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.
neomodernism. In a series of publications beginning in 1984. First there have been fears of essentialism. and Art to Come (Woolloomooloo. Just what is so contemporary about this kind of apparent contradiction.1 Nevertheless. by now. Most accounts highlight the currency of one or another aspect of current practice: new media. self-defeating. it is simply.” Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 71. The multitudes may be on the cusp of having their day. but usually deny any claims to universality. relational aesthetics. as distinct from modern. Apologists stress the pivotal connectedness of their favored approach to at least one signiﬁcant aspect of contemporary experience. according to Elmgreen and Dragset. More prosaically.W. Contemporaneity. art as a posthistorical pluralism.J. immersive cinema. deeply embedded in both. digital imagery. remix cultures. disidentiﬁcation. it seems to me that. however. But this pluralist happymix is illusory. delight in the simple-seeming pleasures of an open ﬁeld.. they embody tendencies towards both closure and openness. sighing with relief that the bad old days of exclusionary dominance are over. 2001) and “What Is Contemporary Art? Contemporaneity and Art to Come. . (Buried in each other. N. totally contemporaneous. Ambitious. imposed historicisms. N. From broader world perspectives. Arthur Danto sought to deﬁne contemporary. 1997).S. and grand narratives. The subtlest presentation of this “de-deﬁnitional” perspective during its brief reign was Vad a ¨ r samtida konst? / What Is Contemporary Art? ed. recently. rather. most concisely in the introduction to his After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton. It prompts the question. nos. 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. two big answers have come to ﬁgure forth amidst the multitude of smaller ones. It cannot be subject to generalization and has overwhelmed art history. postproduction art. national identiﬁcations. Sweden. and Anna Palmqvist (Rooseum. This is especially evident in the major world art distribution centers. Peter Edstro ¨ m. followed by the sheer relief of having shaken oﬀ exclusivist theories. the answer has seemed obvious to the point of banality. been insistently answered more narrowly by the acts of artists and the organizations that sustain them—so much so that these responses are. The list keeps extending. new internationalism. their prominence is misleading and. Look around you. big-picture interpretations aim—as they always have—to be acute descriptions of how particular (artistic) practices relate to general (so1. The question of contemporary art has. 3 June–30 July 1989). in fact.) The responses do not have singular shape. Helene Mohlin. The present essay develops from my What Is Contemporary Art? Contemporary Art. Contemporary art is most—why not all?—of the art that is being made now. in visual art discourse.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 683 ﬁrst century. perhaps. and then.. Malmo ¨ . 1–2 (2002): 3–15.
1999). Russell Ferguson. 27 Feb. ed. 20 Sept. its commitment to artwork as a demonstration of active process rather than the realization or termination of a preconception. or at Broadgate. and Richard Serra Sculpture 1985–1998. in 2003. 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. Museum of Modern Art. but like happenings and environments. New York. as reductive and self-contained as most minimal sculpture but that draw the spectator into a much more engaged relationship. in 1981. installed in the Federal Plaza. Unlike the virtual spatialities of abstract sculpture in the constructivist mode. their evident weight. in all of their mismatched contention. Los Angeles. ed. in quite speciﬁc ways. Serra’s sculptures require one to walk close to. and not least in its shift back through art historical time. At the Guggenheim Museum. He soon developed a powerful strategy for building this kind of dynamism into works that seem. in pieces as various as videos showing his hand clutching at falling lead and his Verb List (1967–68). a 120-foot-long partial cylinder of raw Cor-Ten steel. Contemporary as the New Modern Richard Serra was a leading proponent of informal art. Anthony McCall. over two inches thick and twelve feet high. at ﬁrst. Tilted Arc. New York. Serra’s has come to represent what late modern sculpture means within the frameworks of oﬃcial contemporary art.–13 May 1986). . the central regions of which are occupied by a mainstream that is. in busy public spaces such as the town center of Bochum. around. mostly. in my own terms. Bilbao. Frank Gehry shaped the famous “ﬁsh” gallery around Serra’s Snake. New York. 1998–3 Jan. 2). capturing. This energy ﬂows from their size. provoked a controversy ﬁerce enough to lead to its removal.. See Richard Serra Sculpture. 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. Hal Foster and Gordon Hughes (Cambridge. When. Mass. for this is a polemic as much as it is a description. 2000). and Clara Weyergraf-Serra (exhibition catalog. Germany (Terminal ). ed. Richard Serra.684 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity cial) conditions. or through them. I will then show them to be polarities of a dichotomous exchange. paradoxically. Krauss (exhibition catalog. In their clarity of form as read by 2. I present them. outside the entrance to the London Stock Exchange (Fulcrum [1986–87]). County Museum of Art. dispersive: the spilling diversity of contemporary practice.2 More than any other artist’s work. Huge sheets of unﬁnished Cor-Ten steel are stacked up as the only support of each other. I will oﬀer characterizations of two great forces. Rosalind E. dia:Beacon opened in a converted factory on the Hudson River.
19 May 2003. Manet are all in one line. yet quintessentially modernist. New York. 3.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 685 the moving body. and movements—are banished in the wow! of the aesthetic encounter in its distilled form. 167). An earlier. Double-Torqued Ellipse. “The Mission: How the Dia Art Foundation Survived Feuds. the Dia:Beacon displays shift the trenchant spatiality of minimalism at its best towards a peculiarly late modern version of pure contemporaneousness. in his famous 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood.”3 f i g u r e 2. schools. If art is alive. older conceptions of museum display— art’s history. Quoted in Calvin Tomkins. it is always new.” saw as deﬁnitive of a convinced response to modernist art and counterposed to the “theatricality” of minimalism’s address to the spectator (Michael Fried. The non-stop presence of art! Vela ´ zquez. and Its Own Ambitions. . p. Hudson River. In such a context. Goya. however. version of this kind of aesthetic valuing may be found in the “instantaneousness” that Michael Fried.” The New Yorker. In the words of Dia founder Heiner Friedrich: “Art has no history—there is only a continuous present. Dia Art Foundation. Legal Crises.” Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews [Chicago. 46. “Art and Objecthood. 1997. . 1998]. 2000. and in their muscular dialogue with their surroundings. Richard Serra. p. In elevating this instantaneity towards awestruck transcendence. Cor-Ten steel. . Installation view at Dia:Beacon. . which extends to Matisse and Warhol. these works have a command of space that is exceptional in its resolute clarity.
