Themes_of_Contemporary_Art - The Art World Expands In o ur...

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Unformatted text preview: The Art World Expands In o ur travels and visits to exhibitions of contemporary art over the past several years, we've encountered m any u nusual a nd challenging works of art. Here is a sampling: • The Eighth Day (2001), a"transgenic" artwork b y Eduardo Kac, b rought together living, bioengineered, glow-in-the:..dark mice, plants, and fish and a biological robot ("biobot") in an environment housed u nder a clear four-foot-diameter Plexiglas dome (seen at t he I nstitute for Studies in the Arts, Arizona State University, Tempe).1 • Listening Post (2002) b y Bell Labs statistician M ark H ansen and sound designer and artist Ben Rubin consists of an assortment of random messages gathered by a computer program t hat searches unrestricted Internet chat rooms and relays t hem as t hey are being typed on two hundred small screens and t en loudspeak­ ers (seen a t t he W hitney M useum in New York City). • Marsyas (2002) [1-1] by Anish Kapoor was a SOB-foot-Iong, 11S-foot-high structure made from a single span o f blood-red PVC (polyvinyl chloride) m em­ brane pulled t aut o ver three steel rings, which filled t he eNtire length of the massive ten-story-tall Turbine Hall in London's Tate Modern. • An impressively large painted triptych b y Li Tian Yuan (2001), based on a satel­ lite image, shows progressively closer views of t he a rtist and his infant son on the Great Wall of China (included in an international exhibition of art deal­ ing with the interface of art and science at the National Museum, Beijing, China). As these examples hint, the world of contemporary art is rich, diverse, and unpre­ dictable. While painting, photography, sculpture, drawing, and the crafts still attract a large n umber of practitioners, these familiar forms of a rt no longer subsume the field. Film, video, audio, installation, performance, texts, and computers are common media today, and artists are often fluent in several media. Artists freely mix media, o r t hey 9 10 1-1 Anish Kapoor I Marsyas, 2002 Installed October 2 002-April 2 003, Tate Modern PVC, steel Photo by John Riddy Courtesy of Barbara Gladstone m ay practice a m edium w ith a l ong lineage in an unconventional way, such as m aking paintings t hat look like photographs o r pixilated c omputer images. C ontemporary a rt is in flux. Old hierarchies a nd categories are fracturing; new technologies are offering different ways o f c onceptualizing and producing visual art; established a rt f orms are u nder s crutiny a nd revision; an awareness of heritages from a round t he w orld is fostering cross-fertilizations; and everyday culture is p roviding both inspiration for a rt a nd competing visual stimulation. T he d iversity and rapid transformations are i ntriguing b ut can be daunting for those w ho w ant to understand contemporary a rt a nd actively participate in discussions about w hat is happening. Along w ith t he d ynamic n ature o f contemporary art, content still matters. Looking back at the h istory o f modern art, it is debatable w hether t he idea of " art for art's sake" t ruly t ook over t he t hinking o f modernist theorists and artists. But certainly there were periods i n t he t wentieth century, especially j ust a fter World Wa~ II, when critics (famously t he A merican Clement Greenberg, who died in 1994) and some influential avant-garde artists advocated formalism, a n emphasis on form r ather t han c ontent when creating and i nterpreting art. Those invested in formalism were and are con­ cerned m ainly w ith investigating t he properties of specific media and techniques, as well as t he g eneral language of composition (the role of color, for instance). But formalism is i nadequate for interpreting art t hat expresses t he i nner visions of artists or a rt t hat refers to t he w orld beyond art. W hen Pop A rt appeared in t he 1960s, with its references to cartoons, consumer products, and o ther e lements of shared culture, t he l imitations of formalism became evident and broader theories surfaced, including postmodernism in the 1980s, as we discuss later in this chapter. T hroughout t he p eriod we d iscuss-1980 to the p resent-artists have engaged deeply with meaningful content. Artists active after 1980 are motivated b y a r ange of purposes and ideas beyond a desire to express personal emotions and visions or display a m astery o f media and techniques. Political events, social issues and relations, science, technology, mass media, popular culture, literature, the built environment, the flow of capital, t he flow of ideas, a nd o ther forces and developments are propelling artists a nd p roviding content for t heir artworks. 11 O verview of H istory a nd A rt H istory, 198o-~004 T he past two and a half decades have been eventful in virtually every area of h uman activity, including politics, medicine, science, technology, culture, and art. In t he 1980s fax machines and compact-disc players entered widespread use, t he first laptop com­ puters were introduced, and cordless telephones became available. Also in the 1980s, for the first time in the United States, a woman was appointed to the Supreme Court, a woman traveled in space, and a woman headed a major p arty ticket as a candidate for vice president. The Berlin Wall was dismantled and G ermany reunified in 1989, presag­ ing t he collapse of c ommunism in Eastern Europe. In the 1990s n umerous c ontrover­ sies raged over threats of global warming and genetic engineering of plants and animals; a sheep was successfully cloned in 1997; also in t he 1990s a b rutal civil war led to t he b reakup of Yugoslavia into several independent republics, ethnic massacres dev­ astated t he African state of Rwanda, nationalist conflicts broke o ut i n the new states of Georgia and Azerbaijan in t he f ormer Soviet Union, a nd t he IRA resumed its campaign of violence in N orthern Ireland. Early in t he 1990s apartheid officially ended in South Africa. By t he m id 1990s the I nternet s ystem linked millions of users. In 1995 the Federal Building in Oklahoma C ity was destroyed b y A merican terrorists. In September 2001 t he W orld Trade Center in New York was destroyed and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., attacked b y Islamic terrorists. The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan commenced later t hat fall, and in 2003 t he U nited States led an invasion of Iraq t hat toppled t he g overnment o f Saddam Hussein. In general over t he past t en years, 12 I f.) ""0 ~ C"d 0 .­ ~ ~ >< ""0 , .....