Skip navigation

Contemporary Art

  • Page 4 of 17

Once considered a mere caretaker for collections, the curator is now widely viewed as a globally connected auteur. Over the last twenty-five years, as international group exhibitions and biennials have become the dominant mode of presenting contemporary art to the public, curatorship has begun to be perceived as a constellation of creative activities not unlike artistic praxis. The curator has gone from being a behind-the-scenes organizer and selector to a visible, centrally important cultural producer. In The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), Paul O’Neill examines the emergence of independent curatorship and the discourse that helped to establish it.

O’Neill describes how, by the 1980s, curated group exhibitions--large-scale, temporary projects with artworks cast as illustrative fragments--came to be understood as the creative work of curator-auteurs. The proliferation of new biennials and other large international exhibitions in the 1990s created a cohort of high-profile, globally mobile curators, moving from Venice to Paris to Kassel. In the 1990s, curatorial and artistic practice converged, blurring the distinction between artist and curator.

O’Neill argues that this change in the understanding of curatorship was shaped by a curator-centered discourse that effectively advocated--and authorized--the new independent curatorial practice. Drawing on the extensive curatorial literature and his own interviews with leading curators, critics, art historians, and artists, O’Neill traces the development of the curator-as-artist model and the ways it has been contested. The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s) documents the many ways in which our perception of art has been transformed by curating and the discourses surrounding it.

Contemporary Art from North North America

The fact that Canada has a vibrant contemporary art scene is no secret to Canadians, but in other parts of the world, including the United States, this is not as recognized as it deserves to be. This wide-ranging, comprehensive survey of contemporary Canadian art, showcasing the work of artists from all across the country, will change that. These artists include those who have risen to international prominence--Michael Snow, Garry Neill Kennedy, and Marcel Dzama, among others—as well as many artists who have yet to be discovered outside Canada.

Oh, Canada (and the exhibition it accompanies at MASS MoCA) surveys nearly every province and territory, grouping artists by region, offering a new kind of travel guide with art as the main attraction. The result is not art that defines itself by national identity but rather some remarkable contemporary art that happens to be Canadian. Each section--from British Columbia and the Yukon to the Prairies and North, Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada and the Ex-Pats--includes a text on the art of the region, interviews between artists, and examples of their work. Oh, Canada also includes a detailed exploration of today’s Canadian art scene by the editor and whimsical shorter pieces in a variety of forms (travelogues, poems, even fiction) by other writers, among them Douglas Coupland and Jane Urquhart. An appendix offers two lists of Canadians you didn’t know were Canadian--one compiled by an American and the other by a Canadian. Oh, Canada is an unprecedented, near-encyclopedic guide to Canadian contemporary art, and to Canada itself.

Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011
Edited by Nato Thompson

Over the past twenty years, an abundance of art forms have emerged that use aesthetics to affect social dynamics. These works are often produced by collectives or come out of a community context; they emphasize participation, dialogue, and action, and appear in situations ranging from theater to activism to urban planning to visual art to health care. Engaged with the texture of living, these art works often blur the line between art and life. This book offers the first global portrait of a complex and exciting mode of cultural production—one that has virtually redefined contemporary art practice.

Living as Form grew out of a major exhibition at Creative Time in New York City. Like the exhibition, the book is a landmark survey of more than 100 projects selected by a thirty-person curatorial advisory team; each project is documented by a selection of color images. The artists include the Danish collective Superflex, who empower communities to challenge corporate interest; Turner Prize nominee Jeremy Deller, creator of socially and politically charged performance works; Women on Waves, who provide abortion services and information to women in regions where the procedure is illegal; and Santiágo Cirugeda, an architect who builds temporary structures to solve housing problems.

Living as Form contains commissioned essays from noted critics and theorists who look at this phenomenon from a global perspective and broaden the range of what constitutes this form.

Contributing authors
Claire Bishop, Carol Becker, Teddy Cruz, Brian Holmes, Shannon Jackson, Maria Lind, Anne Pasternak, Nato Thompson

 

Communal (Post)Modernism in Russia

In The Museological Unconscious, Victor Tupitsyn views the history of Russian contemporary art through a distinctly Russian lens, a "communal optic" that registers the influence of such characteristically Russian phenomena as communal living, communal perception, and communal speech practices. This way of looking at the subject allows him to gather together a range of artists and art movements—from socialist realism to its "dangerous supplement," sots art, and from alternative photography to feminism—as if they were tenants in a large Moscow apartment.