See Matthew Barney: The Cremaster Cycle. 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. ﬁve-screen Jumbotron. It was. 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. and the lives of drone bees. Nancy Spector (exhibition catalog. architect of Solomon’s Temple and archetypal Master Builder in the Masonic Order (played by Serra). at once. Pink patches. but what was that brand? Cobalt blue swam up from beneath one’s feet. video monitors ﬂashed out images of fantastical yet clearly fashionable characters involved in high-speed action or ritually sedate posing.4 The ﬁlms narrate an elaborate. drawings. self-enclosed allegory. into a chaste light. an extraordinary work of art. Its $8 million production costs were. Ambiguous kernel. too. as well as the interlude (subtitled The Order) in which Barney overcomes complex obstacles at each level of the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda. Museum Ludwig. for the time. Set in Bronco Stadium. New York. Surmounting the ﬁve levels of initiation into the Masonic rites drives this episode. 2002). Cremaster 4 (1994) stages a motorcycle race between two teams travelling in opposite directions around the perimeter of the 4. cool design. connects three themes entailing movement backwards in time: the movement of glaciers. ed. sculptures. collages. and a daring mix of far-out art. symbolizing pure potential. . Boise. 3). Cologne. music video. and the Entered Apprentice (played by Barney) (ﬁg. and high-tech and crossover fashion that for an entire generation is deﬁnitive of contemporary experience. assured shell—again. the lozenge shape seemed familiar.686 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity During the 2003 exhibit of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle at the Guggenheim Museum. From every side and above. 6 June–7 Sept. the artist’s hometown. the stories of murderer Garry Gilmore and of escapologist Harry Houdini. bright banners and competing noises composed a swirling panorama. whiter than usual. Cremaster 2 (1999). the famous rotunda spiralled up and away from sight. set in the Canadian Rockies and Utah. an art theme park. Cremaster 1 (1995) tracks a troupe of dancers who take the shapes of still-androgynous gonads. exceptional. Set on the Isle of Man. themselves now symbolic of each of the ﬁlms in the Cremaster cycle. and installations that relate directly to the ﬁlms—a mobility of medium typical of all forms of contemporary art. Idaho. Typical. The Cremaster cycle takes the form of ﬁve feature-length 35mm ﬁlms and a growing number of videos. Punk rock exploded through attenuated sounds. particularly on the giant. crescendos surged out of ambient Muzak. A corporate logo hovered above the skylight.
Cremaster 3. showing Richard Serra as Grand Master. Photograph: Chris Winget. Production still from ﬁlm. ᭧ 2002 Matthew Barney. . 2002.f i g u r e 3. New York. Matthew Barney. Courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery.
Descension is ﬁnally attained in Cremaster 5 (1997). taking itself to be the high cultural style of its time. symbolically tied to each other. Although more up-to-date and engaged with media culture. This—the Cremaster cycle claims—is what it is to be in the era of cultural division and genetic engineering. thus undiﬀerentiated but tending to the feminine. Damien . Works such as these provide the ﬁrst powerful answer to the question of the nature of art in these times: contemporary art. thus tending to diﬀerentiation and the masculine. a continuation of the modernist lineage. Andreas Gursky’s scale. and the muscle descended. this spirit makes the Cremaster cycle at once extraordinary and banal. and the Gelle ´ rt Thermal Baths—it performs. the same insatiably active embrace of ultimate passivity. and Giant (all played by the artist). The same spirit of individual battling against unfathomable odds to surrender individuality and achieve community acceptance. this is a quest narrative. 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. and civic organizations. Wang Quingsong’s The Night Revels of Lao Li alongside his China Mansion. The Matrix Revolutions. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome as distinct from Mad Max. the subadolescent consumerlands of Takashi Murakami and Mariko Mori. isolation and metamorphosis. Despite its complex structure and postmodern stylistics. worldwide. 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. the longing. New York.688 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity roughly circular island. warily selected not least in an attempt to preserve this cultural balance of power. The teams are. however. the Opera House. 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. underlies the success of novels and ﬁlms such as Lord of the Rings and the vast membership. what amounts to the same thing. the work requires a relationship to the spectator as direct as it is in Serra’s work. Oﬃcial contemporary art resonates with the vivid conﬁdence and the comforting occlusion that comes with it. Gerhard Richter’s paintings. organized religions. 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. 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. representing in turn the cremaster muscle ascended. as if in a dream. despair. has become the new modern or. Magician. the old modern in new clothes. as a movement. Thomas Struth’s subjects and Thomas Demand’s style. of cults.
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. Currency: Marketing Contemporary Art in the Conditions of Contemporaneity” (parts 1 and 2).6 Better. The camera pans to a young girl who. hierarchy. in a number of powerful works—Turbulent 5. a ﬁre breaks out and travels along a triangular stone wall. It is a culture that draws a worldly feminist artist (whose work tracks the inner worlds of exile. Art Papers 29 (May–June 2005): 22–27 and (July–Aug. may baptize it “contemporism”—a contraction. across a north African/Middle Eastern desert (ﬁg. . probably a body. wailing loudly and beating at something unseen on the stony ground between them. 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. 4). 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. including the trenchant power of stereotypes) to its implacable diﬀerencing between men and women as an experience of trauma.5 Someone. see my “Primacy. perhaps. Equally. 2005): 22–27. perhaps. a silent witness to something unfathomable. in parts of the world. Lacking symbols. but it is questioned. Anachronism is relevant. 2006). it is more powerful when taken for granted. she may have been abruptly conjured into this role by the process itself. The very idea that one kind of culture. Indeed. yet it persists. For a discussion of contemporary architecture parallel to that oﬀered in this article see my The Architecture of Aftermath (Chicago. it suddenly seems. it is ascendant. through all the major survey exhibitions and the latest sales of contemporary art for record prices. Convergence. not to name it: like all unspeciﬁable but deeply desired values. On this topic. 6. The video constantly intercuts to a group of women circled closely together. recursive character—to predictable scorn followed by eventual acceptance. In the penultimate scene. In architecture. Before 9/11. the modernizing ones. In contrast to Barney’s baroque allegories. has been hiding there all along. of contemporary modernism—or “remodernism”—emphasizing its renovating. gets to decide that another is anachronistic is questioned (not least in Neshat’s activation of the aesthetics of Iranian ﬁlm). and any evident ritual. Passages between Cultures The main action of Shirin Neshat’s 2001 video Passage consists of a group of white-shirted men carrying something. irony is irrelevant. the men deliver their nearly invisible burden into the space cleared by the women. the parallel impulse has recovered an old label: late modern. soon. Just at that moment.