-.j ~ + -' ~ I Ii III Ii ~ <l.) ,...q ~ Ii I while the United States experienced enormous economic growth and prosperity, " in t he poorest nations, famine, AIDS, and religious fundamentalism often reversed decades of progress. ,,2 T he demographics of various parts of the world have changed dramatically since 1980. Just i n t he United States, " the US experienced a profound demographic shift in t he 1980s, with an influx of over 7 million immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. By 1990, 25 p er cent of Americans (population 247 million) claimed African, Asian, Hispanic, o r Native American ance;stry.,,3 Every year, across the globe, t he relocation of vast numbers of people occurs in response to wars, famines, ethnic violence, and economic pressures and opportunities. Alterations in national boundaries and distributions of power are commonplace. The art world itself underwent major changes during the period covered in this text. Major art centers lost sonte of their dominance as a rt activities became more decentralized. While New York City remained a primary destination on the contemporary art world m ap,other u rban c enterS-including London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin, and C ologne-ratcheted up their support and presentation of new art to such a degree t hat a nyone who expected to remain knowledgeably informed felt pressure to research current activities in these locations. O ther cultural c enters-such as Johannesburg, Beijing, Milan, and S ydney-also demanded frequent attention. The changed artistic landscape led to a significant cross-fertilization of ideas among major cities across the globe. T he art scene exploded after 1980, with a marked increase in artists, dealers, collec­ tors, publications, and exhibition spaces. The formation of new institutions, as w en as n ew or revamped facilities at existing institutions, expanded the number, size, and q uality of locations where the latest in visual art could be seen by the public. O f these projects, several are notable not only for offering intriguing possibilities for the exhibi­ t ion of a rt b ut because the architectural structures assert themselves as works of art in their own right. Topping the list in terms of publicity was the Guggenheim Museum's new branch in Bilbao, Spain, designed by architect Frank Gehry and built in 1997. O ther notable new venues include the spectacular transformation of an enormous power station along the Thames River in London into Tate Modern (2000), and the more modestly scaled b ut boldly designed Wexner Center (1989) on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus, a project b y P eter Eisenman. The fortunes and misfortunes of contemporary artists take shape, to a large degree, within the sphere of the commercial galleries t hat p resent new art. Reputations are built b y t he support of prominent gallery dealers a~d t he approval of the critics, curators, and collectors who carefully m onitor and judge the quality of the art featured in highly publicized exhibitions. For example, in the United States the 1980s saw t he dizzying rise to fame of t he A merican Neo-Expressionist painter Julian Schnabel, orchestrated with canny expertise b y his New York gallery dealer. During the era, there were frequent shifts in the zones of concentrated art activity (such as t he reduction of galleries located in New York's SoHo area and the dramatic influx of galleries into the historic meat-packing district known as Chelsea b y t he mid-1990s), as well as n umer­ ous gallery openings and closings, which reflected fluctuations in national economies. The rise of Neo-Expressionism in the early 1980s, for instance, was tied to a boom in the U.S. stock market, while an economic recession later in the decade was responsible in part for retrenchment and attention to more modestly scaled artistic projects. All of this, of course, is n ot w ithout precedent. General forces at work in society, including politics, demographics, and economics, have always influenced the history of art. In addition t o a n e normous r ange of activities, especially exhibitions, performances, film and video screenings, and lectures, presented b y public institutions within facilities devoted to contemporary art, t he c ontemporary period witnessed a surge of visual arts activities in public settings, such as city streets, plazas, and commercial facilities. Public dollars funded m any o f t hese activities, a fact t hat t urned o ut t o be something o f a d ouble-edged sword. The support o f c ontemporary a rt w ith g overnment dollars was a crucial means of enlarging t he funds available to artists a nd institutions{ in t he U nited States and Britain such support was often a percentage of t he a mount bUdgeted for n ew g overnment-funded public construction projects. T he u se of public dollars increased attention t o c ontemporary a rt (taxpayers were interested to know h ow t heir m oney was being spent), b ut t he increased attention also resulted in more controversy whenever a vocal core t rumpeted t heir o utrage over a specific project. M aya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1981-84), located on t he M all i n W ashington, D.C., Richard Serra's Tilted A rc (1981), installed i n a public plaza n ear a g overnment office building in M anhattan, a nd Rachel Whiteread's House (1993), c onstructed in an e mpty l ot in London's West End, are examples of public a rt projects t hat galvanized public opinion, b oth p ro and con. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial u ltimately was embraced even by its original opponents. In t he l atter two cases, a more conservative outlook prevailed: Serra's work was removed i n 1989 after a l engthy legal battle; and Whiteread's was demolished only a few s hort m onths a fter its creation. Ultimately, however, t he s urge of public a rt a ctivity resulted, on balance, in a grow­ ing recognition t hat c ontemporary a rt increased the economic well-being and cultural vitality of t he e ntire community. Perhaps nowhere could this p attern be traced more clearly t han i n London, w here a n umber o f forces came t ogether t o contribute to t he b urgeoning n otoriety a nd e nergy o f the contemporary British a rt scene d uring t he 1990s. Support, opportunity, and resources coalesced i nto a critical mass thanks to such developments as A rtangel (a f oundation t hat c ommissioned works of public art), the Saatchi Collection (a p rivate i nstitution d evoted to t he p urchase and exhibition of cutting-edge works of contemporary art), and the influx o f t alented artists to London (to p ursue e ducational and career goals). Public controversies over contemporary a rt e rupted regularly t hroughout t he period. In the United States, a rt b y feminists, gays, and n onwhite a rtists were particu­ lar targets, fueling t he so-called culture wars t hat e rupted in t he late 1980s and early 1990s over public funding and freedom of expression. H ighly publicized controversies accompanied a traveling exhibition of photographs b y R obert Mapplethorpe t hat i ncluded