Describing the notion of "communal optics," Tupitsyn argues that socialist realism does not work without communal perception—which, as he notes, does not easily fit into crates when paintings travel out of Russia for exhibition in Kassel or New York. Russia, he writes, went through an immense "optical restructuring" in the 1930s, in which viewers of art were "communalized." This restructuring (and the effect it had on Soviet cultural mentality) is the leitmotif that runs through the book, as Tupitsyn discusses such topics as the history of alternative Russian art, the communal conceptualism of the 1970s and 1980s (epitomized by Ilya Kabakov and Andrei Monastyrsky), the iconoclastic sots art movement (the best-known practitioners of which are the artistic team of Komar and Melamid), the different art worlds of Moscow and St. Petersburg (the "aesthetics of transparency" versus the "aesthetics of a blind spot"), the "creative violence" of the telesniks, and the relationships among different generations of "nonconformists." Russian artists, critics, and art historians, having lived for decades in a society that ignored or suppressed avant-garde art, have compensated, Tupitsyn claims, by developing a "museological unconscious"—the "museification" of the inner world and the collective psyche.

In a career that spanned five decades, most of them spent in San Francisco, Bruce Conner (1933–2008) produced a unique body of work that refused to be contained by medium or style. Whether making found-footage films, hallucinatory ink-blot graphics, enigmatic collages, or assemblages from castoffs, Conner took up genres as quickly as he abandoned them. His movements within San Francisco’s counter-cultural scenes were similarly free-wheeling; at home in beat poetry, punk music, and underground film circles, he never completely belonged to any of them. Bruce Conner belonged to Bruce Conner. Twice he announced his own death; during the last years of his life he produced a series of pseudonymous works after announcing his “retirement.” In this first book-length study of Conner’s enormously influential but insufficiently understood career, Kevin Hatch explores Conner’s work as well as his position on the geographical, cultural, and critical margins.

Hatch finds a set of abiding concerns that inform Conner’s wide-ranging works and changing personas. A deep anxiety pervades the work, reflecting a struggle between private, unknowable, interior experience and a duplicitous world of received images and false appearances. The profane and the sacred, the comic and the tragic, the enigmatic and the universal: each of these antinomies is pushed to the breaking point in Conner’s work.

Generously illustrated with many color images of Conner’s works, Looking for Bruce Conner proceeds in roughly chronological fashion, from Conner’s notorious assemblages (BLACK DAHLIA and RATBASTARD among them) through his experimental films (populated by images from what Conner called “the tremendous, fantastic movies going in my head from all the scenes I’d seen”), his little-known graphic work, and his collage and inkblot drawings.

One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank

In Jeff Koons’s One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (1985), a Spalding basketball floats in the center of a glass tank that stands on a four-legged black metal structure. It has been called one of the defining works of the 1980s--but also described (by such critics as Craig Owens, Rosalind Krauss, and Hal Foster) as "an endgame," "misleading," and "repulsive." The work presents what the artist called "the ultimate state of being"--neither death nor life but the absence of change. It captured a spirit of the time, characterized by commodification, seduction, and political inactivity. Its stillness embodied the opposite of social revolution. But the "total equilibrium" of the work is actually temporary. For purely physical reasons, the equilibrium is lost every six months and must be reset.

In this extended essay on Koons's famous work, Michael Archer puts One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank in an art historical framework, describing its initial exhibition at International With Monument in New York and related issues of media, commercialism, and class. He discusses the wider context of the 1980s art world, in which a renewed attention to painting practices met the legacy of Pop and appropriation art--setting the stage for the negative critical reception Koons’s artwork first received. Archer goes on to consider sport as celebrity-maker and industry; the physical science of equilibrium; and the implications of the fact that the equilibrium of One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank is indeed total--but temporary.

