course, to understand the market as a means of production is a timely answer to an era described as high capitalism, although when scrolling down into recent history, one quickly recognizes that it productively iterates older prototypes far beyond Andy Warhol’s concept of branding. Some more fitting examples: in 1974 the collective General Idea founded Art Metropole (chapter 8), the book shop exhibiting and distributing artists’ publications still running in Toronto. Like some young artists today, General Idea embraced slick pop-surfaces and the market, although their basic gesture was one of subversion. A gesture shared by Art Club 2000 (chapter 9), a collective that staged GAP fashion shoots in a constructed reality, thereby also performing a critique of an institutional critique that only had eyes for itself: the art world.
“For every generation there’s a GAP.” Today, the Berlin Biennale 2016 might become the new generation’s first retrospective. But after the show has ended, the role of the art audience and its art perception will remain changed.