This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A park in Istanbul during the autumn months of 2001: out from the manicured grass protrudes the corner section of a new, white-walled building. Or is it sinking (ﬁg. 1)? High modernist styling like that can only mean one thing: art gallery. But for what kind of art, and why is it here? Walk around it and the words Temporary Art appear above the blocked, nearly inaccessible door. Of course: a gallery or museum of contemporary art. Yet its duck-rabbit directionality is a puzzle. Are we meant to construe it as the victim of some unfelt earthquake, historical tragedy, or human neglect? Or perhaps is it emerging from underground, an architectural chrysalis taking, triumphantly, its rightful shape? The answer is left deliberately ambiguous. The creators of this piece of public art, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, made it for the Seventh Istanbul Biennale; the park is a part of the exhibition grounds. So it is, ﬁrst of all, what the words on it lightheartedly say it is: a temporary work of art. In other projects by these artists, architectural forms and functions are altered in subtle and amusing ways. In one case, they installed a diving board so that it pointed out the window of an upper story in a modernist high rise. For a work entitled SPECTACULAR 2003 the Kunst Palast in Du ¨ sseldorf underwent the transformation of having its entire collection dismantled, packed into trucks that were driven once around the building, then reinstalled exactly as before. In the same year Elmgreen and Dragset installed a white truck with a caravan as if it had shot through from the other side of the planet and erupted, jackknifed, at the main crossing of the Galleria,
I wish to thank W. J. T. Mitchell, Okwui Enwezor, and Nancy Condee for their acute comments and Miguel Rojas for assistance with the illustrations.
Critical Inquiry 32 (Summer 2006) ᭧ 2006 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/06/3204-0011$10.00. All rights reserved.
Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity
f i g u r e 1. Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Powerless Structures—Traces of a Never Existing History, Figure 222. Mixed media, 2001 (at Istanbul Biennale). Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen.
Milan, entitling this work Short Cut. In Istanbul, however, the artists offered an instalment from their Powerless Structures series; the subsiding/ projecting museum is subtitled Traces of a Never Existing History, Figure 222, as if it were an illustration from a future archaeology of the present. The artists are wittily proposing that contemporary art is concerned with posing questions, usually about itself, perhaps without much hope of eﬀect, and destined to end in ambiguity. Contemporary art might, somehow, be losing touch with time. Yet this work, like many of their others, is potent: smartly styled, conceptually compact, formally pointed, easy to get, hard to forget. Such a contradiction between surety of form and uncertainty as to content is a hallmark of art in the ﬁrst decade of the twentyTe r r y S m i t h is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory in the Henry Clay Frick Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently at work on The Architecture of Aftermath, What Is Contemporary Art? and, with Nancy Condee and Okwui Enwezor, Antinomies of Art and Culture.
and grand narratives. imposed historicisms. 1997). Apologists stress the pivotal connectedness of their favored approach to at least one signiﬁcant aspect of contemporary experience. 1–2 (2002): 3–15. they embody tendencies towards both closure and openness.1 Nevertheless. Contemporary art is most—why not all?—of the art that is being made now. as distinct from modern. The multitudes may be on the cusp of having their day. Ambitious. remix cultures. This is especially evident in the major world art distribution centers. postproduction art. totally contemporaneous. Sweden.J. The question of contemporary art has. art as a posthistorical pluralism. but usually deny any claims to universality. it is simply. 2001) and “What Is Contemporary Art? Contemporaneity and Art to Come. relational aesthetics. and then. N.W. neomodernism. Most accounts highlight the currency of one or another aspect of current practice: new media. 3 June–30 July 1989). and why does it pervade art these days? What Is Contemporary Art Now? For more than two decades no one has articulated a successful generalization about contemporary art. . Arthur Danto sought to deﬁne contemporary. But this pluralist happymix is illusory. deeply embedded in both. been insistently answered more narrowly by the acts of artists and the organizations that sustain them—so much so that these responses are. The present essay develops from my What Is Contemporary Art? Contemporary Art. The list keeps extending.” Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 71. the answer has seemed obvious to the point of banality. The subtlest presentation of this “de-deﬁnitional” perspective during its brief reign was Vad a ¨ r samtida konst? / What Is Contemporary Art? ed.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 683 ﬁrst century. recently. however. in visual art discourse. national identiﬁcations. N. delight in the simple-seeming pleasures of an open ﬁeld. perhaps. Malmo ¨ .. self-defeating. sighing with relief that the bad old days of exclusionary dominance are over. most concisely in the introduction to his After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton. in fact. new internationalism. digital imagery. disidentiﬁcation.S. two big answers have come to ﬁgure forth amidst the multitude of smaller ones. and Art to Come (Woolloomooloo. In a series of publications beginning in 1984.. Peter Edstro ¨ m. it seems to me that. by now. It prompts the question. Contemporaneity. according to Elmgreen and Dragset. It cannot be subject to generalization and has overwhelmed art history. First there have been fears of essentialism.) The responses do not have singular shape. (Buried in each other. More prosaically. and Anna Palmqvist (Rooseum. Look around you. From broader world perspectives. nos. followed by the sheer relief of having shaken oﬀ exclusivist theories. their prominence is misleading and. Just what is so contemporary about this kind of apparent contradiction. rather. Helene Mohlin. immersive cinema. big-picture interpretations aim—as they always have—to be acute descriptions of how particular (artistic) practices relate to general (so1.
its commitment to artwork as a demonstration of active process rather than the realization or termination of a preconception. the central regions of which are occupied by a mainstream that is. in all of their mismatched contention.684 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity cial) conditions. Krauss (exhibition catalog. dia:Beacon opened in a converted factory on the Hudson River. Germany (Terminal ). their evident weight. Serra’s has come to represent what late modern sculpture means within the frameworks of oﬃcial contemporary art. Huge sheets of unﬁnished Cor-Ten steel are stacked up as the only support of each other. Los Angeles. County Museum of Art. Rosalind E. Museum of Modern Art. in quite speciﬁc ways. paradoxically. the railroad shed and loading dock were ﬁlled by Serra’s three gigantic Torqued Ellipses and the single steel slab constituting his Torqued Spiral (ﬁg. ed. in pieces as various as videos showing his hand clutching at falling lead and his Verb List (1967–68). and Richard Serra Sculpture 1985–1998. He soon developed a powerful strategy for building this kind of dynamism into works that seem. This energy ﬂows from their size. Russell Ferguson. New York. New York. at ﬁrst. I will then show them to be polarities of a dichotomous exchange. or at Broadgate.–13 May 1986). Hal Foster and Gordon Hughes (Cambridge. but like happenings and environments. capturing. in 1981. mostly. ed. Bilbao. in my own terms. Contemporary as the New Modern Richard Serra was a leading proponent of informal art. 27 Feb. as reductive and self-contained as most minimal sculpture but that draw the spectator into a much more engaged relationship. and Clara Weyergraf-Serra (exhibition catalog. ed. dispersive: the spilling diversity of contemporary practice. New York. around.2 More than any other artist’s work. I will oﬀer characterizations of two great forces. for this is a polemic as much as it is a description. Unlike the virtual spatialities of abstract sculpture in the constructivist mode. provoked a controversy ﬁerce enough to lead to its removal. At the Guggenheim Museum. Frank Gehry shaped the famous “ﬁsh” gallery around Serra’s Snake. in busy public spaces such as the town center of Bochum. . When. installed in the Federal Plaza. I present them. outside the entrance to the London Stock Exchange (Fulcrum [1986–87]). Richard Serra. 1999). from the eccentricity of their angles and the precariousness of their positioning—all qualities that are exact in relation to each observer’s mobile eyes and body. in 2003. 2). or through them. Mass. In their clarity of form as read by 2. over two inches thick and twelve feet high. Tilted Arc.. 20 Sept. 2000). 1998–3 Jan. a 120-foot-long partial cylinder of raw Cor-Ten steel. See Richard Serra Sculpture. Serra’s sculptures require one to walk close to. Anthony McCall. and not least in its shift back through art historical time.
