Reading notes on "Contemporary Art" Stallabrass
Notes for Future Reference on “Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction ” by Julian Stallabrass, (Oxford University Press, 2004)
• Thesis: Art is not autonomous. Explains how this basic concept plays out in contemporary art scene, market, academia, and politically.
• Much contemporary art is apolitical- why? It is marketed as autonomous because this serves the purposes of the neo-liberal capitalist market system and the state which fund the art which receives the largest audiences.
• This myth about art is propagated by two relationships: with corporations and with states:
o For corporations, art represents an elite realm and social status- a commodity. However, corporations tend to invest only in art that has high a production value but is low on critical content and this has the effect of eroding art’s autonomy. (page 93)
o States want art to be accessible, communicate universals, and tend to social cohesion. Thus they only support art which does these tasks producing a certain kind of art.
• The Biennale System homogenizes difference and functions as a stage where ethnicity is performed for a western audience. Therefore the art world controls what types of Non-Western Contemporary Art should be seen.
• The contemporary art market yields a very low profit ratio per investment. It operates as a pre-industrial market system. (see page 63 for specifics) Stallabrass hints at Internet art and new media arts as having potential to reform this system.
o Art market differs from regular market bcs: 1) participation is optional 2) participation is low 3) more isolated from the influence of other factors (as opposed to legal and political spheres which work closely) 4) inclusion and exclusion function differently. (page 80)
• So the art production is controlled by various forces and is not free even in this post-modern, ahistorical time.
• The subject matter in contemporary art reflects the wider mass culture but engages in a consumerist spectacle which avoids critical thinking about the interrelationship between production and consumption.
• Homogenization becomes a problem; branding is the solution. Art mirrors advertising by creating brands for artists, museums, and also corporations brand themselves with art (e.g. Deutschbank Berlin Guggenheim) (pgae 97)
• Autonomy is tied into a tradition of thinking about the ‘mystique’ of art- art as unknowable (page 102)
o Academic art criticism is tied to deconstruction and psychoanalytic theories because it is easily transferred to any subject and creates endless product to “fill publication quotas” (pg. 110)
o Pop critics have attempted to revive ideas of beauty, freedom, and unproblematic aesthetic pleasure.
o Others- Virilio identifies the uneasy relationship with this autonomy “art that eventually engages in murder for aesthetic purposes” (119) and Relational Aesthetics: art as pedagogical, progressive social good/ interaction as another form of media.
• Conclusion and other developments:
o Internet art fights against this because it is reproducible, non material, accessible, and fosters dialogue.
o Art that is destroyed or attacked is engaged in a critical process…
o Documenta X and XI brought up some of the above issues. (126)
o Walter Benjamin’s concept of radical art was more than the representation of politics in subject matter it required a change in the way art is made, distributed, and viewed. (129) Internet art has the potential to do this and works against the idea of the “autonomy of art which takes up creativity, enlightenment, criticality, self criticism to mask business, state triage and war” (134)