Photograph: Larry Barns. London. Charta and Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte. 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. Lisa Corrin (exhibition catalog. 30 Jan. Fervor (2000). Iranian performance artist Ghazel approaches the same subjects. In her set of three videos.” Third Text. The last scene of Passage implies that death exists beyond gender division. both incomprehensibly strange yet hauntingly familiar. Courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery. See Shirin Neshat. Giorgio Verzotti (exhibition catalog. .7 Neshat came to prominence as a visual poet of the inscriptions of power. Art growing out of the complexities of contemporaneity cannot oﬀer easy outs. This is to show us something that is. New York. at once. Serpentine Gallery. 57 (Winter 2001–2): 43–52. ed.690 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity f i g u r e 4. 2000). 2001.–5 May 2002). and Shirin Neshat. and Wein Kunsthalle. 5). Me in 2000. 2002 (ﬁg. as does the recurrence of life. Milan. 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. Passage. The complexities of Neshat’s situatedness are explored by Wendy Meryem K. Shaw. ed. tradition. however marked both may be by trauma. Shirin Neshat. ᭧ Shirin Neshat 2001. (1998). no. but from within a very diﬀerent aesthetic. notably in her photograph series The Women of Allah (1993– 97). Vienna. Production still from video. “Ambiguity and Audience in the Films of Shirin Neshat. and institutionalized religion on the bodies of women in patriarchal cultures. she parodies both Islamic dress codes and the typical tropes of conceptual art by performing a number of nominated actions 7.
including those devoted to interrogating its conditions and questioning its limits.. by laying bare its circumstantial cost. In Everyone Dreams of Staying Young and Fresh. Establishment opportunism kicks us in the stomach and claws its way back in. she wraps her already fully clad body in food-preserving foil. 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. in the light. the words and the image are in exact complementarity. Photograph: Miguel Rojas-Sotelo. the words of the title—an exhortation much used in encouragement manuals. 6). The contradictions in play here achieve explicitly public political dimensions in the work of many artists.Gettin’ Goals. and link left to right the ﬁrst letters of each word. Never.Ignorant. Ghazel. however. The illusion of simple equality is obliterated.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 691 based on commonsense sentiments while dressed in her burka. 2003. Video still. installation at Havana Biennale. including those aimed at African Americans. Me in 2003. the opposite meaning erupts. Bush during the presentation of her as secretary of state (ﬁg. smirking and squirming. This looks like what the televisual opportunity was intended to be: a resplendent advertisement for the American Dream. This depth of impa- f i g u r e 5. we read the words as marching on the image. This puts the entire trajectory of her work to date at risk. Seen one way. such as Tooba (2002) and Women without Men (2004). irretrievably. In Ayanah Moor’s 2004 wall installation. ﬂush with the self-evident realization of equal opportunity.Accomplished. for example. This rather desperate hilarity stands in marked contrast to the portentous character of Neshat’s most recent epics. The moral vacuity at the heart of the current administration stands naked. When. 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. .
mobile. for example. Its impulses are speciﬁc yet worldly. inclusive yet oppositional and anti-institutional. tience with categorization is becoming more common and signals a shift beyond the framework in which Neshat. as an art of that which actually is in the world.Ignorant. and open-ended. For the ﬁrst time in a major international survey exhibition.Gettin’ Goals. concrete but also various. continues to work. this kind of art swarmed the precincts of contemporary art. but which projects itself through and around these.Accomplished. even multitudinous. after two decades in which it propelled the Biennale circuit. of what it is to be in the world. and fourth worlds. In 2002. Ayanah Moor. 2004. and of that which is to come. 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. (One major recog- . Installation. Courtesy of the artist. via the platforms of Documenta 11. unmistakably and irretrievably.692 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity f i g u r e 6. art from second. and that concerned with traﬃc between these and the ﬁrst world. Never. third. took up most of the spaces and set the agenda. including the remnants of the cultures of modernity and postmodernity.
and “Under Siege: Four African Cities. deterritorialized. particularly Modernstarts: People. Sometimes. held in diﬀerent cities throughout 2001. p. postideological. Kinshasa. The collection of The Museum of Modern Art is. Lucia). transnational. post– cold war. the exhibition opened in Kassel. and covering such topics as “Democracy Unrealized” (Vienna and Berlin). 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. in 2002. Contemporary art is collected and presented at this Museum as part of modern art—as belonging within. 2000): 98–102. that argument. Germany. 28 Sept. Okwui Enwezor. The collected result in the form of a series of volumes and exhibitions is placed at the dialectical intersection of contemporary art and culture. “MoMA2000: The Capitulation. global 8. ed. in 2000. 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. Lagos” (Lagos). introducing the platforms that constituted Documenta 11. (July–Aug. and expanding upon the framework of initiatives and challenges established by the earlier history of progressive art since the dawn of the twentieth century. Kirk Varnedoe. 2d ser. New York. responding to. “Experiments with Truth: Transitional Justice and the Processes of Truth and Reconciliation” (New Delhi).Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 693 nition was that dividing the world into these worlds had been a ruinous enterprise and was failing. 2001). Places. they appear in raw terms. diasporic. and Joshua Siegel (exhibition catalog. “Creolite ´ and Creolization” (St.. when the grinding between them gets too hard. Freetown. Such an intersection equally marks the limits out of which the postcolonial.” in Modern Contemporary: Art at MoMA since 1980.) Confused curatorial retreat and a ﬁerce rearguard action—fought in the name of the rights of the spectator—has halted this advance. “Introduction. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 12. Things.8 Compare this conception of what was most at stake in millennial art exhibitions to that of another curator. 2000–30 Jan. Thus Kurt Varnedoe wrote. Varnedoe. Johannesburg. After a series of discussions.” New Left Review 4. . Paola Antonelli. in a very real sense. MoMA. see Franco Moretti. of which he was artistic director. 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. For a critique of MoMA’s millennial exhibitions.