some photos showing homosexual activities, t he e xhibition of Piss Christ (1987) b y A ndres Serrano, a photographic image of a plastic crucifix submerged in urine, which was deemed blasphemous b y s ome religious spokespersons, and the offer i n 1 990 b y f eminist artist Judy Chicago to donate h er m onumental collaborative creation The D inner P arty (1979) to t he U niversity of t he D istrict of Columbia, a plan blocked b y c onservative members o f C ongress who called the work pornographic because some interpreted t he i magery as representing female genitalia. Also u nder p ressure from Congress, the National Endowment for t he A rts (NEA) eliminated fellowships to individual artists in 1995. Politic'al considerations influenced some contemporary artists t o engage i n i nstitu­ tional critiques. Such critiques took aim b oth a t a rt i nstitutions, w ith a rtists a ttempting to reveal h ow m useums, commercial galleries, and o ther o rganizations control how a rt is produced, displayed, and marketed, a nd a t i nstitutions within t he w ider society; for 13 bnn 14 ' "d ~ c"d en O-t ~ I>< ' "d ..--. ~ ~ + -' ~ I, ~ ~ ~ a..> example, feminists critiqued t he social structures and hierarchies t hat l imit female potential. Politically motivated a rt projects were particularly prevalent in t he late 1980s and first h alf o f t he 1990s. Activist a rt addressed social realities heard a nd seen i n t he news and experienced directly b y t he a rtists involved. A rt a bout AIDS provides a key example. AIDS began its destructive g rowth i n t he e arly 1980s, w hen t he disease was first recognized and named. In t he 1980s, before t reatments h ad b een developed a nd refi~ed, a n AIDS diagnosis was t he t ime," recalls w riter like a death sentence. "Life was lived w ith t hat bell tolling S tephen Koch. 4 T he association of AIDS w ith g ays a t t hat t ime b rought f orth a wave of v irulent h omophobia. In response to t he crisis a nd t o massive losses from AIDS within t he a rts community, n umerous artists, including David Wojnarowicz, Keith Haring, and t he a rt collective k nown as G ran Fury, p ut t heir a rt i n t he service o f AIDS activism. O ther a renas t hat p rovided serious political content for contemporary a rt i ncluded fem­ inist politics, issues o f race, homelessness, corporate capitalism, issues of consumerism, and militarism. T he h istory o f c ontemporary a rt is n ot e ntirely a s tory o f y oung a rtists bursting o nto t he scene w ith n ew ideas. While m any p reviously u nknown a rtists emerged after 1980, t he presence and influence of older artists was i mportant as well. For example, Joseph Beuys died i n 1986, A ndy W arhol in 1987, Louise Nevelson in 1988, and Roy Lichtenstein in 1997. Warhol and Lichtenstein were making vital w ork u p until t heir deaths, so t hat e ven an a rt m ovement s uch as Pop Art, which we n ormally associate with t he 1960s, was evolving w ithin t he o ngoing production o f t hese artists' oeuvres. British critic Richard Cork, discussing a rt i n t he 1990s a nd p ointing to octogenarian artists such as British painter Francis Bacon a nd F ranco-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois, ob­ served: " The i dentity o f a decade is not, o f course, solely defined b y t he w ork o f its emer­ gent artists. M ore s enior practitioners . .. can f urther e nrich t heir o wn achievements, o r e ven redefine themselves b y e xploring new directions. Their previous work can also take o n a n ew pertinence in t he l ight of interests explored b y y ounger artists."s T hemes o f C ontemporary A rt is n ot a t raditional s urvey i n t he s ense o f p roviding an i n-depth chronological h istory o f a rt since 1980. The h istory o f a rt o ver t he p ast twenty-five years is fantastically rich and involves m any diverse stories, motivations, influences, ideas, a nd approaches. A ttempting t o map recent a rt i nto a t ight c hronolog­ ical s tructure o f m ovements o r e ven of collections o f m ajor artists would be p remature and, in fact, would misrepresent t he c ontemporary period. W hereas t he a rt w orld before 1980 is distant e nough t hat we can perceive some sequence of trends (really multiple intersecting and interacting trends), m ore r ecent a rt practices are much more pluralistic and a morphous i n character. M any o f t he a rtists we discuss are still active a nd still defining t heir practices. A rtist H aim Steinbach said (remembering t he 1980s, a lthough his s tatement applies to t he e ntire contemporary period), "I see [the period] as a n archipelago, in which different t hings w ere going on, on different islands. T hey w ere going o n c oncurrently b ut n ot a lways moving i n t he s ame direction.,,6 all Old Media Thrive, New Media Make Waves I f w e cannot place c ontemporary a rt i nto n eat c ompartments o r a series o f m ovements, we can still make a few broad observations a bout d evelopments and tendencies in a rt since 1980. Painting didn't die i n c ontemporary art, despite predictions to t he c ontrary m ade i n t he 1970s. Indeed, p ainting e njoyed s omething o f a r ebirth i n t he U nited S tates i n t he early 1980s, d uring t he h eyday o f Neo-Expressionism, " an i nternational m ovement d ominated b y o versized canvases and emotional gestures, a nd b y a b ustling c ommercial market."7 Young Americans m aking bold, gestural paintings, including Julian Schnabel, David Salle, a nd Eric Fischl, w ere celebrated a nd c ompared to dramatic painters w ho h ad e merged i n E urope i n t he 1970s, such as t he G erman N eo-ExpressionistAnselm Kiefer. W hile e normously popular, Neo-Expressionism had its detractors, w ho ~aw t he a rtists as o pportunists w ho s imulated e motion i n o rder t o appeal to t he m arket. By 1990 t he N eo­ Expressionist m omentum h ad died down, b ut i n its wake p ainting c ontinued to attract critical attention, a lthough w ith s ome rising a nd falling i n its influence (especially w hen e xamined o n a r egional basis) a nd changes i n t he concerns of its practitioners. Like o ther t raditional media, such as d rawing a nd s culpture, t he practice of paint­ ing saw its boundaries stretched a nd t ook o n n ew life i n t he c ontemporary period. W hat defines a painting? Can we still recognize one w hen we see one? Thousands u pon t hou­ sands of paintings are created each y ear i n t he f amiliar portable, rectangular, p aint-on­ canvas format. But exciting w ork h as p ushed p ainting i nto areas w here i t appears to overlap w ith s culpture a nd i nstallation art. Guillermo Kuitca a nd Fabian Marcaccio, two artists from Argentina, exemplify t he p ush t o open t he v enerable queen of t he a rts u p t o n ew possibilities. Kuitca has painted maps o n full-size mattresses, while Marcaccio trusses his paintings a t o dd angles between t he walls a nd