Manet are all in one line.” The New Yorker. in his famous 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood.” saw as deﬁnitive of a convinced response to modernist art and counterposed to the “theatricality” of minimalism’s address to the spectator (Michael Fried. . 167).Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 685 the moving body. yet quintessentially modernist. 2000. In such a context. . New York. Double-Torqued Ellipse. the Dia:Beacon displays shift the trenchant spatiality of minimalism at its best towards a peculiarly late modern version of pure contemporaneousness. 46. it is always new. older conceptions of museum display— art’s history. If art is alive. however. The non-stop presence of art! Vela ´ zquez. 1998]. “Art and Objecthood. p. 19 May 2003. version of this kind of aesthetic valuing may be found in the “instantaneousness” that Michael Fried. Hudson River. schools. Legal Crises. Cor-Ten steel. p. An earlier. Richard Serra.”3 f i g u r e 2. 1997. 3. In the words of Dia founder Heiner Friedrich: “Art has no history—there is only a continuous present. and movements—are banished in the wow! of the aesthetic encounter in its distilled form. Installation view at Dia:Beacon. these works have a command of space that is exceptional in its resolute clarity. Quoted in Calvin Tomkins. “The Mission: How the Dia Art Foundation Survived Feuds. and Its Own Ambitions. . Goya. In elevating this instantaneity towards awestruck transcendence. . and in their muscular dialogue with their surroundings.” Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews [Chicago. Dia Art Foundation. which extends to Matisse and Warhol.
drawings. 2002). Cremaster 4 (1994) stages a motorcycle race between two teams travelling in opposite directions around the perimeter of the 4. Set on the Isle of Man. Surmounting the ﬁve levels of initiation into the Masonic rites drives this episode. It was. self-enclosed allegory. New York. the famous rotunda spiralled up and away from sight. for the time. and installations that relate directly to the ﬁlms—a mobility of medium typical of all forms of contemporary art. sculptures. an extraordinary work of art. the lozenge shape seemed familiar. Typical. symbolizing pure potential. as well as the interlude (subtitled The Order) in which Barney overcomes complex obstacles at each level of the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda. video monitors ﬂashed out images of fantastical yet clearly fashionable characters involved in high-speed action or ritually sedate posing. ﬁve-screen Jumbotron. is the esoteric portentousness of its central idea: the cremaster is the muscle that governs the chromosome switch from female to male and then controls testicular contraction. Its $8 million production costs were. Museum Ludwig. 6 June–7 Sept. Pink patches. whiter than usual. and the lives of drone bees. particularly on the giant. 3).686 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity During the 2003 exhibit of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle at the Guggenheim Museum. Idaho. music video. crescendos surged out of ambient Muzak. Cologne. the stories of murderer Garry Gilmore and of escapologist Harry Houdini. but what was that brand? Cobalt blue swam up from beneath one’s feet. into a chaste light. bright banners and competing noises composed a swirling panorama.4 The ﬁlms narrate an elaborate. A corporate logo hovered above the skylight. . too. and high-tech and crossover fashion that for an entire generation is deﬁnitive of contemporary experience. Nancy Spector (exhibition catalog. Cremaster 1 (1995) tracks a troupe of dancers who take the shapes of still-androgynous gonads. and a daring mix of far-out art. Ambiguous kernel. The Cremaster cycle takes the form of ﬁve feature-length 35mm ﬁlms and a growing number of videos. themselves now symbolic of each of the ﬁlms in the Cremaster cycle. Set in Bronco Stadium. See Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle. Boise. at once. exceptional. Punk rock exploded through attenuated sounds. an art theme park. collages. connects three themes entailing movement backwards in time: the movement of glaciers. assured shell—again. cool design. set in the Canadian Rockies and Utah. ed. architect of Solomon’s Temple and archetypal Master Builder in the Masonic Order (played by Serra). and the Entered Apprentice (played by Barney) (ﬁg. Cremaster 3 (2002) connects the construction of the Chrysler Building to that of Solomon’s Temple and provides a setting for an escalating clash between Hiram Abiﬀ. Cremaster 2 (1999). From every side and above. the artist’s hometown.
᭧ 2002 Matthew Barney. New York.f i g u r e 3. Courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery. Photograph: Chris Winget. Production still from ﬁlm. showing Richard Serra as Grand Master. . Cremaster 3. Matthew Barney. 2002.
Thomas Struth’s subjects and Thomas Demand’s style. the subadolescent consumerlands of Takashi Murakami and Mariko Mori. New York. Andreas Gursky’s scale.688 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity roughly circular island. Although more up-to-date and engaged with media culture. thus undiﬀerentiated but tending to the feminine. of cults. the longing. Damien . isolation and metamorphosis. Like them. reopened in 2004—it is the latest phase in the century-and-a-halflong story of modern art in Europe and its cultural colonies. thus tending to diﬀerentiation and the masculine. the work requires a relationship to the spectator as direct as it is in Serra’s work. Despite its complex structure and postmodern stylistics. and the muscle descended. In its most institutionalized forms—from the triumphalist overreach of the Guggenheim Museum’s global franchising through the Old Master elegance of the installations at Dia:Beacon to the confused gesturing in the contemporary galleries when the Museum of Modern Art. as if in a dream. This—the Cremaster cycle claims—is what it is to be in the era of cultural division and genetic engineering. The Matrix Revolutions. what amounts to the same thing. underlies the success of novels and ﬁlms such as Lord of the Rings and the vast membership. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome as distinct from Mad Max. organized religions. representing in turn the cremaster muscle ascended. this is a quest narrative. The same spirit of individual battling against unfathomable odds to surrender individuality and achieve community acceptance. this spirit makes the Cremaster cycle at once extraordinary and banal. has become the new modern or. despair. worldwide. Magician. Works such as these provide the ﬁrst powerful answer to the question of the nature of art in these times: contemporary art. a search for belonging through places that have their own imperatives amidst physical and social processes that are strangely subject to incessant fusion and separation. Descension is ﬁnally attained in Cremaster 5 (1997). Oﬃcial contemporary art resonates with the vivid conﬁdence and the comforting occlusion that comes with it. the old modern in new clothes. Gerhard Richter’s paintings. symbolically tied to each other. and Giant (all played by the artist). as a movement. Wang Quingsong’s The Night Revels of Lao Li alongside his China Mansion. a continuation of the modernist lineage. taking itself to be the high cultural style of its time. warily selected not least in an attempt to preserve this cultural balance of power. and the Gelle ´ rt Thermal Baths—it performs. however. Think (as a beginning of a list of the best of it) of not only the work by Serra and Barney but also of Jeﬀ Koons at ﬁfty. Set at key sites in Budapest—the La ´ nchı ´d (Chainlink) Bridge. and eventual death of the Queen of Chain (played by Ursula Andress) and her Diva. the Opera House. and civic organizations. the same insatiably active embrace of ultimate passivity. The teams are.