Kassel. pro and con.” October. In short. a material reﬂection on a series of disparate and interconnected actions and processes. interpretation. Fronza Woods. Thus. What emerges in this transformation in diﬀerent parts of the world produces a critical ordering of intellectual and artistic networks of the globalizing world. remixing lens of relational aesthetics. activities. usually means doing so in relation to other sets. 2002). everyday-life recycling practices and “a world choked with referentiality. trans.” Artforum 29 (Mar. and disjunctions between diﬀerent realities: between artists. this amounts to a rereading of residual modernist formalism through the repeating. the exhibition project of the ﬁfth platform was less a receptacle of commodity objects than a container for a plurality of voices. more powerful than both popular. was conceived.” in Documenta 11—Platform 5: Exhibition (exhibition catalog. 2002). generations. these days. p. displacement. hybridization. “The Black Box. 10. Relational Aesthetics. Ibid. The exhibition has attracted much partisan comment. “Ordering the Universe: Documenta 11 and the Apotheosis of the Occidental Gaze.694 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity world has been written. no. in the words of Berlin critic Diedrich Diederichsen. 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. processes.”11 Grounding one set of values. both discussed in Claire Bishop. 2002) and Post-Production (New York. More useful are questions such as those raised by Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie.”10 Translating this into art discursive polemics. Dijon. media. genres. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics. 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 exhibition as a diagnostic toolbox actively seeks to stage the relationships. Diedrich Diederichsen. conjunctions. 110 (Fall 2004): 51–79. . 55. in the not-so-secret hope of surprising with an object-focussed art more integral. See Okwui Enwezor. 2005): 231. is woven through procedures of translation. Linking together the ﬁrst four platforms. A recent Hamburger Kunstverein exhibition. 11. between identity and subjectiﬁcation. He alludes to Nicolas Bourriaud. “Formalismus.” Art Journal 64 (Spring 2005): 80–89. subversion. as well as their material and symbolic ordering. This dialectical enterprise attempts to establish imaginative and concrete links within the various projects of modernity. Diederichsen understands the relationship between what I have described as the two big answers this way: 9. Their impact. creolization. Formalismus. institutions. disciplines. and Mathieu Copeland (1998. forms. Simon Pleasance. 8 June–15 Sept. the other a swarming of attack vehicles—has become common.9 Seeking a middle path between these two contending forces—one a tiring juggernaut. and reassemblage.
While the two big picture approaches have an undeniably powerful currency and are accurate accounts as far as they go. but it is dialectical only in the simplest. educational—imposed by art institutions. and the extent to which they provide the content of much contemporary art and establish its circuitry of communication. answer would be one in which the smaller-scale strategies listed in my opening paragraph. corporate. . or even postmodern. historical. one to which I shall keep returning. shared tendencies that are themselves the outcome. To him. (It will be obvious already that the second incorporates the ﬁrst. The guerrilla swarming of the others is marked by acknowledgment of the psychic. antinomies. the recourse to an art that is satisﬁed with constructing global networks of semi-politicized creative subcultures. in a word. neither of them fully addresses the changes in actual artistic practices that have. Diederichsen. curatorial. as contraries that are only partially synthesizable. via “dialectical synthesis. along with many others. marked out more and more artistic production as distinctively contemporary—as opposed to that which continues to be made in modernist. the return to the normality of painting and spectacular images in keeping with the logic of the art market. I separate them here to highlight an important tension within contemporary art. uncomfortably but of necessity. for arguably three decades now. themselves a key part of a now pervasive. both of the big answers are reductive options. modes. not of a persistent modernist 12. and each is as empty as the other. and political settings in which art is made. The “contemporary art” juggernaut operates primarily in terms of frameworks—managerial. 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. “Formalismus.12 From where he stands. beguilingly distractive but at bottom hollow cultural industry. social. that are highly generative but only as supplements of their mismatching—that are. The work provided an alternative to certain regressive and particularistic tendencies: on the one hand. static sense. the exhibition oﬀered a sophisticated overview of art today. on the other.” His approach is certainly synthetic.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 695 Theoretical ambitions notwithstanding. and better. of the demands that these conditions make upon practice. the only way forward is between them. are understood not as mere artworld stylistics but as symptoms of a limited number of powerful.) A third. commercial. 231. the “dialectic” is between three terms (only two of which I have set out so far) that are tied to each other. cultural. For me.” p.
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. and has been occurring for decades. calling the art of our day contemporary tells us nothing other than the banal fact that it is being made now. senses that there is. to put it more broadly. let alone supplant. Donald Kuspit. in more pragmatic realms: studios.696 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity formalism. marketplaces. Before exploring this idea in any depth. This is the domain across which something strange. and those of a world reshaped by rapid decolonization and incipient globalization. antinomic exchange. however. almost impossible. let me suggest. it is fair to ask. because the word contemporary—in its ordinary usages—is even less resonant than the word modern. What is contemporaneity other than a pointer (empty as a signiﬁer. 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. galleries. these objections fail because they could. there has always been more contemporaneity than historicity—but this fact only became emphatically explicit in modernity. It is just this quality. that infuses truly contemporary art and is the key to its contemporaneity. overfull as a signiﬁed) to whatever it is that is occurring in all of the world right now? How could such a term match. but of the great changes of the 1960s and 1970s. for one. yet acknowledges that something has changed: There has always been more contemporary than historical art—or. They are posed. desktops. and. themselves. occurs. be made at any time. some obvious objections met. 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. To periodize the ephemeral as contemporary art might be to repeat the mistake made when the same was done with modern art. Contemporary art seems a vacuous placeholder. some conceptual issues need to be cleared. in the past at least. the paradigm shifters internal to art itself. 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. better. It is something that could have been said at any time. modernity and postmodernity as a descriptor of the state of things? In logic. was overwhelmed by the abundance of contemporary art evi- . On the face of it. the contemporaneous qualities of an artwork— however initially attractive—were usually the least interesting things about it. We might call it dialectical supplementarity or. only more so.