floor. Photography became a player. Even as b rushy N eo-Expressionist painting g ar­ nered headlines, t he 1 980s saw t he rise of photo-based art. P hotography g ained respect in t he " high" a rt w orld as a n i mportant m edium i n its o wn r ight, increasing i n scale and i n price in t he a rt m arket. A rtists h ad used p hotography as a m edium f rom its i nven­ tion i n 1839, b ut i t was in t he 1 980s t hat p hotography decisively escaped its secondary status and " moved to t he v ery c entre of avant-garde a rt practices . .. , r ivalling p ainting a nd sculpture in size, spectacular effects, m arket a ppreciation, a nd critical importance."B P hotography also exerted a noticeable influence o n o ther f orms of art, particularly some genres o f p ainting, which sometimes seemed to be playing catch-up in striving to create a convincing illusion o f t he w ay t he w orld " really" (i.e., photographically) looks. P hotography also expanded its o wn b oundaries as artists gave free rein to e xperimen­ tation. For instance, t he S tarn Twins, from t he U nited States, composed artworks b y o verlapping a nd affixing multiple photos t ogether u sing i nformal m eans such as m ask­ ing tape. M ore a nd m ore p hotographers t urned to elaborate fabrications, constructing staged scenes t hey t hen p hotographed o r m anipulating n egatives and altering p hoto­ graphic prints. T he t hemes a nd s ubject m atter p ursued b y i ndividual photographers expanded, building o n t he w ork o f e arlier photographers, such as t he m id-twentieth-century A mericans Diane A rbus a nd Ralph Eugene M eat yard, Robert Frank from Switzerland, a nd H enri C artier-Bresson from France, w ho i ntensely s et a bout t he b usiness of cap­ turing i mages of t he w orld i n all its surprising diversity. N an Goldin, a c ontemporary A merican photographer, provides u s w ith s napshotlike glimpses into t he u nderbelly of life as she witnesses a nd lives it, often s howing h er friends at t heir m ost v ulnerable m oments-making love, bruised from domestic violence, o r s hooting up drugs. Canadian Jeff Wall p ortrays h is staged subjects, such as dead Russian soldiers stuck i n t he m uck o f t heir failed w ar i n A fghanistan o r a n aged, n ude g iantess d ominating a 15 16 l anding inside a shopping mall, so t hat t hey look like illustrations from a breaking news story. The effect of Wall's art, which seems weirdly familiar, can be attributed i n p art to his presentation format. Wall transforms his images i nto t ransparencies t hat are illu­ minated from t he r everse side and displayed i n l ight boxes u p to six feet o n a side, so t hat h is a rt resembles photographs m ounted for m aximum i mpact at trade conventions. Sculpture as an art form widely expanded its sphere o f influence, and the range o f c ontent a nd forms w ithin t he g enre expanded as well. In t he 1970s, d uring t he r eign o f M inimalism, pared-down abstract sculpture predominat~d. Such Minimalist sculpture emphasized simplified, abstract volumes (what some critics referred to as " primary f orms"). In t he 1980s and extending i nto t he p resent, sculptors dramatically diversified t he forms, techniques, and materials t hey selected. In t he e arly 1980s s trong w ork was produced b y a p articularly vital group of y oung sculptors working in Britain, including Richard Deacon, A nish Kapoor, and Tony Cragg. In addition to creating sculptures from traditional materials, such as bronze, marble, and wood, artists made sculptures from a wide a rray o f materials as well as found objects. Tony Cragg, for instance, became widely k nown for his wall-mounted, m ultipart figurative sculptures created b y a rrang­ ing f ound plastic objects (e.g., packaging materials, t hrow-away plates, and plastic c ontainers) into pictographic patterns. Furthermore, while sculptors continued to carve, cast, and construct discrete, unique objects, others expanded t heir practice so t hat sculp­ ture overlapped w ith o ther a rt forms. Artists such as Robert Gober i n t he U nited States and brothers Dinos and Jake C hapman i n England produced w ork t hat i ncorporated multiple sculptural objects w ithin t heir m ultimedia installations. N o m edium dominates. M any c ontemporary artists do n ot l imit t heir efforts t o a s ingle" signature" medium. Instead, artists m ay m ove between various media and even move between t he w orld o f fine a rt a nd commercial fields such as fashion, design, and music. N ew media attract artists. Video technology attracted experimenters within t he field of art, notably N am June Paik, as soon as i t became available in t he 1960s. D uring t he 1990s video became a p rominent m edium, in p art because its time-based character supports a contemporary i nterest i n exploring narrative structures. Also i n t he 1990s n umerous a rtists adopted digital technologies as small, powerful computers became affordable and software programs facilitated sophisticated graphic manipulations. A rtists u sed digital tools b oth i n t he service of traditional media, designing t he s truc­ ture for a sculpture o n a computer, for instance, and as a n ew formal and conceptual arena in itself. W ith t he w idespread use of DVD recording technology in the early 2000s, artists, and t he g allery s ystem t hat derives its profits from t he sale of artworks, gained an i mportant m eans o f c ontrolling t he sale o f video and computer artworks i n l imited editions to collectors. o f course, DVDs are easily copied, and i n spite of copy­ right p rotection, bootleg versions o f a rtists' original recordings are now traded and downloaded o n t he I nternet . Meanwhile fast-paced developments in digital video production and editing, holog­ raphy, light art, and interactive computer sites have spawned new arenas for artistic exploration. These new media have also spilled over into t he practice of o ther media; for example, n ew m edia are often incorporated into installation and performance a rt events. 