What is the first thing to learn in art school? “Art can be anything.” The second thing? “Learn to draw.” With 101 Things to Learn in Art School, artist and teacher Kit White delivers and develops such lessons, striking an instructive balance between technical advice and sage concepts. These 101 maxims, meditations, and demonstrations offer both a toolkit of ideas for the art student and a set of guiding principles for the artist. Complementing each of the 101 succinct texts is an equally expressive drawing by the artist, often based on a historical or contemporary work of art, offering a visual correlative to the written thought. “Art can be anything” is illustrated by a drawing of Duchamp’s famous urinal; a description of chiaroscuro art is illuminated by an image “after Caravaggio”; a lesson on time and media is accompanied by a view of a Jenny Holzer projection; advice about surviving a critique gains resonance from Piero della Francesca’s arrow-pierced Saint Sebastian.
101 Things to Learn in Art School offers advice about the issues artists confront across all artistic media, but this is no simple handbook to making art. It is a guide to understanding art as a description of the world we live in, and it is a guide to using art as a medium for thought. And so this book belongs on the reading list of art students, art teachers, and artists, but it also belongs in the library of everyone who cares about art as a way of understanding life.

Edited by Felicity Allen

This book will be an original and indispensable resource for all who believe in the importance of art in the wider educational realm. Framing the recent "educational turn" in the arts within a broad historical and social context, this anthology raises fundamental questions about how and what should be taught in an era of distributive rather than media-based practices.

Among the many sources and arguments traced here is second-wave feminism, which questioned dominant notions of personal and institutional freedom as enacted through art teaching and practice. Similarly, education-based responses by the art community to the catastrophes of World War II and postcolonial conflict critically inform contemporary art confronting the interrelationships of education, power, market capitalism, and--as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri describe it--the global condition of war.

These writings by artists, philosophers, educators, poets, and activists center on three recurring and interrelated themes: the notion of "indiscipline" in theories and practices that challenge boundaries of all kinds; the present and future role of the art school; and the turn to pedagogy as medium in a diverse range of recent projects. Other writings address such issues as instrumentalism and control, liberation and equality, the production and the politics of culture, and the roots of research-based practice and experimental participatory works.

Edited by Brian Dillon

The "ruins" of the modern era are the landmarks of recent art’s turn toward site and situation, history and memory. The abiding interest of artists in ruination and decay has led in particular to the concept of the modern ruin--an ambiguous site of artistic and architectural modernism, personal and collective memories, and the cultural afterlife of eras such as those of state communism and colonialism. Contemporary art’s explorations of the ruin can evoke on the one hand diverse experiences of nostalgia and on the other a ceaselessly renewed encounter with catastrophes of the recent past and apprehensions of the future. For every relic of a harmonious era or utopian dream stands another recalling industrial decline, environmental disaster, and the depredations of war.

This anthology provides a comprehensive survey of the contemporary ruin in cultural discourse, aesthetics, and artistic practice. It examines the development of ruin aesthetics from the  early modern era to the present; the ruin as a privileged emblem of modernity’s decline; the relic as a portal onto the political history of the recent past; the destruction and decline of cities and landscapes, with the emergence of "non-places" and “drosscape”; the symbolism of the entropic and decayed in critical environmentalism; and the confusing temporalities of the ruin in recent art--its involution of timescales and perspectives as it addresses not just the past but the future.

To the extent that Chinese contemporary art has become a global phenomenon, it is largely through the groundbreaking exhibitions curated by Gao Minglu: "China/Avant-Garde" (Beijing, 1989), "InsideOut: New Chinese Art" (Asia Society, New York, 1998), and "TheWall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art" (Albright-Knox Art Gallery,2005) among them. As the first Chinese writer to articulate a distinctively Chinese avant-gardism and modernity—one notdefined by Western chronology or formalism—Gao Minglu is largelyresponsible for the visibility of Chinese art in the global art scene today. Contemporary Chinese artists tend to navigate between extremes, either embracing or rejecting a rich classical tradition. Indeed, for Chinese artists, the term "modernity" refers not to a new epoch or aesthetic but to a new nation—modernityinextricably connects politics to art. It is this notion of "totalmodernity" that forms the foundation of the Chinese avant-gardeaesthetic, and of this book. Gao examines the many ways Chineseartists engaged withthis intrinsic total modernity, including the '85 Movement, politicalpop, cynical realism, apartment art,maximalism, and the museum age, encompassing the emergenceof local art museums and organizations as well as such major events as theShanghai Biennial. He describes the inner logic of the Chinese context whilelocating the art within the framework of a worldwide avant-garde. He vividlydescribes the Chinese avant-garde’s embrace of a modernity that unifiespolitics, aesthetics, and social life, blurring the boundaries betweenabstraction, conception, and representation. Lavishly illustrated with colorimages throughout, this book will be a touchstone for all considerations ofChinese contemporary art.

  • Page 4 of 17