Rather. he believes.asp. however shrouded in objections to the larger forces. implicated relativism is more diﬃcult. curators. media. critics. 13 Apr. Donald Kuspit.” For Kuspit.13 He does not specify precisely when this change occurred. then. . on the other. but more responsible. not history.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 697 dence that proposed alternative and often radically contrary ideas of value. 2004). to keep advancing a “pluralism of critical interpretations” of current. but his examples all have it being introduced in the 1960s. or at least historically. and degrees. and so he attacks artists. or works by select artists. is no solution. Here is my proposal. recent. when “the turbulent pluralism of modern art . Criticism. 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.” so that nominating particular artworks. com/Magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit4-14-05. www. on the one hand. any form of interpretive generalization will be self-defeating at best. Kuspit is right about the dangers of generalization in a situation where the shots are being called by inimical institutional. evolved state of contemporary art production. 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”).” These views are given fuller treatment in Kuspit. by the exclusivist superﬁciality of extraordinary auction prices and media-sensationalist celebrity. An engaged. He takes this to be the naturally. “the power of the contemporary comes from the insecurity of being ephemeral. . 2005. Or history as accreted criticism. In the current context. The responsible role for criticism in this context is. But singularizing particularity. by a Malthusian overproduction of artists and. 13. and past art in order to “keep it in contemporary play. he believes. the only option for criticism is. The End of Art (New York. it involves taking the three answers together as each containing diﬀering kinds. . and market forces. increased exponentially in the postmodern situation” (“CH”).” Artnet. I believe that the question. 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”). which he sees quite accurately as dominated. When this is put alongside the incommensurate particularity and radical incompleteness that is natural to the contemporary. “The Contemporary and the Historical. 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”). hereafter abbreviated “CH. at worst complicit.artnet.
fundamentally human questions: the nature of life and death. Who Kills Death (2003). and Oliver Payne and Nick Relph’s ﬁlm. 35). Julie Mehretu’s Untitled (Stadia) (2004).698 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity of present-making power. art supplies provisional syntheses. Hans Haacke’s persistent criticality. . dealt with “the Ultimates. Postmodernity and Contemporaneity. . Carnegie International curator Laura Hoptman opted for art that. Nancy Condee. ed. it was crucial to the conceptualization of the symposium Modernity and Contemporaneity: Antinomies of Art and Culture after the Twentieth Century. that display the workings of globality and locality. 4–6 November 2004. Rover Thomas’s ancient dreaming in the present.. tapped closest into the demands of contemporaneity. Harun Farocki’s Eye/Machine II (2002). These are the kinds of time that art is taking these days.15 Dislocation and Situatedness When I think of artists whose work has. pp. Francis Aly ¨ s’s The Prophet (a series begun 1992). Fernando Bryce’s Revolucio ´ n (2004). Driftwood (1999). and why it sets up settings. . I recognize that all of them are committed to an art that turns on long-term. this is how it uncovers images. We should treat them as antinomies—that is. Carnegie Museum of Art. the revelatory hoardings of Georges Ade ´ agbo. Gordon Bennett’s black/white Australian history paintings. over the past few years. the anatomy of belief ” (Laura Hoptman. the existence of God. and that imagine ways of living ethically within them: Turkey Tolson Tjuppurrula’s painted meditations on peace. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s Reading Inaow for Female Corpse (2001). 17. Every situation that is truly contemporary is an outcome of the friction between them. as statements about reality that. November 2004 to March 2005. my mind’s eye passes across the street and through the rooms of the Carnegie Museum of Art. 9 Oct. These include Kutlug Ataman’s Kuba (2004). these are the ways in which it arrives at made things. A number of works in that show display an urge to engage with contemporaneity in the ways I have just sketched. the war architecture of Lebbeus Woods. I thank Okwui Enwezor for reminding me of this relation. a number of recent paintings by Neo Rausch. Isa Genzhken’s Empire/Vampire. As I write these lines. jointly convened by us with Nancy Condee and held at the University of Pittsburgh. she felt. are contradictions incapable of mutual resolution without the obliteration of all but one. Smith. ed. 2005].14 We should recognize the energy of their profound contention. N. and Enwezor (Durham.C. Pittsburgh. modelling the minutiae of the world’s processes as supplements deposited in their wake. Hoptman [exhibition catalog. where the ﬁfty-fourth Carnegie International was shown. 15. Working within but also against this general condition.000 Years of Civilization—after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier (2000–2003). provides pauses in the overall rush into the unsynthesizable. 14. “The Essential Thirty-eight. See Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity. showing its ﬂows as if in section or as glimpses frozen into objects intended for passersby. Paul Chan’s Happiness (Finally) after 35. forthcoming). Emily Kngwarreye’s withheld exposures of her earthworlds. . yet each of which remains true in itself. 2004–20 Mar. Rachael Harrison’s Untitled (Perth Amboy) (2001). Maurizio Cattelan’s Now (2004).” The Fiftyfourth Carnegie International. in which many of the issues raised in this essay were canvassed. when linked. Pittsburgh. exemplary projects that discern the antinomies of the world as it is.