9 N ew technologies produce new paradigms. T he invention, adoption, and adapta­ tion o f n ew technologies create new modes of representation, n ew w ays of perceiving and t hinking a bout t he world. P hotography a ppeared to offer its n ineteenth-century viewers a quality t hat n o o ther f orm of visual a rt could match: visual t ruth. A p hotograph o f t he battlefield a t G ettysburg was accepted, p rima facie, as a b ona fide representation of t he scene one would have beheld had one stood i n t he s ame place t hat t he Civil W ar p hotographer stood. Unless obviously altered i n t he d arkroom, photo­ graphs were understood to be recordings of t he w ay l ight reflected off actual subjects at a specific m oment i n time a nd place. To t he public, this m eant t hat p hotos were accurate i n a w ay t hat drawings, paintings, o r s culptures could n ot equal. f urthermore, t he public was often willing to equate accuracy w ith t ruth. O f course t he so-called t ruth factor in p hotography s hould always have been suspect. Staged photographs, to cite j ust o ne strategy, are constructions o f e vents t hat n ever took place, a lthough t heir r epresentation photographically allows t hem to appear real. Indeed, t he c amera is unparalleled in its capacity to duplicate t he m yriad n uances of t he m aterial world, and t hereby to explore i n endless detail t he t ensions and border zones separating t he real and t he fictive, n ature a nd culture, one culture from another, and t he public from t he private. No m atter w hat h appens before o r a fter t he p icture is taken, w hen t he p hoto is snapped t he c amera is functioning as a recording i nstrument. T his pro­ vides t he p hotographer (and t he viewer) with a baseline a uthenticity a gainst which o ther concerns are articulated, fabricated, and highlighted. A n e xample of photography's use as a tool for fabricating convincing portrayals of imaginary realms is Japanese photogra­ pher Yoshio Itagaki's i ntriguing concoction "Tourists o n t he M oon # 2" (1998) [1-2]. H ighly skilled darkroom manipulations, such as those made b y p hotographer Jerry Uelsmann since t he 1960s, can produce convincing representations of u nreal places, people, a nd events. Today, digital technologies have t he p otential to alter images even more dramatically. Paradigms of t he n ature a nd structure of perception and conception are shifting again. Particularly i n t he last half o f t he p eriod this book covers, t he availability o f desktop computers and t he i ncreasing sophistication and ease of using I 17 1-2 Yoshio Itagaki " Tourists o n t he M oon # 2," 1998 Triptych, color photograph, 4 0 x 9 0 inches Courtesy of the artist and Jack the Pelican Presents, New York 18 rJ) ~ ~ C'O ~ P -. ~ ~ I r ---1 / -; II II ~ + -' / -; <r: ,...q Q) E- c omputer graphics programs are bringing a bout" a t ransformation i n t he n ature o f visuality probably m ore p rofound t han t he b reak t hat s eparates mediaeval imagery from Renaissance perspective," i n t he w ords of a rt h istorian Jonathan Crary.l0 We are experiencing an epochal shift from a n a nalog world, a world o f e veryday perceptions w ith i nfinite gradations, to a digital world rendered in b inary code. T he c omputer s tores vast quantities o f detailed i nformation digitalized into a b inary code. I t enables an image o f a ny subject to be manipulated, duplicated, trans­ formed, and t ransmitted to a degree t hat is unprecedented i n h uman history. Digital images, o f subjects b oth real and imaginary, can look so convincing t hat t he d istinction between t he actual and t he m ade-up is a lmost impossible to detect. A t t he s ame time, unlike early viewers o f p hotographs, today's audiences know t hat i mages are manipu­ lated and m anufactured all t he time; t hey allow themselves to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy t he i llusion o f reality. C rary a rgues t hat d uring t he c ontemporary period " there h as been a progressive depreciation o f t he reality 'value' o f m anufactured images o f all kinds . ... M ost i mages (whether film, video, o r p hotography) still function as t hough t heir r eferentiality were intact b ut w ith a v aguely defined reduction in t heir t ruth v alue."n Virtual reality blurs boundaries. T he b lurring of t he b oundaries o f fact and fabri­ cation is epitomized b y t he d evelopment o f v irtual reality as a field o f i nvestigation. T he t erm virtuality refers to " an i mage o r space t hat is n ot real b ut appears to be. In o ur o wn time, these include cyberspace, t he I nternet, t he telephone, television and virtual reality.,,12 T he t erm virtual reality g enerally refers to a simulated, computer-generated e nvironment . A viewer wears special goggles and earphones and interacts with t he e nvironment b y m oving h er h ead o r m anipulating controls. T hroughout t he 1980s and e arly 1990s t he p romise of virtual reality outstripped t he actual achievement, b ut since t hen, advances in software and technology have made forays i nto v irtual reality m ore satisfying for viewer and artist/designer alike. Experiments i n v irtual reality have been conducted widely i n t he r ealm o f c omputer gaming, b ut i t is o nly a m atter of time before designers/authors o f i nteractive computer games create works i n t hat m edium t hat are embraced b y a n e xpanded definition o f c ontemporary art. Visual culture is duplicated and shared worldwide. I n addition to enabling rapid, radical manipulation of imagery, t he c omputer now makes possible t he a lmost instan­ taneous dissemination of images. Since t he m id-1990s t he g rowth o f t he I nternet a nd World Wide Web has allowed users to t ransmit a nd receive images and o ther i nforma­ tion i nstantly a n over t he world. T he d igitalization o f inf~rmation is a powerful force i n s peeding up t he s haring o f a rtist-generated images i n all media, as well as t he a ppropri­ ation b y c omputer-savvy artists o f i nformation s treams from o ther a renas of culture. In o ur role as viewers we n o l onger are dependent o n b eing i n a specific place. We can plug into t he W eb o r i nto o ur c omputer's m emory a nywhere we have access. Acknowledg­ ing t his trend, t he W hitney M useum i ncluded · Internet a rt for t he first time i n its Biennial Exhibition i n 2000.13 I n a ddition to t he accelerated exchange o f i nformation and images, a nother signif­ icant quality o f mass visual culture is t he u niformity o f i magery t hat is d isseminated b y t he media. T hrough t his process, m any m ore people share a n identical storehouse o f m ediated experiences. Such high u niformity o f m emory n ever occurred prior to t he i nvention o f t he I nternet, television, radio, cinema, and photography. W ith each new technological breakthrough, t he capacity of pop culture to overwhelm t he s phere o f private experience expands. Today's information culture is channeled into formats that tend to homogenize the structure of information. Contemporary artists, however, have found ways to counteract this phenomenon. Christian Marclay combined snippets from over a h undred movies to create Video Quartet (2003), which is projected simultane­ ously on four oversized screens; and David Byrne, widely known as a n1usician, utilizes Microsoft's PowerPoint software to produce imaginative illustrations and animation t hat are a far cry from the staid sameness of most PowerPoint presentatiops seen in the business o r academic world. 