A panel held by the Platypus Affiliated Society on Saturday, February 23rd, 2013, at the New School.
Transcribed in Platypus Review #58 (Click below to see):
The “death of art” has been a recurring theme within aesthetic and philosophical discourse for over two centuries. At times, this “death” has been proclaimed as an accomplished fact; at others, artists themselves have taken the “death of art” as a goal to be accomplished. So while this widely perceived “death” is lamented by many as a loss, it is celebrated by others as a moment of life renewed. For them, art is all the better for having disburdened itself of the baggage of outmoded modernist ideologies. Insofar as the “death” of longstanding cultural traditions has in the past typically been understood to signal a deeper crisis in society at large, however, the meaning of death necessarily takes on a different aspect today — especially when the tradition in question is modernism, the so-called the “tradition of the new” (Rosenberg). Because the notions of “death” and “crisis” appear to belong to the very edifice of modernity that has just been rejected, these too are are to be jettisoned as part of its conventional yoke. Modernity itself having become passé, even the notion of art’s “death” would seem to have died along with modernism.
We thus ask our panelists not merely whether art is at present “dead,” but also if traditions are even permitted the right to perish in conservative times. If some once held that the persistence of philosophy indicated the persistence of obsolete social conditions, does the persistence of art signal ongoing social conditions that ought to have long ago withered away? If so, what forms of political and artistic practice would be sufficient to realize art, and in what ways would realizing art signal something beyond art? Marx felt that the increasing worldliness of philosophy in his time (heralded by the culmination of philosophy in Hegel) demanded not only the end of philosophy, but also that the world itself become philosophical. If avant-garde movements once declared uncompromising war on art in order to tear down the barrier between art and life, would the end or overcoming of art not similarly require that the world itself become artistic?
1) Recently, Paul Mason of the BBC claimed that Occupy signals the death of contemporary art. This seems to articulate a general and significant (if vague) sensibility that certain artistic claims and theories over the past half century have become untenable. Is contemporary art dead today, and if so, what specifically has died? Is it art as such that has died, or just its present configuration? Even if art is not dead, then what is the significance of claims that it is? What has changed, and what new forms may be opening up for art in its alleged “death”?
2) If Occupy does have anything to do with the art’s death, then what extent does the idea of the “death of art” participate in extra-aesthetic, non-artistic discourses (e.g. is this claim social or artistic in nature)? Is the “death of art” related to other post-mortem diagnoses of the deaths of particular feilds in social life, such as the “end of history,” “end of ideology,” or figures of thought such as the postindustrial, the postmodern, the post-political? How does Platypus’ slogan “The Left is Dead! — Long Live the Left!” relate to the claim of the death of art, if at all? If the Left is truly dead, would this have any repercussions for the vitality of art? Would art even be possible in the absence of the Left?
3) Given the many deaths art is said to have gone through over the past 200 or so years — and its “death” would seem to have meant many different things depending on the situation at various moments — what does the narrative of the “death of art” look like to us from our current historical vantage point? Has art been successfully self-consciously killed, or fulfilled, or has art died due to a failure to complete its project? Adorno famously remarked that it is not entirely clear whether art can still claim a right to exist, even more calling into question whether our times are worthy of art in the first place. If this idea has any purchase today, then would it be a fair judgment to say that the declaration “art is dead” by now feels extremely repetitive? Has it become an empty claim, since it would appear to have died so many times before? Was the claim even that daring and provocative in the past?
Julieta Aranda was born in Mexico City, and currently lives and works between Berlin and New York. Central to Aranda’s multidimensional practice are her involvement with circulation mechanisms and the idea of a “poetics of circulation”; the possibility of a politicized subjectivity through the perception and use of time, and the notion of power over the imaginary. Julieta Aranda’s work has been exhibited internationally in venues such as Witte de With (2013), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce, Genova (2013), ArtPostions, Miami Basel (2012), MACRO Roma (2012) Documenta 13 (2012), N.B.K. (2012), Gwangju Biennial (2012), Venice Biennial (2011), Stroom den Haag (2011), “Living as form,” Creative Time, NY (2011), Istanbul Biennial (2011), Portikus, Frankfurt (2011), New Museum (2010), Solomon Guggenheim Museum (2009), New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY (2010), Kunstverein Arnsberg (2010), MOCA Miami (2009), Witte de With (2010), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2007), 2nd Moscow Biennial (2007) MUSAC, Spain (2010 and 2006), and VII Havanna Biennial; amongst others. As a co-director of e-flux together with Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda has developed the projects Time/Bank, Pawnshop, and e-flux video rental, all of which started in the e-flux storefront in new York, and have traveled to many venues worldwide.