6. perhaps. It is a culture that draws a worldly feminist artist (whose work tracks the inner worlds of exile. The video constantly intercuts to a group of women circled closely together. it suddenly seems. a ﬁre breaks out and travels along a triangular stone wall. gets to decide that another is anachronistic is questioned (not least in Neshat’s activation of the aesthetics of Iranian ﬁlm). across a north African/Middle Eastern desert (ﬁg. Lacking symbols. Passages between Cultures The main action of Shirin Neshat’s 2001 video Passage consists of a group of white-shirted men carrying something. Equally. 2005): 22–27. Art Papers 29 (May–June 2005): 22–27 and (July–Aug. a silent witness to something unfathomable. soon. The very idea that one kind of culture. the men deliver their nearly invisible burden into the space cleared by the women. their purpose—however urgent and relentless it might seem from the driving Philip Glass score that accompanies them—is as ambiguous as the state of the body they bear. In architecture. it is more powerful when taken for granted.5 Someone. irony is irrelevant. the modernizing ones. wailing loudly and beating at something unseen on the stony ground between them. may baptize it “contemporism”—a contraction. The camera pans to a young girl who. the parallel impulse has recovered an old label: late modern. has been hiding there all along. Anachronism is relevant. On this topic. 2006). and any evident ritual. Just at that moment. hierarchy.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 689 Hirst’s early work but not the Benneton-advertisement-style return to painting in his 2005 exhibition The Elusive Truth! Tracey Emin’s I’ve Got It All! and so on. recursive character—to predictable scorn followed by eventual acceptance. yet it persists. probably a body. of contemporary modernism—or “remodernism”—emphasizing its renovating. in a number of powerful works—Turbulent 5. but it is questioned. In the penultimate scene. in parts of the world. Currency: Marketing Contemporary Art in the Conditions of Contemporaneity” (parts 1 and 2).6 Better. For a discussion of contemporary architecture parallel to that oﬀered in this article see my The Architecture of Aftermath (Chicago. she may have been abruptly conjured into this role by the process itself. perhaps. including the trenchant power of stereotypes) to its implacable diﬀerencing between men and women as an experience of trauma. Before 9/11. . Indeed. not to name it: like all unspeciﬁable but deeply desired values. This work is typical of the kind of contemporary art that locates itself at the emotional core of a culture that seems to have nothing that is contemporary about it. 4). In contrast to Barney’s baroque allegories. through all the major survey exhibitions and the latest sales of contemporary art for record prices. Convergence. see my “Primacy. it is ascendant.
2001. Fervor (2000). Art growing out of the complexities of contemporaneity cannot oﬀer easy outs. Production still from video.–5 May 2002). 2000).” Third Text. “Ambiguity and Audience in the Films of Shirin Neshat. Photograph: Larry Barns. no.7 Neshat came to prominence as a visual poet of the inscriptions of power. The last scene of Passage implies that death exists beyond gender division. (1998). Serpentine Gallery. See Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery. and Rapture and Possessed (both 2001)—Neshat showed that feudal structures not only persist in the cultures of the Middle East and northern Africa but also are present at the roots of all of our relationships. Milan. notably in her photograph series The Women of Allah (1993– 97). at once.690 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity f i g u r e 4. both incomprehensibly strange yet hauntingly familiar. ᭧ Shirin Neshat 2001. Iranian performance artist Ghazel approaches the same subjects. Passage. 2002 (ﬁg. ed. Charta and Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte. 5). This is to show us something that is. Me in 2000. ed. The complexities of Neshat’s situatedness are explored by Wendy Meryem K. . 30 Jan. and Wein Kunsthalle. 57 (Winter 2001–2): 43–52. In her set of three videos. she parodies both Islamic dress codes and the typical tropes of conceptual art by performing a number of nominated actions 7. Lisa Corrin (exhibition catalog. Shirin Neshat. tradition. without pretending (in however subtle or deferred ways) to possess the tools to resolve this tension in favor of one or another category of redemption. Giorgio Verzotti (exhibition catalog. New York. but from within a very diﬀerent aesthetic. London. Vienna. Shaw. and institutionalized religion on the bodies of women in patriarchal cultures. however marked both may be by trauma. and Shirin Neshat. as does the recurrence of life.
in the light. such as Tooba (2002) and Women without Men (2004). the words and the image are in exact complementarity. This puts the entire trajectory of her work to date at risk. 6). we read the words as marching on the image.. the opposite meaning erupts. Me in 2003. The contradictions in play here achieve explicitly public political dimensions in the work of many artists. This rather desperate hilarity stands in marked contrast to the portentous character of Neshat’s most recent epics. irretrievably. Moor has recently taken an oath to reject further oﬀers to show her work in exhibitions that are framed in terms of black American identity. including those aimed at African Americans. by laying bare its circumstantial cost.Gettin’ Goals. Photograph: Miguel Rojas-Sotelo. installation at Havana Biennale. seeking to promote “the New Negro”—are juxtaposed with a mural-sized image taken from a magazine color photograph of Condoleezza Rice being kissed by President George W. The moral vacuity at the heart of the current administration stands naked. Video still. for example. Never. smirking and squirming.including those devoted to interrogating its conditions and questioning its limits. Ghazel. and link left to right the ﬁrst letters of each word. When.Accomplished. Bush during the presentation of her as secretary of state (ﬁg. In Everyone Dreams of Staying Young and Fresh. however. ﬂush with the self-evident realization of equal opportunity. The illusion of simple equality is obliterated.Ignorant. 2003. In Ayanah Moor’s 2004 wall installation. This looks like what the televisual opportunity was intended to be: a resplendent advertisement for the American Dream. Seen one way. the words of the title—an exhortation much used in encouragement manuals. Establishment opportunism kicks us in the stomach and claws its way back in.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 691 based on commonsense sentiments while dressed in her burka. This depth of impa- f i g u r e 5. she wraps her already fully clad body in food-preserving foil. .
and fourth worlds. and open-ended.692 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity f i g u r e 6.Gettin’ Goals. tience with categorization is becoming more common and signals a shift beyond the framework in which Neshat. art from second. Courtesy of the artist.Accomplished. Never. 2004. and that concerned with traﬃc between these and the ﬁrst world. took up most of the spaces and set the agenda. even multitudinous. and of that which is to come. via the platforms of Documenta 11. For the ﬁrst time in a major international survey exhibition. Installation. after two decades in which it propelled the Biennale circuit. inclusive yet oppositional and anti-institutional. Ayanah Moor. for example. continues to work. unmistakably and irretrievably. of what it is to be in the world. but which projects itself through and around these. In 2002. concrete but also various. this kind of art swarmed the precincts of contemporary art. These comparisons bring us through and up to the current edges of the second wide-scale answer of what constitutes truly contemporary art: that which emerges from within the conditions of contemporaneity.Ignorant. as an art of that which actually is in the world. mobile. including the remnants of the cultures of modernity and postmodernity. (One major recog- . third. Its impulses are speciﬁc yet worldly.
“Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation” (New Delhi). and Joshua Siegel (exhibition catalog. Thus Kurt Varnedoe wrote. “MoMA2000: The Capitulation. responding to. Paola Antonelli. Sometimes. Okwui Enwezor. in a very real sense. in 2000. 28 Sept.” in Modern Contemporary: Art at MoMA since 1980. . see Franco Moretti. diasporic. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Varnedoe. and “Under Siege: Four African Cities. when the grinding between them gets too hard. post– cold war. 2d ser. p. Kinshasa. For a critique of MoMA’s millennial exhibitions. The collection of The Museum of Modern Art is. have not been concluded or superseded—and thus that contemporary art today can be understood as the ongoing extension and revision of those founding innovations and debates. introducing the platforms that constituted Documenta 11. Such an intersection equally marks the limits out of which the postcolonial. Freetown. particularly Modernstarts: People. locating the historical signiﬁcance of MoMA’s collections of recent art as manifest in a series of millennial exhibitions prior to the museum’s closure for renovation: There is an argument to be made that the revolutions that originally produced modern art. Places. 2000–30 Jan. Lagos” (Lagos).” New Left Review 4. the exhibition opened in Kassel. Johannesburg. The collected result in the form of a series of volumes and exhibitions is placed at the dialectical intersection of contemporary art and culture. postideological. that argument. Contemporary art is collected and presented at this Museum as part of modern art—as belonging within. (July–Aug. they appear in raw terms.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 693 nition was that dividing the world into these worlds had been a ruinous enterprise and was failing. and expanding upon the framework of initiatives and challenges established by the earlier history of progressive art since the dawn of the twentieth century. deterritorialized. Things. Kirk Varnedoe. and covering such topics as “Democracy Unrealized” (Vienna and Berlin). New York.) Confused curatorial retreat and a ﬁerce rearguard action—fought in the name of the rights of the spectator—has halted this advance. held in diﬀerent cities throughout 2001. global 8. 12. in 2002. “Creolite ´ and Creolization” (St. Germany.8 Compare this conception of what was most at stake in millennial art exhibitions to that of another curator. 2001). transnational. “Introduction. Lucia). of which he was artistic director. MoMA. After a series of discussions. ed. 2000): 98–102. but for who knows how long? Curators Stage the Debate The debate over Documenta 11 brought to the surface certain value antipathies that have been looming since around 1980 and have been at the baseline of artworld discourse for at least half a decade..
subversion.9 Seeking a middle path between these two contending forces—one a tiring juggernaut. 11. a material reﬂection on a series of disparate and interconnected actions and processes. was conceived. these days. Relational Aesthetics. forms. 2002). disciplines. and disjunctions between diﬀerent realities: between artists. interpretation. 8 June–15 Sept. 2005): 231. as well as their material and symbolic ordering. Formalismus. media. and Mathieu Copeland (1998. Diedrich Diederichsen. the Kassel exhibition counterposed the supposed purity and autonomy of the art object against a rethinking of modernity based on ideas of transculturality and extraterritoriality. “The Black Box. “Ordering the Universe: Documenta 11 and the Apotheosis of the Occidental Gaze. Their impact. hybridization.”10 Translating this into art discursive polemics. conjunctions. Diederichsen understands the relationship between what I have described as the two big answers this way: 9. p. The exhibition has attracted much partisan comment. the exhibition project of the ﬁfth platform was less a receptacle of commodity objects than a container for a plurality of voices. Kassel. genres. This dialectical enterprise attempts to establish imaginative and concrete links within the various projects of modernity. no. more powerful than both popular. . in the not-so-secret hope of surprising with an object-focussed art more integral. Fronza Woods.” Art Journal 64 (Spring 2005): 80–89. 110 (Fall 2004): 51–79.”11 Grounding one set of values. 2002). between identity and subjectiﬁcation. remixing lens of relational aesthetics. 2002) and Post-Production (New York. What emerges in this transformation in diﬀerent parts of the world produces a critical ordering of intellectual and artistic networks of the globalizing world. usually means doing so in relation to other sets.” in Documenta 11—Platform 5: Exhibition (exhibition catalog. He alludes to Nicolas Bourriaud. as “a reexamination of the basic ideas of modernism in light of the very contemporary cognizance that every detail of presentation and production is already contaminated by speciﬁc histories. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics. pro and con. In short. this amounts to a rereading of residual modernist formalism through the repeating. “Formalismus. A recent Hamburger Kunstverein exhibition. More useful are questions such as those raised by Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie. See Okwui Enwezor. everyday-life recycling practices and “a world choked with referentiality.” Artforum 29 (Mar. 55. Ibid. both discussed in Claire Bishop. Linking together the ﬁrst four platforms. the other a swarming of attack vehicles—has become common.” October.694 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity world has been written. trans. The exhibition as a diagnostic toolbox actively seeks to stage the relationships. in the words of Berlin critic Diedrich Diederichsen. creolization. is woven through procedures of translation. Dijon. processes. generations. institutions. activities. Thus. 10. Simon Pleasance. and reassemblage. displacement.
neither of them fully addresses the changes in actual artistic practices that have. social. “Formalismus. A more complex sense of dialectical fury was a key to Enwezor’s conception of Documenta 11. Problems and a Proposal A further step needs to be taken. . corporate.” His approach is certainly synthetic. The guerrilla swarming of the others is marked by acknowledgment of the psychic. The “contemporary art” juggernaut operates primarily in terms of frameworks—managerial. (It will be obvious already that the second incorporates the ﬁrst. or even postmodern. on the other. that are highly generative but only as supplements of their mismatching—that are. curatorial. educational—imposed by art institutions. along with many others. not of a persistent modernist 12. and political settings in which art is made. The work provided an alternative to certain regressive and particularistic tendencies: on the one hand. I separate them here to highlight an important tension within contemporary art. the only way forward is between them.) A third. uncomfortably but of necessity. cultural. modes. in a word.” p. To him. and the extent to which they provide the content of much contemporary art and establish its circuitry of communication. shared tendencies that are themselves the outcome. both of the big answers are reductive options. Diederichsen. static sense. While the two big picture approaches have an undeniably powerful currency and are accurate accounts as far as they go. the return to the normality of painting and spectacular images in keeping with the logic of the art market. and each is as empty as the other. commercial. answer would be one in which the smaller-scale strategies listed in my opening paragraph. one to which I shall keep returning. the exhibition oﬀered a sophisticated overview of art today. For me. the recourse to an art that is satisﬁed with constructing global networks of semi-politicized creative subcultures. beguilingly distractive but at bottom hollow cultural industry. and better. marked out more and more artistic production as distinctively contemporary—as opposed to that which continues to be made in modernist. for arguably three decades now. historical. as contraries that are only partially synthesizable. antinomies.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 695 Theoretical ambitions notwithstanding. via “dialectical synthesis. but it is dialectical only in the simplest. are understood not as mere artworld stylistics but as symptoms of a limited number of powerful. the “dialectic” is between three terms (only two of which I have set out so far) that are tied to each other. 231. of the demands that these conditions make upon practice.12 From where he stands. themselves a key part of a now pervasive.