14 A lthough the languages of digital media are in their infancy, t hey are bound to have a radica1 impact on visual art in the twenty-first century. Artists who are concen­ trating on this area are pioneers in helping us to confront w hat i t means to live i n a world of accelerated information flow from multiple channels, and to find ourselves entranced b y m anufactured virtual worlds. A S pectrum of P ossibilities E merges Pluralism, multiculturalism, internationalism, globalism, diversity, difference. These are j ust a few of the terms t hat have been used to describe and discuss the ever-expanding v ariety o f c ultures and regions on o ur globe and the transformation of art t hat is occurring i n a rapidly mutating, increasingly interconnected world. In the United States in the period from the late 1960s to the start of the 1980s, the rebellions and successes of the women's movement and civil rights movement impacted art by opening up the stage to more voices. These newly visible participants b rought new ideas to the field as well as n ew ideas about means, media, and techniques for ex­ pressing those ideas. Since 1980 the highly visible activism of gays and lesbians has added more voices to the mix. Although t hey have yet to achieve full equality in terms of income, influence, prestige, and recognition, women and minority artists in the West have become empowered and have had a major impact on who makes art, w hat a rt is about, and how a rt is viewed and interpreted. Artists of color, women artists, and gay artists have been at the h eart of discussions about contemporary art in the 1980s, 1990s, and today. The collective imagination of what is possible in a rt has opened up to acknowledge diversity. Over the past twenty-five years, artists have become more conscious of diversity internationally as well as in their midst. For example, beginning .about 1980 the American art world in general t urned its attention to artistic developments in Western Europe, particularly to the N eo-Expressionists-including G ermans such as A nselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz and Italians such as S andro Chia, Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi. Subsequently, as a r esult of shifts in national borders, regimes, and polit­ ical and economic structures, artists from all over the world have become widely known in Western Europe and N orth America. Among these are Eastern Europeans such as t he Russians Ilya Kabakov and t he collaborative duo Vitaly Komar and Aleksandr Melamid, Central and S outh Americans such as Chilean Alfredo Jaar and Brazilian Adriana Varejao, Middle Eastern artists such as Iranian Shirin Neshat and Palestinian Mona Hatoum, Africans such as Z airean Cheri Samba and South African William Kentridge, and Asians such as Xu Bing, Wenda Gu, and Wang Guangyi of China, and Yasumasa Morimura, Yukinori Yanagi, and Mariko Mori of Japan. M any o f those named have immigrated to the West, contributing to their visibility. 19 III I A rtists a nd a udiences outside t he W est likewise are p aying a ttention t o develop­ ments far b eyond t heir borders. From 1980 o nward, w ith i ncreasing complications, artists i n Africa, Europe, t he Americas, Asia, a nd t he Pacific are influencing each o ther t o v arying degrees. We live i n a m ulticultural, i nternationalized world, w here people w ith d ifferent c ultural k nowledge a re m eeting, m ixing, a nd n egotiating h istories, definitions, a nd b oundaries. Artists u se v isual m eans t o convey positions o r p aradoxes a bout w here cu lt ures d raw b oundary lines, and w hat b elongs on one side o r t he other. I mmigrant a rtists, i n particular, f requently u se a rt to c omment o n t he places and cultures t hey h ave left a nd t o r eveal t heir p erspectives on t heir a dopted c ountries . To cite j ust o ne example o f a c omplicated p ath followed b y a c ontemporary a rtist: Cai G uo-Qiang w as b orn i n Q uanzhou City, China, i n 1957 a nd g rew u p d uring t he C ultural R evolution. H e s tudied stage design i n S hanghai, t hen l eft C hina i n 1986 t o s tudy i n Tokyo. I n 1995 h e relocated again to N ew York City. His a rt p roduction i n­ cludes large-scale drawings, installations, a nd p erformance e vents and h as i nvolved gunpowder, fireworks, and Chinese herbal medicines, a mong m any o ther m aterials and means. Cai's elaborate installation Cultural Melting Bath, w hich has been installed i n v arious locations including t he Q ueens M useum i n N ew York in 1997 [1-3], provides a s ymbol o f t he t herapeutic c ultural m ixing Cai hopes t hat h is a rt fosters. T he i nstallation includes a Chinese rock garden, b anyan t ree roots, a nd a W estern-style h ot t ub i nfused w ith C hinese medicinal herbs, i n w hich a m ulticultural a rray o f m useum v isitors are invited to b athe t ogether. Awareness o f i nternational d evelopments i n a rt h as made t he a rt w orld m ore excit­ i ng a nd w en rounded. B ut i nternationalism is n ot a n unequivocal good, particularly w hen a rt p roduction comes u nder m arket p ressure from international i nstitutions a nd corporations w ho s upport t he p roduction a nd d isplay of c ontemporary a rt. Increasingly, the w orld is becoming linked b y a global economy, a development t hat is inevitably i mpacting t he p roduction a nd reception o f a rt . C onsumer capitalism, especially t he approach developed m ost a ggressively i n t he U nited States, made h uge s trides d uring t he c ontemporary p eriod in extending its reach to global markets. T he e mergence of n ew t elecommunications technologies, specifically t he c ontinued spread o f t elevision t hroughout t he w orld a nd t he rapid development o f t he c omputer a nd I nternet for b oth p ersonal a nd b usiness use, has significantly p romoted globalization. T he collapse o f t he c ommunist s ystem i n t he f ormer Soviet U nion a nd t he e conomic rise o f c ountries of the Pacific Rim, especially China w ith i ts steps t oward a m ore ~apitalist-style economy, have opened u p p ortions o f t he w orld t hat h ad b een significantly insulated from capitalist business practices. T he global e conomy h as impacted t he e ntertainment a nd c ulture m arkets. T he n umber o f i nternational a rt fairs, biennials, a nd t riennials has increased to t he p oint w here t hey a re n early i mpossible to keep u p w ith. Geographic m obility h as become i mportant, a nd a rtists w ho h ave t he r esources t o p articipate i n i nternational e vents are m ore l ikely to succeed. In 2001 t here w ere m ore t han s ixteen i nternational b iennials; i n 2 002 t here w ere s eventeen i n fifteen countries. C ultural s cholar H omi B habha h as a rgued t hat m arket forces, including goals such as e nhancing t ourism a nd a ttracting i nternational c orporate investment, a nd a d esire for civic o r r egional s tatus drive t he b iennial trend. " Having a b iennial reveals a desire t o be seen as a region o f m odern culture. Even in countries o f e conomic a nd political hardship, t hey p rovide a v irtual s ense o f b eing p art o f a t echnologically connected world." lS 20 C f) " 'd ~ ('<j ~ ~ ~ .