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Sholette - News from Nowhere- Activist Art and After

Sholette - News from Nowhere- Activist Art and After

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Published by: RandomNumberNU on Apr 05, 2011
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Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
Third Text
45, Winter 1998-99
News from Nowhere:Activist Art and After
A Report from New York CityGregory Sholette
The New York Times
often reported on thisconjunction of high art andfashion industries; seeespecially 'Artful Back-Scratching Hitches CoutureNames to Needy Museums',January 4th, 1997 (pp 13 &17).For a stinging critique ofthis same phenomenon, see'Critical Reflections' byBenjamin Buchloh in theJanuary 1997 issue of
(pp 68, 69 & 102).
What would have been celebrated as a hard won victory by many culturalactivists of the Sixties, Seventies, and early Eighties has today been met with anapathetic shrug. The line between high and low art has been discarded by ageneration of artists who reveal the same indifference toward this once stalwartbarrier that my generation in the Eighties displayed toward the problem of'flatness' in painting. What changes have taken root in the wake of thisinsouciant revolution? What of Mao's thousand flowers of proletarian culture,Benjamin's worker turned producer, the decentralised people's art of the NewLeft? Not one of these ideas endure. Instead we bear witness to a merchan-dising pageant where contemporary art merges with designer labels that maysoon include: Kline/ Flavin, Armani/Beuys, Madonna/Sherman and HugoBoss/Barney.
This rupture between high and low coincides with an ethical and politicalvacuum in which trans-national capital holds a political and technologicalmonopoly to which visual culture will soon be added. With mass movementsfrom labour to feminism long since missing-in-action in the post-political '90s,the very idea of a dissident counter-culture, one that the Left, howeverconfused and at times self-serving still managed to keep afloat into the early'80s,has vanished. The impulse towards a collective and sustained art ofpolitical opposition, one cobbled together out of what Raymond Williamstermed resistant and residual cultural forms, is not only missing but in the non-spectacle of its passing one discovers a trail of good intentions leading to thecurrent landscape of cultural affirmation.It should come as no surprise that the new art world order has forged a jointventure with the fashion and tourism industries, with Hollywood and the new
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Jason Rhoades,
1995Installation at the Whitney Biennial, New York, March 23-June 4,1995
2 Miwon Kwon, 'One PlaceAfter Another: Notes on SiteSpecificity',
80,Spring 1997, p 94.3 Consider Hans Haacke's useof the Guggenheim Museumas a specific-site for his 'real-time' New York City realestate map
et al
In Haacke's work,described in more detailbelow, the intervention wasnot 'indexical' to thearchitectural space of theMuseum but wasnevertheless specificallysituated with regard to theMuseum's audience ofeducated, liberal artspectators; an 'institutionalframe' if there ever was one.Nevertheless within Kwon'srevised history of site-specific art, Haacke'sseminal project falls throughher conceptual grid out ofsight. See Miwon Kwon,ibid, pp 85-110.
information technologies. After weapons manufacturing, the global image ofthe United States is most clearly defined by entertainment products andservices. And yet with 'political art' now more than a few seasons out offashion and the Left unable to offer even a blurred vision of collective politicalresistance, the dissipation of the fine art tradition must be seen as a vacuousachievement, even a counter-productive one. Granted that from a certainperspective Degas neck-ties and Cézanne-covered baseballs are fitting ends tothe pretensions of bourgeois high culture. Still, one cannot so easily dismiss theoften expressed desire to link avant-garde art practices with progressivemovements, an objective that belongs as much to the history of modern art asit does to the Left.Yet even the legacy of activist art, when not dismissed altogether, is beingre-written, its historical contribution reduced to that of a genteel 'institutionalcritique' of the art industry. This process of revision can be seen at work in arecent essay by architectural critic Miwon Kwon in the journal
Kwonhas virtually reconstructed the history of site-specific art so as to avoid thefundamental impact of activist politics on this important post-1960s practice.Kwon tells the story this way: beginning in the early 1970s certain conceptualartists (Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke) expanded upon one notion of site as aliteral but idealised space (that of Donald Judd, Carl Andre) by re-defining siteto include the context of the art institution
Kwon describes a second,more recent wave of expansion that further pushed this concept of site toinclude such non-art discourses as history, sociology, cultural studies, and
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