for one. and. there has always been more contemporaneity than historicity—but this fact only became emphatically explicit in modernity. antinomic exchange. Contemporary art seems a vacuous placeholder. let alone supplant. On the face of it. Art history’s attempt to control contemporaneity—and with that the temporal ﬂow of art events—by stripping certain art events of their idiosyncracy and incidentalness in the name of some absolute system of value. senses that there is.696 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity formalism. only more so. To periodize the ephemeral as contemporary art might be to repeat the mistake made when the same was done with modern art. because the word contemporary—in its ordinary usages—is even less resonant than the word modern. occurs. better. overfull as a signiﬁed) to whatever it is that is occurring in all of the world right now? How could such a term match. was overwhelmed by the abundance of contemporary art evi- . Donald Kuspit. The interesting question is whether or not there is something distinctive about the present conjunction of forces in such realms that attracts this kind of paradox. almost impossible. the paradigm shifters internal to art itself. This is the domain across which something strange. however. We might call it dialectical supplementarity or. to put it more broadly. marketplaces. and has been occurring for decades. Before exploring this idea in any depth. modernity and postmodernity as a descriptor of the state of things? In logic. What is contemporaneity other than a pointer (empty as a signiﬁer. calling the art of our day contemporary tells us nothing other than the banal fact that it is being made now. It is just this quality. it is fair to ask. these objections fail because they could. and those of a world reshaped by rapid decolonization and incipient globalization. in the past at least. themselves. the contemporaneous qualities of an artwork— however initially attractive—were usually the least interesting things about it. galleries. In a recent article on “The Contemporary and the Historical” he unleashes most of the standard objections against eﬀorts to see structure in the present chaos. but of the great changes of the 1960s and 1970s. some conceptual issues need to be cleared. be made at any time. It is something that could have been said at any time. but for what? Is there something there that cannot name itself—or not yet? Or is it simply a fancy name for the most reﬁned of those objects that serve spectacle society by inducing in their beholders the preferred state of attenuated distraction? Similarly. in more pragmatic realms: studios. yet acknowledges that something has changed: There has always been more contemporary than historical art—or. that infuses truly contemporary art and is the key to its contemporaneity. some obvious objections met. desktops. let me suggest. They are posed.
evolved state of contemporary art production. An engaged.asp. The End of Art (New York. When this is put alongside the incommensurate particularity and radical incompleteness that is natural to the contemporary. Or history as accreted criticism. he believes. Donald Kuspit. at worst complicit. com/Magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit4-14-05. on the other. But singularizing particularity. curators. What is contemporary art now? requires a response consisting neither of discerning a middle path between two of the big answers sketched above nor of setting them into either/or confrontation. and so he attacks artists. 2004). In the current context. critics. media. . and historians who would try to second-guess art history by preferring “the happy few or One and Only truly and absolutely signiﬁcant artist” (“CH”). 13. recent. when “the turbulent pluralism of modern art . and degrees. implicated relativism is more diﬃcult. which he sees quite accurately as dominated. and past art in order to “keep it in contemporary play.” For Kuspit.” so that nominating particular artworks. 13 Apr. to keep advancing a “pluralism of critical interpretations” of current. 2005. it involves taking the three answers together as each containing diﬀering kinds. on the one hand.” Artnet. I believe that the question. www. or works by select artists. increased exponentially in the postmodern situation” (“CH”). however shrouded in objections to the larger forces. hereafter abbreviated “CH. he believes. by a Malthusian overproduction of artists and. Kuspit is right about the dangers of generalization in a situation where the shots are being called by inimical institutional. Rather. is no solution. the only option for criticism is. but more responsible. and market forces. Criticism. not history. “The Contemporary and the Historical.” These views are given fuller treatment in Kuspit. but his examples all have it being introduced in the 1960s. The responsible role for criticism in this context is.artnet. He takes this to be the naturally. . by the exclusivist superﬁciality of extraordinary auction prices and media-sensationalist celebrity.13 He does not specify precisely when this change occurred. then. the making of “an interpretive case for a particular art’s interestingness by tracking its environmental development in the context of the observerinterpreter’s phenomenological articulation of his or her complex experience of it” (“CH”).Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 697 dence that proposed alternative and often radically contrary ideas of value. Here is my proposal. or at least historically. . “the power of the contemporary comes from the insecurity of being ephemeral. any form of interpretive generalization will be self-defeating at best. as today’s art for the future is to reduce them to “sterile homogeneity”—to kill oﬀ precisely that power to persist and to attract future critical interest (“CH”).
a number of recent paintings by Neo Rausch. Julie Mehretu’s Untitled (Stadia) (2004). forthcoming). and why it sets up settings. Emily Kngwarreye’s withheld exposures of her earthworlds. Every situation that is truly contemporary is an outcome of the friction between them. yet each of which remains true in itself.” The Fiftyfourth Carnegie International. fundamentally human questions: the nature of life and death. the existence of God. . 35). exemplary projects that discern the antinomies of the world as it is. Pittsburgh. A number of works in that show display an urge to engage with contemporaneity in the ways I have just sketched. over the past few years. These include Kutlug Ataman’s Kuba (2004). 9 Oct. Gordon Bennett’s black/white Australian history paintings. N. Rover Thomas’s ancient dreaming in the present. 2004–20 Mar. 2005]. Maurizio Cattelan’s Now (2004). . 15. are contradictions incapable of mutual resolution without the obliteration of all but one. Hans Haacke’s persistent criticality. ed. Pittsburgh. provides pauses in the overall rush into the unsynthesizable. pp. November 2004 to March 2005. Francis Aly ¨ s’s The Prophet (a series begun 1992). Paul Chan’s Happiness (Finally) after 35. tapped closest into the demands of contemporaneity. Who Kills Death (2003).C. in which many of the issues raised in this essay were canvassed. the anatomy of belief ” (Laura Hoptman. as statements about reality that. showing its ﬂows as if in section or as glimpses frozen into objects intended for passersby. Fernando Bryce’s Revolucio ´ n (2004). and Enwezor (Durham.. Working within but also against this general condition. “The Essential Thirty-eight. Harun Farocki’s Eye/Machine II (2002). Rachael Harrison’s Untitled (Perth Amboy) (2001). Hoptman [exhibition catalog. this is how it uncovers images. . ed. As I write these lines. and Oliver Payne and Nick Relph’s ﬁlm. Smith. the war architecture of Lebbeus Woods. 4–6 November 2004. that display the workings of globality and locality. art supplies provisional syntheses. I recognize that all of them are committed to an art that turns on long-term. and that imagine ways of living ethically within them: Turkey Tolson Tjuppurrula’s painted meditations on peace. 17. the revelatory hoardings of Georges Ade ´ agbo. Isa Genzhken’s Empire/Vampire. Driftwood (1999). where the ﬁfty-fourth Carnegie International was shown. Carnegie International curator Laura Hoptman opted for art that.14 We should recognize the energy of their profound contention. We should treat them as antinomies—that is. dealt with “the Ultimates. . 14.15 Dislocation and Situatedness When I think of artists whose work has. jointly convened by us with Nancy Condee and held at the University of Pittsburgh.698 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity of present-making power. these are the ways in which it arrives at made things. she felt. These are the kinds of time that art is taking these days. modelling the minutiae of the world’s processes as supplements deposited in their wake. Carnegie Museum of Art. See Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity. when linked. my mind’s eye passes across the street and through the rooms of the Carnegie Museum of Art. I thank Okwui Enwezor for reminding me of this relation. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s Reading Inaow for Female Corpse (2001). it was crucial to the conceptualization of the symposium Modernity and Contemporaneity: Antinomies of Art and Culture after the Twentieth Century. Postmodernity and Contemporaneity.000 Years of Civilization—after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier (2000–2003). Nancy Condee.