Richard Wilson’s various installations of 20/50. their work gains much of its subliminal power from an engagement. Rachael Whiteread’s cast voids. Allan Sekula’s tracking of global maritime ﬂows. the diﬀerence is that they treat them as echoes. in Los Angeles. Slight gestures. Nor would I wish to divide current practitioners into two camps.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 699 Doris Salcedo’s registrations of enforced disappearance. such as Bijari. and Mary Kelly the traumas of motherhood. however ﬁltered. the arch commentary of the Atlas Group. To which . Tania Bruguera. and Martı ´n Shastre. small steps. those artists just listed cannot avoid these same modernist ruins. feral strategies. Zoe Leonard’s records of economic place making. as hollow resonances. not to resolve them. with the demands of contemporaneity. Wenda Gu’s united nations project. Ilona Ne ´ meth. Mark Lombardi’s delicate diagrams of the criminality of international economies. Cindy Sherman. Fiona Hall’s meditations on cultural currency. baldly opposed. Richard Pettibon. Jean-Pierre Bruyere’s photographic and iCinema allegories of the lifeworlds of young children in the cities of the Congo. mild subversions. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s open invitations. Eduardo Kac and Patricia Piccinini’s startling evocations of cloning. It is an impressive body of work. many other artists who operate between these tendencies. contra ﬁle ´. the chameleon public sphere politics of the Yes Men and increasing numbers of collectives. Mona Hatoum. the coy meditations on everyday life of Rivane Neuenschwander. Thomas Hirschhorn’s antimonuments. Similarly. and La Baulera. Ilya Kabakov’s ideological memory capsules. There are. Accusations of sensationalism. and Bill Henson. the communal cultural work of groups such as Huit Fachette and Wochenkausur. Isaac Julien the circuitry of desire. and get on with their search for an aesthetics and ethics that might be viable in the aftermath. While the contemporary artists listed earlier remain framed by the ruins of the modernist project. but to extend their premises outward: the plethora of artist’s museums. the inventive recycling of Pierre Huyghe and Douglas Gordon among many others. and it’s growing. Jeﬀ Wall. the resonant photo tableaux of Tracey Moﬀatt. the sharp parodies of the international art system by Andrea Fraser. and Jorge Macchi on the vicissitudes of public speech. William Kentridge tapping his country’s racial unconscious. and Marlene Dumas ﬁguring the misshaping of women by societies. as well. Bill Viola’s eﬀorts to reinspire spirituality. not least the Museum of Jurassic Technology. esoteric irrelevance. Chantal Ackerman charting border crossings. 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. and bad faith do not apply. Felix Gonzales-Torres’s reﬂections on personal loss. Shirin Neshat. Tanja Ostojic.
until it became. They make visible our sense that these fundamental. Critical Inquiry 31 (Winter 2005): 329–64. however. as its time went on. “Global History and the Present Time. 103. or mode. and the thousands more of whom they are representatives. Recently. p. Christian Thorne. become increasingly modern. mediation. Helms [Orleans. it became the name of its own period. pastness. The Thickening of the Present In the ancient world. when contrast with what was seen to be the past. historical. Mass. expectation” (Augustine. Augustine: “There are three times: a present of things past. Despite the vibrancy of these tendencies. that of the “human soul. Hal M. and Technology. however. All of the artists mentioned. I am indebted to Wolf Scha ¨ fer. 2004). Augustine places this sense of time.” in Wiring Prometheus: Globalization. Within this contemporaneity. a present of things present. of fullness emergent in the otherwise ordinary passing of time and within the predictable unfolding of fashion (hodiernus. modern became the core of a set of terms that narrated the two-centuries-long formation of modernity in terms of novelty. it seems to me that at least four themes course through the heterogeneity that is natural to contemporaneity. they seek sustainable modes of survival. it was presumed. around the shores of the Mediterranean. steadily more strange. “Modernity and Literary Tradition.”17 In the expanded modern world.. and mood. (dis)location. Nowadays. trans. “of today”). Peter Lyth and Helmut Trischler (Aarhus. and futurism.” against God’s eternal time. ed. focus their wide-ranging concerns on questions of time. 17. 246).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). See Hans Robert Jauss. place. sight. History. Augustine. in a paradox tolerated by most. Denmark. transformativity within the hyperreal. the word modern (modernus) distinguished a mood. modern art and modernism. and then several past periods. became central to the meaning of modern. without end. An early formulation was that of St. the list looks more like: (alter)temporality. present of things present. one that would. not least those of its deﬁnitive artistic currents. modern movement architecture and modern or contemporary design. each day. The Confessions of St. the “modern” aged.” trans. Indeed. In brief. p. familiar constituents of being are becoming. memory. for this reminder.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. and the altercation of aﬀect/eﬀectivity. cooperation.and growth. and goes on to note that “these three do somehow exist in the mind. present of things future. in most ordinary usage—in English and in 16. and a present of future things. 1986]. for otherwise I do not see them: there is present of things past. .
been able to maintain its division of the world into those who live in modern times and those who.18 Nevertheless. “Topology of Contemporary Art. rather. “Global History and the Present Time.” p. academic courses. mainly as a default for modern. was) directed towards the future. For most of the twentieth century. to practice a work in progress. Boris Groys. to reduce it to a permanently selfeﬀacing moment of transition from past to future. uncannily. an exchange between the father of a young Senegalese revolutionary and a French teacher: We have not had the same past. because no one can any longer live by the simple carrying out of what he himself is. 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.19 Increased opportunity of access has not. 19. This shift has been occurring since the decline of modernism in the 1980s and has appeared in institutional naming—of galleries. you and ourselves. to currency.” Wolf Scha ¨fer cites a passage from Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s 1961 novel Ambiguous Adventure.” in Antinomies of Art and Culture. for decades. the word contemporary served. when modernist attitudes prevailed. the end of the world has indeed come for every one of us. .Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 701 some but not all other European languages—it has surrendered currency to the term contemporary and its cognates. the same future. Boris Groys points out the main reason: Modern art is (or. Quoted in Scha ¨ fer. 120. In that sense. strictly. to forget the present. and textbook titles—which. however. in art discourse as elsewhere. auction house departments. and especially in the 1920s and the 1960s. Modernity has not. meant equality of outcome—on the contrary—nor has it meant (contrary to early fears about 18. Because of this permanent movement towards the future modern art tends to overlook. museums. St. were regarded as noncontemporaneous beings. tend to use contemporary as a soft signiﬁer of current plurality. Augustine’s accumulation of presents has returned. while physically present. The era of separate destinies has run its course. of course. Being modern means to live in a project. but we shall have. This change echoes a larger one. 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.