Please note: due to a last minute emergency, Julieta Aranda was filled in for as a panelist by Anton Vidokle. Vidokle's opening comments were written by Aranda, but any subsequent remarks are his.
Gregg Horowitz is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and Adjoint Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. He writes on aesthetics and the philosophy of art, psychoanalysis, and political theory. His publications include the books Sustaining Loss: Art and Mournful Life (Stanford, 2001) and The Wake of Art: Philosophy, Criticism and the Ends of Taste (Routledge, 1998, with Arthur C. Danto and Tom Huhn) and, recently, articles on “Absolute Bodies: The Video Puppets of Tony Oursler” (Parallax, 2010), “The Homeopathic Image, or, Trauma, Intimacy and Poetry,” (Critical Horizons, 2010), and “A Late Adventure of the Feelings: Loss, Trauma and the Limits of Psychoanalysis” (in The Trauma Controversy: Philosophical and Interdisciplinary Dialogues, SUNY Press, 2009).
Paul Mattick, who teaches philosophy at Adelphi University, is the author of Art in Its Time and co-author, with Katy Siegel, of Artworks: Money. He has written criticism for Arts, Art in America, Artforum, The Nation, and The Brooklyn Rail, as well as catalogue essays for exhibitions at a number of museums and galleries.
Yates McKee is an organizer with Strike Debt and co-editor of the magazine Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy. His work as an art critic has appeared in venues including October, Grey Room, Texte Zur Kunst, Oxford Art Journal, The Nation, and Waging Nonviolence. He recently co-edited a volume for Zone Books entitled Sensible Politics: The Visual Cultures of Nongovernmental Activism.
An all day symposium, "What is Critique?" was held on Nov. 20th, 2010 at the New School in New York City. The first video is from the afternoon panel, entitled The Art Critique: Its History, Theories, and Practices. This panel consisted of Tom Butter, Simone Douglas, and James Elkins; it was moderated by Laurie Rojas. The second video is documentation of the evening panel, entitled The Relevance of Critical Theory to Art Today. The panel consisted of J.M. Bernstein, Chris Cutrone, Lydia Goehr, and Gregg Horowitz; it was moderated by Chris Mansour.
Abstract: What is Critique? is an all day symposium that consists of panel discussions with artists, critics, teachers, and students city-wide that investigates the role that art critiques and criticism play in art production. The first half of the day will focus on the nature and function of art critiques as a form criticism and pedagogy. The latter part of the day will be a panel discussion addressing the relationship between critical theory, art production and art reception.
The Art Critique: Its History, Theories, and Practices
The Relevance of Critical Theory to Art Today
James Elkins grew up in Ithaca, New York, separated from Cornell University by a quarter-mile of woods once owned by the naturalist Laurence Palmer.
He stayed on in Ithaca long enough to get the BA degree (in English and Art History), with summer hitchhiking trips to Alaska, Mexico, Guatemala, the Caribbean, and Columbia. For the last twenty-five years he has lived in Chicago; he got a graduate degree in painting, and then switched to Art History, got another graduate degree, and went on to do the PhD in Art History, which he finished in 1989. (All from the University of Chicago.) Since then he has been teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently E.C. Chadbourne Chair in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism.
His writing focuses on the history and theory of images in art, science, and nature. Some of his books are exclusively on fine art (What Painting Is, Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?). Others include scientific and non-art images, writing systems, and archaeology (The Domain of Images, On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them), and some are about natural history (How to Use Your Eyes).
Current projects include a series called the Stone Summer Theory Institutes, a book called The Project of Painting: 1900-2000, a series calledTheories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Art, and a book written against Camera Lucida.
He married Margaret MacNamidhe in 1994 on Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland. Margaret is also an art historian, with a specialty in Delacroix. Jim’s interests include microscopy (with a Zeiss Nomarski differential interference microscope and Anoptral phase contrast), optics (he owns an ophthalmologist’s slit-lamp microscope), stereo photography (with a Realist camera), playing piano, and (whenever possible) winter ocean diving.
