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THOUGH PROMPTING BOOS from the audience at this year’s Creative Time Summit, J. Morgan Puett’s declaration that “capitalism is here to stay” was unintentionally but conclusively affirmed by the content of the event as a whole. In its second year, the Summit is an annual, weekend-long international forum showcasing various forms of public art practice that strives to be anti-capitalist.
IN WALTER BENJAMIN’S MAGNUM OPUS, The Arcades Project, capitalist modernity is in several instances depicted as a “hellish” existence. He describes this condition as history continuing to truck along in its course, but only doing so regressively. Hell, in short, is “transiency without progress.” Here, Benjamin is not voicing a Romantic sensibility; he does not bemoan modernity for having trampled over the once “harmonious” and organic way of life supposedly experienced in premodern times.
Hal Foster is a prominent critic and art historian who contributes regularly to Artforum, New Left Review, and The Nation. He is also an editor of October. In the fall of 2009, he sent out a questionnaire to 70 critics and curators, asking them what “contemporary” means today. Foster notes that the term “contemporary” is not new, but that “What is new is the sense that, in its very heterogeneity, much present practice seems to float free of historical determination, conceptual definition, and critical judgment.” 35 critics and historians attempted to answer to the problems implied in this observation.