Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Contemporary

You ask, what is contemporary art?  (Thanks, Kristy!)  This seemingly transparent question opens up a complex debate.  Is "the contemporary" merely an historical, temporal designation, referencing the art of today and the recent past?  Or are there other criteria that might help us identify a particular set of features that define art of the contemporary period?  In other words, how might we begin to historicize contemporary art by defining it in relation to the political and social conditions of the present?

Here is a reading assignment to work through over the rest of the semester: "Questionnaire on 'The Contemporary'" from the Fall, 2009 issue of October.  MIT press allows a free download.

1 comment:

  1. This has to be the best thing I have read in a long time. It is amazing. It is also amazingly long at 122 pages, but it is worth reading. For some of the essays, I wanted to scream “Who let you write like this? This is being published! Get a better proofreader!” Even in those difficult to tolerate entries there were moments of brilliance.

    It was given to 70 curators and critics, but I counted only 34 responses to the questions. They do say “very few curators responded” and it makes me wonder what other definitions and concerns are lurking in the darkness. Opening the questionnaire to other regions would be fascinating… the West does not have a monopoly on the problems of defining contemporary art. Some of the responders are from other parts of the world and did discuss global concerns.

    Interesting philosophical, economic and socio-political analysis can be found in these essays. Most popular topics included anxiety, criticism, trajectories, market forces, authority, methodology, worldwide financial crisis, paradigms, and temporal and spatial issues. More than a few responders attacked the questions that were asked while some let the questions frame their answers too much. “Floating-free”, “neoliberal”, “neo-avant-garde”, “postmodernism” and “globalization” are frequently mentioned. I wonder if the awkward phrasing of the questions resulted in fewer responses.

    For me, the best essays were the ones that questioned the motivations behind current art historical practices. Isabelle Graw’s discussion on value and Helen Molesworth’s discussion on the role of the museum are my favorites. An interesting quote is from Richard Meyer’s essay discussing art history Ph.D. students and how contemporary subjects used to be banned as dissertation projects. Now his “students are nearly the same age as the artists about whom they wish to write about. The history they propose to chart neatly coincides with the time of their own lives”.