slower. In many parts of the world. or period.” the coincidental “having existed or lived from the same date. lying close by. the power to force everyone forward in broadly the same direction has been lost. Regarding Contemporaneity The word contemporary has always meant more than just the plain and passing present. fast. The term contemporary calibrates a number of distinct but related ways of being in or with time.702 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity globalization) homogeneity of choices. coeval.” and the adventitious “occurring at the same moment of time. Are we at a threshold of large-scale meaning change. from. of many parts and elements of it). fundamentalisms move in just one direction. is as rich as that of modern. In these conﬂicted circumstances. age. or during the same period. at. equal in age. and their conceptions of historical development move in multifarious directions. turning on prepositions. 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. consciousness is concerned with taking many steps. will miss as much of the main point as do the fundamentalisms. There is the strong sense of “belonging to the same time. not from the old to the new but vice versa. There is such a set. during the seventeenth century in England. Nor does postmodernity explain enough of what is happening in what remains of the West as the world migrates to it. occupying the same deﬁnite period. In these circumstances. and however decked out with a modiﬁed version of postmodernity. we can now see. everyone changing as they come and go. or during time. yet again? If so. Against this broad tide. at least. for a while. but not the world. and the isolation of postmodernity as a fate of the West (or. 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. During the period of modernity’s dominance.” the evaporation of postmodernism as a onegeneration wonder. 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. implacably. Indeed. on being placed to. or frozen time. 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. They are all relational. The current edition of the Oxford English Dictionary gives four major meanings. . Its etymology. even of being in and out of time at the same time. it seemed that cotemporary might overtake it to express this strange currency. any appellation that ties a current world description entirely to modernity. Multiple temporalities are the rule these days. in however conditional a manner.
that contemporaneity consists precisely in the constant experience of radical disjunctures of perception. events. simultaneous. and to the time they happen to be in. Of course. To leap to such a conclusion would be to miss an essential quality of contemporaneousness: its immediacy. of direct experience of multiplicitous complexity over the singular simplicity of distanced reﬂection. etc. we would see its constituent features manifest there to the virtual exclusion of other explanations. its instantaneity. especially up-to-date. at once within and against the times. is it “a time” because if the modern were inclined above all to deﬁne itself as a period. the two words have ﬁnally exchanged their core meaning: the contemporary has become the new modern. while the phenomena may have some sense of being joined by their contemporaneousness. We would see. its presentness. against its grain) as a key to world picturing. while the connectedness is stronger. they may feel themselves as standing. and time together under a one-directional banner: “Modern. ultramodern. do so now. in the actual coincidence of asynchronous temporalities. and will do so in the future.” In this deﬁnition. all thrown together in ways that highlight the fast-growing inequalities within and between them. then. separately. mismatching ways of seeing and valuing the same world. standing alongside yet apart from each other. It is the OED’s fourth deﬁnition of contemporary that brings persons.” In each of these meanings there is a distinctive sense of presentness. existing in simple simultaneity.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 703 contemporaneous. but without its subsequent contract with the future. in the jostling contingency of various cultural and social multiplicities. having modern characteristics. or era. whereas the ﬁrst points to the phenomenon of two or more people. of beings who are (that are) present to each other. ideas. their contemporaries may not stand in relation to time as they do. following this logic. If we were to generalize this quality (of course. out of the modern age. The second and third meanings make this clear. They may also subsist in a complex awareness that. We are. decoration. indeed. given human diﬀerence. as it were. these kinds of relationships have occurred at all times in the historical past. or things “belonging” to the same historical time. No longer does it feel like “our time” because “our” cannot stretch to encompass its contrariness. This certainly looks like the world as it is now. its prioritizing of the moment over the time. of being in the present. they may equally well do so. given the diversity of present experiences of temporality. in important senses. the instant over the epoch. Yet. in contemporaneity periodization is . building. or furniture. Finally. of or characteristic of the present period. and in that of the contemporary. speciﬁcally designating art of a markedly avant-garde quality. ideas. and sort the past into periods. things. even here. Nor. It is the pregnant present of the original meaning of modern.
21. the Work of Mourning and the New International.” “altertemporality. is now general and. as perpetual advent. but as a kind of incessant incipience. 24. it is an appeal for radical particularism to work with and against radical generalization. 8. la moitie ´ de l’art. the introduction and chap. 21. “The Painter of Modern Life” and Other Essays. Global historians continue to do us great service by tracking the trajectories of large forces that unfold through lengthy durations. to come. Manuel de Landa. R. 2003). See J. 227–74. forever shall be. metropolitan. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago. they are at its volatile core. it seems. Following my reservation about Kuspit’s conclusion.” not in a state of wrought transﬁguration. esp. singularizing particularism. p. This responds to one of the dilemmas posed by Fredric Jameson. ed.21 “Multeity. c’est le transitoire. le contingent. McNeill. to treat all the elements in the mix as antinomies. while impossible to foresee or predict. 22. 12. These include the social and ecological elements—localized. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt. 2002). This is why there is no longer any overarching explanatory totality that accurately accumulates and convincingly accounts for these proliferating diﬀerences. A key concept in Derrida’s later work. that which is. the contingent. trans.”24 Yet a paradoxical outcome of recent long-term historical explanations is their unusual degree of uncertainty with regard to the im20. McNeill and William H.” trans.23 Yet it is equally important to weave into these accounts recognition of the less visible workings of what de Landa names “matterenergy. Jonathan Mayne (London. in Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Ju ¨ rgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York. for example. 1964). “The Painter of Modern Life” (1864). and cosmopolitan—of the successively expanding “human web” described. . Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas.704 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity impossible. p. trans. The present may become “eternal. this is not a recommendation for stand-alone. of the kind theorized by Jacques Derrida as l’avenir. dont l’autre moitie ´ est l’e ´ ternel et l’immuable” (“By modernity I mean the ephemeral.” and inequity are not only the most striking features on any short list of the qualities of contemporaneity. see also pp. 2000). by the McNeills. le fugitif. The particular. Baudelaire’s famous formulation—“La modernite ´ . as Baudelaire had hoped. 2003). 23.20 This suggests that the only potentially permanent thing about this state of aﬀairs is that its impermanence may last forever. The Human Web (New York. Unlike Baudelaire’s famous markers of modernite ´.22 In the aftermath of modernity and the passing of the postmodern. the most relevant texts here being Jacques Derrida. they may be all that there is. they are not the symptoms of a deeper stability or an entry point to its achievement. Giovanna Borradori (Chicago. rather. perhaps. the fugitive. the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable”)—appears in Charles Baudelaire. A Singular Modernity: An Essay on the Ontology of the Present (London. 1994) and the interview following 9/11. “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides.
