From biennials and installations to participatory practices, contemporary art has come to embrace an aesthetic of democratization. Art’s capacity for democracy building now defines its contemporary relevance, part of a broader, global glorification of democracy as, it seems, the only legitimate model of politics. Yet numerous artists reject the alignment of art and democracy—in part because democracy has been associated not only with utopian political visions but also with neoliberal incursions and military interventions.
The boundary of a contemporary art object or project is no longer something that exists only in physical space; it also exists in social, political, and ethical space. Art has opened up to transnational networks of producers and audiences, migrating into the sphere of social and distributive systems, whether in the form of “relational aesthetics” or other critical reinventions of practice. Art has thus become increasingly implicated in questions of ethics.
In the late 1950s, experiments such as the cybernetic sculptures of Nicolas Schöffer or the programmatic music compositions of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis transposed systems theory from the sciences to the arts. By the 1960s, artists as diverse as Roy Ascott, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Sonia Sheridan, and Stephen Willats were breaking with accepted aesthetics to embrace open systems that emphasized organism over mechanism, dynamic processes of interaction among elements, and the observer’s role as an inextricable part of the system.
These influential essays by the noted critic and art historian Benjamin Buchloh have had a significant impact on the theory and practice of art history. Written over the course of three decades and now collected in one volume, they trace a history of crucial artistic transitions, iterations, and paradigmatic shifts in the twentieth century, considering both the evolution and emergence of artistic forms and the specific historical moment in which they occurred.
In Alien Agency, Chris Salter tells three stories of art in the making. Salter examines three works in which the materials of art—the “stuff of the world”—behave and perform in ways beyond the creator’s intent, becoming unknown, surprising, alien. Studying these works—all three deeply embroiled in and enabled by science and technology—allows him to focus on practice through the experiential and affective elements of creation.
In No Medium, Craig Dworkin looks at works that are blank, erased, clear, or silent, writing critically and substantively about works for which there would seem to be not only nothing to see but nothing to say. Examined closely, these ostensibly contentless works of art, literature, and music point to a new understanding of media and the limits of the artistic object.
As Hollis Frampton’s photographs and celebrated experimental films were testing the boundaries of “the camera arts” in the 1960s and 1970s, his provocative and highly literate writings were attempting to establish an intellectually resonant form of discourse for these critically underexplored fields. It was a time when artists working in diverse disciplines were beginning to pick up cameras and produce films and videotapes, well before these practices were understood or embraced by institutions of contemporary art.
Since the late 1970s, the Berlin-based contemporary artist Isa Genzken (b. 1948) has produced a body of work that is remarkable for its formal and material inventiveness. In her sculptural practice, Genzken has developed an expanded material repertoire that includes plaster, concrete, epoxy resin, and mass-produced objects that range from action figures to discarded pizza boxes.
Expansion, convergence, adjacency, projection, rapport, and intersection are a few of the terms used to redraw the boundaries between art and architecture during the last thirty-five years. If modernists invented the model of an ostensible “synthesis of the arts,” their postmodern progeny promoted the semblance of pluralist fusion.
The choreographic stages a conversation in which artwork is not only looked at but looks back; it is about contact that touches even across distance. The choreographic moves between the corporeal and cerebral to tell the stories of these encounters as dance trespasses into the discourse and disciplines of visual art and philosophy through a series of stutters, steps, trembles, and spasms.