with the demands of contemporaneity. the resonant photo tableaux of Tracey Moﬀatt. as hollow resonances. Fiona Hall’s meditations on cultural currency. Richard Wilson’s various installations of 20/50. those artists just listed cannot avoid these same modernist ruins. Allan Sekula’s tracking of global maritime ﬂows. the diﬀerence is that they treat them as echoes. and Marlene Dumas ﬁguring the misshaping of women by societies. Thomas Hirschhorn’s antimonuments. Ilona Ne ´ meth. the coy meditations on everyday life of Rivane Neuenschwander. Jean-Pierre Bruyere’s photographic and iCinema allegories of the lifeworlds of young children in the cities of the Congo. Accusations of sensationalism. and Bill Henson. Jeﬀ Wall. Eduardo Kac and Patricia Piccinini’s startling evocations of cloning. but to extend their premises outward: the plethora of artist’s museums. in Los Angeles. Mona Hatoum. William Kentridge tapping his country’s racial unconscious. Slight gestures. many other artists who operate between these tendencies. While the contemporary artists listed earlier remain framed by the ruins of the modernist project. Shirin Neshat. and Martı ´n Shastre. Zoe Leonard’s records of economic place making. mild subversions. and bad faith do not apply. the communal cultural work of groups such as Huit Fachette and Wochenkausur. not least the Museum of Jurassic Technology. baldly opposed. the arch commentary of the Atlas Group. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s open invitations. and Jorge Macchi on the vicissitudes of public speech. Richard Pettibon. Wenda Gu’s united nations project. and La Baulera. Bill Viola’s eﬀorts to reinspire spirituality. Isaac Julien the circuitry of desire. and it’s growing. Tania Bruguera. as well. not to resolve them. feral strategies. contra ﬁle ´. small steps. Rachael Whiteread’s cast voids. the inventive recycling of Pierre Huyghe and Douglas Gordon among many others. the chameleon public sphere politics of the Yes Men and increasing numbers of collectives. Mark Lombardi’s delicate diagrams of the criminality of international economies. such as Bijari. Similarly. the masquerades of Tracey Moﬀatt and Ayanah Moor aimed at subverting the racial identity categories imposed on them— these are just some examples of signiﬁcant art being made all over the world. Cindy Sherman. It is an impressive body of work. their work gains much of its subliminal power from an engagement.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 699 Doris Salcedo’s registrations of enforced disappearance. Chantal Ackerman charting border crossings. Nor would I wish to divide current practitioners into two camps. however ﬁltered. and get on with their search for an aesthetics and ethics that might be viable in the aftermath. esoteric irrelevance. To which . There are. Felix Gonzales-Torres’s reﬂections on personal loss. and Mary Kelly the traumas of motherhood. the sharp parodies of the international art system by Andrea Fraser. Tanja Ostojic. Ilya Kabakov’s ideological memory capsules.
“Global History and the Present Time. All of the artists mentioned. History. mediation. and Technology. Denmark. become increasingly modern. expectation” (Augustine. it was presumed. steadily more strange. for otherwise I do not see them: there is present of things past. the word modern (modernus) distinguished a mood. Hal M. Augustine. Within this contemporaneity. historical. transformativity within the hyperreal. each day. present of things present. Despite the vibrancy of these tendencies. Christian Thorne. a present of things present. and futurism. Augustine: “There are three times: a present of things past. 246). The Confessions of St. trans. cooperation. for this reminder. 103. Helms [Orleans. in a paradox tolerated by most. 2004). one that would. in most ordinary usage—in English and in 16. 1986]. and goes on to note that “these three do somehow exist in the mind. until it became. without end. and a present of future things. as its time went on. See Hans Robert Jauss.16 This sense that the present could be pregnant with something special about itself—manifest as a quality later called nowness—persisted until late medieval times. Mass. and then several past periods. however. pastness. “of today”). the “modern” aged. familiar constituents of being are becoming. it seems to me that at least four themes course through the heterogeneity that is natural to contemporaneity. present of things future. (dis)location. around the shores of the Mediterranean. ed. became central to the meaning of modern. p. and the altercation of aﬀect/eﬀectivity. modern movement architecture and modern or contemporary design. that of the “human soul. the list looks more like: (alter)temporality. modern art and modernism. Peter Lyth and Helmut Trischler (Aarhus. The Thickening of the Present In the ancient world.” against God’s eternal time. of fullness emergent in the otherwise ordinary passing of time and within the predictable unfolding of fashion (hodiernus. when contrast with what was seen to be the past. not least those of its deﬁnitive artistic currents. “Modernity and Literary Tradition. An early formulation was that of St. and the thousands more of whom they are representatives. sight. however. I am indebted to Wolf Scha ¨ fer. and mood. Recently. or mode. Critical Inquiry 31 (Winter 2005): 329–64. They make visible our sense that these fundamental. it became the name of its own period. Indeed. p. . memory. place. In brief.” in Wiring Prometheus: Globalization. focus their wide-ranging concerns on questions of time.”17 In the expanded modern world..” trans.and growth. 17. Augustine places this sense of time.700 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity purposes and in the names of which values? These questions can still be posed and be answered (although an extended consideration must be deferred). they seek sustainable modes of survival. Nowadays. modern became the core of a set of terms that narrated the two-centuries-long formation of modernity in terms of novelty.