Tom Butter has been exhibiting sculpture, drawings and prints in NYC and internationally since 1980. His work is included in several museum collections in the United States, and has been reviewed in many art publications. Recipient of 3 NEA Grants and 2 New York Foundation for the Arts Grants, Butter has taught in many east coast fine art programs, including those at RISD, Tyler, Yale University, Harvard, University of the Arts, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, MICA. A member of the faculty at Parsons the New School for Design in the Fine Arts Department since 1986, he was recently Director of the MFA Program ’06-’07. Currently adjunct faculty at Parsons and Brooklyn College (CUNY), staff writer Whitehot Magazine, website:www.tombutter.com
Simone Douglas is the director of the MFA in Fine Arts at Parsons. She works across photography, video and installation, and has curated numerous exhibitions. Her works have been exhibited internationally at, and are held in, collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney; and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Additional exhibitions include at the Photographers Gallery, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. She was project director and curator for Picture Sydney: landmarks of a new generation at the Australian Museum, a Getty Conservation Institute Initiative. She has been a guest scholar at Koln International School of Design, and initiated the international art and design collective Conjecture and served on the Board of Directors at First Draft Gallery, Sydney. Most recently, Simone is running an international visual research project, The Exquisite Corpse. Before joining the faculty at Parsons, Simone held faculty posts at the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW; National Art School, Sydney; and Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney (tenured) where she is currently an honorary faculty member. She holds an M.F.A. and a Grad. Dip. Prof. Art Studies from the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW and a B.A. in Visual Arts from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney
Gregg M. Horowitz is Chair of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. He works on the philosophy of art and art history, political philosophy, and psychoanalysis. He has special research interests in the relation of aesthetics, cultural theory and art criticism to critical social theory.
Horowitz is the author of SUSTAINING LOSS: ART AND MOURNFUL LIFE (Stanford University Press, 2001), and, with A. Danto and T. Huhn, THE WAKE OF ART: CRITICISM, PHILOSOPHY, AND THE ENDS OF TASTE (Gordon and Breech, 1998). More recently, he has authored “The Residue of History: Dark Play in Schiller and Hegel” in GERMAN IDEALISM – AN INTERNATIONAL YEARBOOK (Walter de Gruyter, 2007), pp.179-98 and essays on Andreas Gursky, Tony Oursler, and Wallace Stevens.
Lydia Goehr is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. She is one of the 2009-2010 recipients of the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for exceptional teaching in Arts & Sciences. In 2005, she received a Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching and in 2007-8 was recipient The Graduate Student Advisory Council (GSAC)’s Faculty Mentoring Award (FMA). She has also been a recipient of Mellon, Getty, and Guggenheim Fellowships, and in 1997 was the Visiting Ernest Bloch Professor in the Music Department at U. California, Berkeley, where she gave a series of lectures on Richard Wagner. She has been a Trustee of the American Society for Aesthetics. In 2002-3, she was the visiting Aby Warburg Professor in Hamburg and a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. In 2005-6, she delivered the Royal Holloway-British Library Lectures in Musicology in London and the Wort Lectures at Cambridge University. In 2008, she was a Visiting Professor at the Freie Universität, Berlin (Cluster: “The Language of Emotions”) and in 2009, a visiting professor in the FU-Berlin SFB Theater und Fest. She is the author of The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (1992; second edition with a new essay, 2007); The Quest for Voice: Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy [essays on Richard Wagner] (1998); Elective Affinities: Musical Essays on the History of Aesthetic Theory [essays on Adorno and Danto] (2008), and co-editor with Daniel Herwitz of The Don Giovanni Moment. Essays on the legacy of an Opera (2006). She has written many articles, most recently on the work of Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Arthur Danto. She offers courses in the history of aesthetic theory, the contemporary philosophy of the arts, critical theory, and the philosophy of history. Her research interests are in German aesthetic theory and in particular in the relationship between philosophy, politics, history, and music. With Gregg Horowitz, she is series editor of Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts, Columbia University Press. She is presently writing a book on the contest of the arts.
Jay Bernstein is Chair and University Distinguished Professor in Philosophy at The New School for Social Research. He received his BA in 1970 from Trinity College in Religion and his PhD in 1975 from the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of numerous books and articles on philosophy; his recent books on art include The Fate of Art and Against Voluptuous Bodies: Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting.
Chris Cutrone teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, where he is completing his dissertation on Adorno’s Marxism. He is the original lead organizer of Platypus.