Germs. “coming of thought and organization. and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York. But their partiality inevitably means that they do so in ways that divide each bloc of believers more and more from the others. Diﬀerences that are as profound as these do not lie side by side. 26. 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. 110. seek recon25. the homogenizing thrusts of certain kinds of economic globalization. beguiling power of these simpliﬁcations buildsfollowings in larger and larger numbers. 2005). just as every one of us lives in them. always.” p. In the hearts of their spiritual leaders. all the time. thoroughly embedded inside these processes. Social geographers such as Jared Diamond alert us to the prospect that societies based on guns. See Jared Diamond. that not even their fundamentalism is applicable to all humankind.S. Certainly the commanding. with the net eﬀect that they not only cast out “unbelievers” but undermine their own future triumph. for example. Too many of them are violently bent on the erasure of the other. Scha ¨fer. Some. We are. of jihad. the forms in which that might occur seem less predictable. obliging it to adapt to local circumstances. 2003) and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York.”26 New World Disarray In public discourse. nor do they sit up separately in some static array awaiting our inspection. “master narratives” persist and continue to promise everything from continuing modernizing progress—freedom and democracy are the watchwords of U. all over the place. remain Other. however. of the world on us and us on the world. that the others will. Guns. “Global History and the Present Time. Their interaction is a major work of the world. They are actively implicated in each other. mostly. the appeals to universal rights that have been for decades an available language for negotiation between competing interests. there is a dawning sense that world domination by any one set of views is impossible in human aﬀairs. New forms of translation need to be found for channelling the world’s friction. and steel are on the verge of immanent collapse if they continue to maintain present modes ¨fer (rather blandly) puts it. is obviously one of the great challenges. all of us. This sense underlies. expansion into the Middle East—to the return of spiritual leaders under the banner.25 As Scha to terms with the complexity of the present time. and deeply threatens.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 705 mediate future. and often gestural. . peacefully. While belief in the persistence through the present of ongoing formations is widespread. It also renders provisional. which results from the massive parallelism of cultural contemporaneities. germs.
the crisis of post–World War II international institutions as political and economic mediators (UN. 2 vols. and as an occasion to reimpose social constraints within ostensible democracies. the revival of leftist governments in South America. 2005). Transformations in Australian Art. 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. the implosive fallout of the second world and the reemergence of authoritarianism within it. continuing conﬂicts in the Middle East. 2002). the suddenness of unReal states and of the apparent extension of Europe. The Australian Contemporary Aboriginal Art movement. interview with Hamid Mir. 11 Nov. as well as the emergence of what may be new ones. ecological time bombs everywhere and the looming threat of societal collapse. as a ﬁssuring of the iconomy.27 All of these elements were present in events such as the 9/11 attacks on various U. in the ex-Soviet peripheries. the uncertain prospect of a U. the question of European polity.J. See Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. China). and in the subsequent disarray among curators and critics. Africa. Central Europe. N. the proliferation of protest movements and alternative networks. Osama bin Laden. 29. I argue this in “Aboriginality and Postmodernity: Parallel Lives. World Bank). for example. 28. “icons of military and economic power”—an incomplete event with continuing eﬀects in all spheres of life. the accelerating concentration of wealth in a few countries and within those countries its concentration in the few.29 Other recent events indicate profound realignments of modernity’s great formations. foregrounded in major survey exhibitions. And the discursive division of world art into oﬃcial brands 27. Among these: 9/11 as an attack within an ideological war. internally and externally.706 Terry Smith / Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity ciliation within a framework of respect for diﬀerence. 3. the concentration and narrowing of media versus the spread of the internet. Classic conceptions of modernity and modernism. such as Documenta 11 of 2002 and the ﬁftieth Venice Biennale in 2003. The Observer. (Sydney. . the coexistence of multiple economies and cultures within singular state formations (most prominently.28 While the language of universals remains current.S. now. IMF. it always arises in concrete particulars and increasingly in the form of frictional encounters. the deadly inadequacy of tribalism versus modernization as models for decolonization.” the concluding chapter of Smith. and the Paciﬁc. the ubiquity and diversiﬁcation of specular culture..S. emperium. p. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton. contradictions within and between regulated and coercive economies and deregulated and criminal ones. and the distinctively diﬀerent models of appropriate artistic practice. the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. is signiﬁcantly driven by this impulse. 2:144–67. 2001.
however precariously and debilitatingly. 30. and even more challenging. 1974): 54–59. more and more insights into adaptable modes of active resistance and hopeful persistence. A less salutary.Critical Inquiry / Summer 2006 707 issued from the power centers and the struggling multiplicity emergent from everywhere else cannot do so either. Just over thirty years ago I described the international art system as still centered. Yet sprinkled amidst the recursion to past and fantastical styles of security we have seen. The rich complexities of contemporaneity have set the world’s agenda since the end of the cold war. in the artworks highlighted here. on the New York artworld. however much it strives to concentrate its power. creating a nearly universal condition of permanent-seeming aftermath—Ground Zero everywhere. now.30 It is inspiring. See Smith. aspect of contemporaneity is the world (dis)order in which this productivity subsists. .” Artforum 13 (Sept. to be able to see that this system. “The Provincialism Problem. has been transformed by a larger network of widely dispersed and variously connected sources of creative coping.