rather. the word contemporary served. however.” Wolf Scha ¨fer cites a passage from Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s 1961 novel Ambiguous Adventure. because no one can any longer live by the simple carrying out of what he himself is. Being modern means to live in a project. Boris Groys.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 701 some but not all other European languages—it has surrendered currency to the term contemporary and its cognates. to forget the present. academic courses. St. but we shall have. Boris Groys points out the main reason: Modern art is (or. museums. This shift has been occurring since the decline of modernism in the 1980s and has appeared in institutional naming—of galleries. “Global History and the Present Time. uncannily. This change echoes a larger one. to currency. Because of this permanent movement towards the future modern art tends to overlook. The era of separate destinies has run its course. and especially in the 1920s and the 1960s.18 Nevertheless. 120. been able to maintain its division of the world into those who live in modern times and those who. an exchange between the father of a young Senegalese revolutionary and a French teacher: We have not had the same past. the end of the world has indeed come for every one of us. Quoted in Scha ¨ fer.19 Increased opportunity of access has not. while physically present. you and ourselves. a number of the most engaged contemporary artists are redeﬁning what it means to live in a project and doing so in terms that acknowledge the power of the present. meant equality of outcome—on the contrary—nor has it meant (contrary to early fears about 18. Augustine’s accumulation of presents has returned. For most of the twentieth century. the same future. strictly. were regarded as noncontemporaneous beings. In that sense. for decades. of course. and textbook titles—which. . In arguing that the global spread of information and the instantaneousness of its communication now means that the “sociotemporal world order is changing in favor of contemporaneity for all. in art discourse as elsewhere. tend to use contemporary as a soft signiﬁer of current plurality. was) directed towards the future. “Topology of Contemporary Art. Modernity has not. to practice a work in progress. to reduce it to a permanently selfeﬀacing moment of transition from past to future. 19. mainly as a default for modern.” p. when modernist attitudes prevailed.” in Antinomies of Art and Culture. auction house departments.
or frozen time. The term contemporary calibrates a number of distinct but related ways of being in or with time. fundamentalisms move in just one direction. will miss as much of the main point as do the fundamentalisms. They are all relational. Multiple temporalities are the rule these days.” the coincidental “having existed or lived from the same date. is as rich as that of modern.” and the adventitious “occurring at the same moment of time. but not the world. consciousness is concerned with taking many steps. or period. equal in age. from. slower.” the evaporation of postmodernism as a onegeneration wonder. even of being in and out of time at the same time. In many parts of the world. it is one that has built its gateway around us through indirection and as an outcome of quite other great changes: the reduction of modernity to “the only remaining superpower. during the seventeenth century in England. in however conditional a manner. of many parts and elements of it). at. or during time. implacably. There is such a set. During the period of modernity’s dominance. and however decked out with a modiﬁed version of postmodernity. Indeed. occupying the same deﬁnite period. yet again? If so. fast. and their conceptions of historical development move in multifarious directions. . In these circumstances. Regarding Contemporaneity The word contemporary has always meant more than just the plain and passing present. age. There is the strong sense of “belonging to the same time. for a while.702 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity globalization) homogeneity of choices. any appellation that ties a current world description entirely to modernity. The current edition of the Oxford English Dictionary gives four major meanings. Are we at a threshold of large-scale meaning change. or during the same period. lying close by. turning on prepositions. we can now see. it might be time to grasp a more supple set of ways of being in time now and to shift to another set of terms. Its etymology. on being placed to. and the isolation of postmodernity as a fate of the West (or. the power to force everyone forward in broadly the same direction has been lost. it seemed that cotemporary might overtake it to express this strange currency. In these conﬂicted circumstances. In a mediascape characterized by such contrary forces as instant communication of key decisions by political leaders and the capacity to demonstrate against them within the same news cycle. not from the old to the new but vice versa. at least. Nor does postmodernity explain enough of what is happening in what remains of the West as the world migrates to it. everyone changing as they come and go. Against this broad tide. coeval. the downside of what used to be called cultural imperialism was a kind of ethnic cleansing carried out by the displacement of unmodern peoples into past.
indeed. We would see. of or characteristic of the present period.” In this deﬁnition. Of course. they may feel themselves as standing. We are. of direct experience of multiplicitous complexity over the singular simplicity of distanced reﬂection. in the jostling contingency of various cultural and social multiplicities. while the phenomena may have some sense of being joined by their contemporaneousness. speciﬁcally designating art of a markedly avant-garde quality. then. is it “a time” because if the modern were inclined above all to deﬁne itself as a period. or things “belonging” to the same historical time. ideas. and sort the past into periods. having modern characteristics. and to the time they happen to be in. To leap to such a conclusion would be to miss an essential quality of contemporaneousness: its immediacy. mismatching ways of seeing and valuing the same world. in the actual coincidence of asynchronous temporalities. its prioritizing of the moment over the time. we would see its constituent features manifest there to the virtual exclusion of other explanations. against its grain) as a key to world picturing. etc. given the diversity of present experiences of temporality. in important senses. Yet. things. No longer does it feel like “our time” because “our” cannot stretch to encompass its contrariness. they may equally well do so. decoration. It is the pregnant present of the original meaning of modern. the instant over the epoch. and time together under a one-directional banner: “Modern. as it were. out of the modern age. do so now. separately. existing in simple simultaneity. but without its subsequent contract with the future. ultramodern. The second and third meanings make this clear. that contemporaneity consists precisely in the constant experience of radical disjunctures of perception. whereas the ﬁrst points to the phenomenon of two or more people. Nor. and in that of the contemporary. while the connectedness is stronger. standing alongside yet apart from each other. these kinds of relationships have occurred at all times in the historical past. or furniture. its instantaneity. ideas. its presentness. If we were to generalize this quality (of course. simultaneous. at once within and against the times. even here. of being in the present. following this logic. building. their contemporaries may not stand in relation to time as they do. They may also subsist in a complex awareness that.” In each of these meanings there is a distinctive sense of presentness. especially up-to-date. given human diﬀerence. all thrown together in ways that highlight the fast-growing inequalities within and between them. events. and will do so in the future. the two words have ﬁnally exchanged their core meaning: the contemporary has become the new modern. or era.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 703 contemporaneous. in contemporaneity periodization is . This certainly looks like the world as it is now. Finally. of beings who are (that are) present to each other. It is the OED’s fourth deﬁnition of contemporary that brings persons.
20 This suggests that the only potentially permanent thing about this state of aﬀairs is that its impermanence may last forever. Giovanna Borradori (Chicago. this is not a recommendation for stand-alone. 227–74. 2002). This is why there is no longer any overarching explanatory totality that accurately accumulates and convincingly accounts for these proliferating diﬀerences. they may be all that there is. Manuel de Landa. as Baudelaire had hoped. is now general and. by the McNeills. 22. “The Painter of Modern Life” and Other Essays. See J. see also pp.” trans. of the kind theorized by Jacques Derrida as l’avenir. singularizing particularism.704 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity impossible. le fugitif.22 In the aftermath of modernity and the passing of the postmodern. 8. 23. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York. “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides. Jonathan Mayne (London.” “altertemporality. 12. for example. 1994) and the interview following 9/11. R. the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable”)—appears in Charles Baudelaire. forever shall be. 1964). ed. p. they are at its volatile core.” and inequity are not only the most striking features on any short list of the qualities of contemporaneity. the Work of Mourning and the New International. A Singular Modernity: An Essay on the Ontology of the Present (London. but as a kind of incessant incipience. the most relevant texts here being Jacques Derrida. The Human Web (New York. c’est le transitoire. Global historians continue to do us great service by tracking the trajectories of large forces that unfold through lengthy durations. metropolitan.” not in a state of wrought transﬁguration. Baudelaire’s famous formulation—“La modernite ´ . as perpetual advent. . they are not the symptoms of a deeper stability or an entry point to its achievement. la moitie ´ de l’art. it seems. These include the social and ecological elements—localized. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. the fugitive. le contingent. that which is. “The Painter of Modern Life” (1864). Unlike Baudelaire’s famous markers of modernite ´. 21. 24. trans. McNeill and William H. the contingent. in Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Ju ¨ rgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. and cosmopolitan—of the successively expanding “human web” described. A key concept in Derrida’s later work. p. perhaps. dont l’autre moitie ´ est l’e ´ ternel et l’immuable” (“By modernity I mean the ephemeral. to come. to treat all the elements in the mix as antinomies. 2003). The particular. McNeill. Following my reservation about Kuspit’s conclusion.23 Yet it is equally important to weave into these accounts recognition of the less visible workings of what de Landa names “matterenergy.21 “Multeity. The present may become “eternal. rather. it is an appeal for radical particularism to work with and against radical generalization. esp. trans.”24 Yet a paradoxical outcome of recent long-term historical explanations is their unusual degree of uncertainty with regard to the im20. while impossible to foresee or predict. 2000). 2003). Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt. This responds to one of the dilemmas posed by Fredric Jameson. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago. 21. the introduction and chap.
Their interaction is a major work of the world. Some. mostly. It also renders provisional.”26 New World Disarray In public discourse. is obviously one of the great challenges. 2003) and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York. germs. Guns. Scha ¨fer. remain Other. 110. and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York. beguiling power of these simpliﬁcations buildsfollowings in larger and larger numbers. In the hearts of their spiritual leaders. “Global History and the Present Time. that the others will.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 705 mediate future. New forms of translation need to be found for channelling the world’s friction. Certainly the commanding. Germs. . We are. there is a dawning sense that world domination by any one set of views is impossible in human aﬀairs. which results from the massive parallelism of cultural contemporaneities. thoroughly embedded inside these processes. the forms in which that might occur seem less predictable. and deeply threatens. “coming of thought and organization. Obsession with the past and concern about the complexities of the present have tended to thicken our awareness of it at the expense of expectations about the future. Diﬀerences that are as profound as these do not lie side by side. the appeals to universal rights that have been for decades an available language for negotiation between competing interests. of jihad. all over the place. however. that not even their fundamentalism is applicable to all humankind. all the time.S. expansion into the Middle East—to the return of spiritual leaders under the banner. While belief in the persistence through the present of ongoing formations is widespread. But their partiality inevitably means that they do so in ways that divide each bloc of believers more and more from the others. always. 2005). and often gestural. nor do they sit up separately in some static array awaiting our inspection. 26. all of us. They are actively implicated in each other. for example. of the world on us and us on the world.” p. “master narratives” persist and continue to promise everything from continuing modernizing progress—freedom and democracy are the watchwords of U.25 As Scha to terms with the complexity of the present time. the homogenizing thrusts of certain kinds of economic globalization. just as every one of us lives in them. See Jared Diamond. with the net eﬀect that they not only cast out “unbelievers” but undermine their own future triumph. peacefully. obliging it to adapt to local circumstances. This sense underlies. Too many of them are violently bent on the erasure of the other. seek recon25. Social geographers such as Jared Diamond alert us to the prospect that societies based on guns. and steel are on the verge of immanent collapse if they continue to maintain present modes ¨fer (rather blandly) puts it.
the crisis of post–World War II international institutions as political and economic mediators (UN. and in the subsequent disarray among curators and critics. (Sydney. 2001. internally and externally. 29. such as Documenta 11 of 2002 and the ﬁftieth Venice Biennale in 2003. foregrounded in major survey exhibitions. 2002).” the concluding chapter of Smith.. Osama bin Laden. it always arises in concrete particulars and increasingly in the form of frictional encounters. contradictions within and between regulated and coercive economies and deregulated and criminal ones. China). as a ﬁssuring of the iconomy. IMF. and as an occasion to reimpose social constraints within ostensible democracies. “icons of military and economic power”—an incomplete event with continuing eﬀects in all spheres of life. Central Europe.706 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity ciliation within a framework of respect for diﬀerence. The Australian Contemporary Aboriginal Art movement.J. the question of European polity. the deadly inadequacy of tribalism versus modernization as models for decolonization.28 While the language of universals remains current. . N. World Bank).29 Other recent events indicate profound realignments of modernity’s great formations. in the ex-Soviet peripheries. the proliferation of protest movements and alternative networks. emperium. the coexistence of multiple economies and cultures within singular state formations (most prominently. continuing conﬂicts in the Middle East. postmodernity and postmodernism—to say nothing of the implied bonds between social formation and artistic practice carried by these terms—cannot be stretched and patched to carry this degree of spinout. Classic conceptions of modernity and modernism. See Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. I argue this in “Aboriginality and Postmodernity: Parallel Lives. the suddenness of unReal states and of the apparent extension of Europe. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton. 28. and the distinctively diﬀerent models of appropriate artistic practice. ecological time bombs everywhere and the looming threat of societal collapse. 2:144–67. Transformations in Australian Art. The Observer.S. as well as the emergence of what may be new ones.27 All of these elements were present in events such as the 9/11 attacks on various U. the ubiquity and diversiﬁcation of specular culture. the implosive fallout of the second world and the reemergence of authoritarianism within it. the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. for example.S. Africa. 11 Nov. Among these: 9/11 as an attack within an ideological war. 2005). the accelerating concentration of wealth in a few countries and within those countries its concentration in the few. And the discursive division of world art into oﬃcial brands 27. p. now. the revival of leftist governments in South America. is signiﬁcantly driven by this impulse. interview with Hamid Mir. the uncertain prospect of a U. 3. and the Paciﬁc. the concentration and narrowing of media versus the spread of the internet. 2 vols.
See Smith. . Just over thirty years ago I described the international art system as still centered.” Artforum 13 (Sept. aspect of contemporaneity is the world (dis)order in which this productivity subsists. The rich complexities of contemporaneity have set the world’s agenda since the end of the cold war. Yet sprinkled amidst the recursion to past and fantastical styles of security we have seen. creating a nearly universal condition of permanent-seeming aftermath—Ground Zero everywhere.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 707 issued from the power centers and the struggling multiplicity emergent from everywhere else cannot do so either. in the artworks highlighted here. 30. A less salutary. 1974): 54–59. more and more insights into adaptable modes of active resistance and hopeful persistence. now. however much it strives to concentrate its power. on the New York artworld. and even more challenging. to be able to see that this system. however precariously and debilitatingly. has been transformed by a larger network of widely dispersed and variously connected sources of creative coping. “The Provincialism Problem.30 It is inspiring.
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