----i " 'd ...., ~ ...., ~ oj-' II ,...q f--' Cl.) I I I I 21 1-3 Cai G uo-Qiang I Cultural Melting Bath: Projects for the 20th Century, 1997 Taihisu rocks, hot tub, live birds, and herb medicine, 2 4 x 67 x 8 0 inches Courtesy of the artist The value, meaning, and impact of the international a rt m arket are matters of debate in the a rt world. Some decry the trend as p romoting uniformity, maintaining, for instance, t hat W estern influence dominates and t hat expensive video and multime­ dia installations are ubiquitous in biennials because t hey are eye-catching while also portable and reproducible. In contrast, others see the international events held outside Europe and t he U nited States as an important means for other areas to assert t hem­ selves as players in the a rt world. The emergence of a linked global society (linked both technologically and economically) apparently has n ot resulted in the international u nity predicted b y earlier theorists and historians. According to Jonathan Crary, " the p lanetary circulation of images, information, and data of all kinds over telecommunica­ tion networks is n ot even remotely leading toward a upified global society b ut o nly toward a superficially homogenized consumer environ~ent. Instead, there has been a proliferation o f relatively self-sufficient micro-worlds o f m eaning and experience, between which intelligible exchange is less and less possible.,,16 T heory F lexes I ts M uscles N umerous artists and critics active since 1980 have been heavily invested in t heory a nd critical analysis. In the wake of Conceptual Art, a rt became increasingly theoretical and idea-driven and began to sprout difficult and obscure branches. The direct embrace of theory seemed to crest midway through this period; by the early 1990s influential a rt g raduate schools in Europe and the United States were advocating the acquisition of theoretical knowledge and teaching analytical and interpretative skills. Discussing m aster of fine arts degree programs in the United States, writer and curator Bennett Simpson maintained, "Employing conceptual, post-minimal, video and performance artists from t he sixties and seventies, schools such as CalArts, UCLA, A rt Center, Yale a nd the W hitney M useum's Independent S tudy P rogramme tended to privilege intellectual and critical study over the more traditional training in manual skills like drawing, figure painting and sculpture. 'Knowledge work' became detached fron1 its antecedent, technical work." l l Concepts from a range of theoretical perspectives, including postmodernism, semi.­ otics, poststructuralism, feminism, and postcolonialism, to name several of the most influential, have shaped the creation and reception of art produced since 1980. The theoretical critique of the period examined m any arenas of visual culture, including the structure and biases of a rt hi~tory, t he nature and operation of art-market economics and how reputations are built, the visual means t hrough which mass media influence ideas and taste, and the representation in visual media of all kinds of identities revolv­ ing around gender, race, sexuality, religion, and nationality. The t erm postmodernism cropped up in a rt critici;m in the 1970s b ut became more commonly used in the 1980s. Writers and thinkers engaged with postmodernism include Jean-Fran\ois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Julia Kristeva, Charles Jencks, and Umberto Eco. T he t erm is vague and open-ended, initially implying an opposition to some of t he t enets of modernism, including the belief in social and technological progress, faith t hat h istory unfolds in a rational, linear direction, and belief in individual self-determination. Postmodernists are skeptical about progress, tend t o be anti-elitist (for example, embracing kitsch as readily as t he a rt o f museums), think t hat t he forms of culture are hybrid, eclectic, and heterogeneous r ather t han pure and easily defined and contained, and believe t hat individuals are inevitably molded b y culture. 18 Postmod­ ernists believe we are all prisoners, to some degree, of identities constructed for us b y artistic and popular media. Moreover, the contemporary world is becoming increasingly more artificial because secondhand images filtered through television, film, and o ther 22 en "'"d ~ C'\l ~ >< p;.::j ~ .......... "'"d i III I ~ ~ + -' ,..q t- Q.) I' I ~ -- media now substitute for direct experiences and exert a powerful influence o n h ow we perceive and u nderstand t he world. In addition, more and m ore m ediated images a nd experiences are m anufactured i llusions w ith n o basis in tangible r eality-simulacra, t o use Baudrillard's term. Baudrillard, according to a rt h istorian John Rajchman, " took t he words ' simulation' a nd ' simulacrum' t o describe the 'Beaubourg e ffect'-no l onger able to distinguish model from copy, we h ad l ost a ny sense of reality, leaving us o nly w ith ' irony,' hyperrealism, kitsch, quotation, appropriation."19 , There is no single style associated w ith p ostmodernism; instead a ny a nd all styles and visual vocabularies are valid, and pluralism rules. In t he 1980s, in line w ith u p-to­ the-minute t heories of postmodernism, visual artists adopted appropriation, quotation, and pastiche as tactics. Appropriation artists comb b oth a rt h istory a nd vernacular culture for styles, images, subjects, and compositions and recombine details borrowed here and t here i nto eclectic visual pastiches. Schlock and kitsch borrowings are readily combined w ith details from h igh a rt, architecture, and design. 2o M ost a ppropriationists m ine t he d istant and recent past in a nostalgic fashion, usually w ith l ittle historical con­ sciousness o f w hat visual representations m eant i n t heir o wn p ast context. In addition to evoking nostalgia, postmodernists also often quote from t he p ast and vernacular culture with an attitude of i rony o r e ven parody. M any p ostmodern artists use appropriation uncritically, simply adopting t he approach as a c ontemporary artistic fashion. B ut s ome artists a ttend to t he conceptual implications o f a ppropriation, using t he s trategy as a tool to raise philosophical ques­ , tions about w hether i t is possible for artists to be original o r express authentic feelings and beliefs. Such artists include G erman G erhard Richter, Russian team Komar a nd M elamid, a nd A merican Cindy Sherman. The m ost politically motivated appropria­ tionists, including American Sherrie Levine, also challenge as e litist t he m odernist identification and celebration o f a h andful o f supposedly innovative artists. By appro­ priating, such artists i mply t hat o riginality does n ot m atter. Influenced b y t he ideas o f Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and t he A merican philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, b oth active in t he late n ineteenth century, complex permutations o f semiotics (the science o f signs) were applied to t he visual arts i n t he late t wentieth c entury. W hile l inguists analyze t he s tructure o f (verbal) language, semi­ oticians open up virtually a ny field o f h uman a ctivity as a potential subject for an analysis of t he signs t hat f unction w ithin t hat field. Clothing styles, rules o f e tiquette, codes o f c onduct for m en a nd for w omen-all o f these and countless o ther r ealms o f experience can be analyzed in terms o f semiotics. As scholars (and artIsts) surmised, all of t he a rts also function on t he basis of t he c onventional use of signs, and so semiotics is a powerful tool for t he a nalysis o f t he practice of art. A rt topics such as s tyles of representation, t he r ules of linear perspective, and t he m etalanguage of various media (painting, for instance, signals " tradition" i n a way t hat video does not) are ripe for analysis t hrough t he m agnifying glass of semiotics. For example, some contemporary artists knowingly engage w ith t he l anguage o f a bstract a rt i n a semiotic manner. Abstraction is i ntimately associated w ith m odernism (the period i n W estern a rt d irectly before postmodernism), which is o ften a t arget a nd devalued i n c ontemporary t heory. T he " heroic" generation of p ost-World W ar II American abstract painters, including Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, believed fervently in a rt as s elf-expression and maintained t hat a rtists should w ork i n­ tuitively as m uch as possible, relying on t he subconscious to stimulate vital, uncensored 23 24 en '"'d C'd ~ P-< ~ f-< P<1 '"'d .......... ~ ~ < ,...q Q.) I + -' I g estures and marks. T hey believed t hat e very artist has a unique, "authentic" touch, as identifiable as a person's handwriting, which will emerge if t he a rtist creates in a free process. T hey also believed t hat receptive viewers have a visceral response to the re­ sulting paintings, echoing the passion of t heir creator. In contrast, m any in o ur post­ modern age are skeptical t hat g enuine self-expression is possible and argue t hat o ur " individual" expressions and responses are really j ust reflections of cultural condition­ ing. Maybe at one time a painter could make a fluid gestur~ t hat was sincerely sponta­ neous, b ut t oday's painters m ust be self-consciously aware t hat a g estural style is supposed to be a sign of freedom, and t hus t hey can no longer make gestures in an unself-conscious manner. A rtists today who engage with abstraction in a semiotic way m ight a dopt charac­ teristics of t he A bstract Expressionists or Minimalists precisely because t hey k now those devices have become conventions t hat a knowledgeable audience recognizes. O ne a rtist m ight m ake obviously contrived gestures to subvert the notion of painting as s pontaneous expression; a nother a rtist m ight choose a grid o r a nother c onvention of geometric abstraction to critique an earlier generation's dreams o f social utopia and "encode" a w arning a bout ideological rigidity. For example, American painter Peter H alley used rectangular motifs reminiscent of Piet Mondrian and o ther p ainters of g eometric abstraction to design images t hat h int a t diagrams for a network of passages, p erhaps in a prison ward o r u nderground bunker. American Rachel Lachowitz's lipstick-coated copies of Minimalist sculptures mock the supposed "masculine" objec­ t ivity and logic encoded in those impersonal, hard-edged structures. Even in t he face of skepticism, however, some contemporary artists choose to work a bstractly w ith h eartfelt commitment r ather t han irony. Those who argue t hat a rt is valu­ able w hen i t provides a focus for perception and contemplation often prefer abstraction. T he reductions of abstraction yield a strong contrast to t he visual overload of mass-media images. A nd w ithout recognizable images or narrative to occupy their thoughts, viewers are not distracted from the immediate sensory experience of looking. But today's artists who are sincere about abstraction are n ot necessarily r eturning to the Abstract Expres­ sionists'notion o f abstraction as self-expression. As painter Laurie Fendrich writes, abstraction "is also about i deas-the complex struggle between order and chaos, for example, or how t he flux of the organic world modifies t he r igor of geometry.,,2l Theories associated with p oststructuralism are closely identified with postmod­ ernism and semiotics. W hat p oststructuralism added to t he m ix was t he concept t hat t he u nderlying s tructure of a language or a ny o ther sy{nbolic system is n ot fixed and permanent. 22 W ith individual variations, these poststructuralist thinkers argued t hat a ny symbolic s ystem or cultural artifact (e.g., a language, a work of literature, a paint­ ing, a social s ystem)-what t hey called a t ext-can be shown to have internal contra­ dictions and hidden ideologies. Poststructuralists use a strategy developed b y French philosopher Jacques Derrida known as d econstruction to analyze visual and verbal texts. Deconstruction looks at a text or symbolic system in terms of the underlying worldview t hat gave rise to it, exposing contradictions and hidden biases in order to challenge t he v alidity of the worldview as well as the text. Derrida also argued t hat t he m eanings of texts are unstable because different readers (or viewers, in t he case of visual texts) bring their own worldviews to their reading and looking, which skew interpretation. N o t ext has a ny single, correct interpretation; meanings change with the reader, the time, and t he context. According to postmodernists and poststructuralists, t ruth a nd reality are n ot as t ruthful a nd real as t hey m ay seem; in fact, there are m any t ruths a nd m any realities. All t ruths a nd realities are relative and contingent, constructed b y c ulture, dependent on context, and subject to negotiation and change; none is i nherent i n t he n atural o rder of things. Moreover, today t he c ontradictions are more apparent because t he c ultural landscape is filled w ith t exts t hat express competing worldviews, s imultaneously available and bleeding over i nto each o ther's d omain because of t he rapid flow of infor­ mation f rom n umerous sources constantly bombarding us. These texts interact and compete w ith o ne a nother ( creating a condition of i ntertextuality, t o u se t he t erm favored b y D errida and Roland Barthes, a nother i nfluential French theorist). Poststruc­ turalist t hinkers believe t hat t he o nslaught o f information i n o ur m edia-saturated soci­ ety h as made i t impossible for a ny single worldview to dominate. Instead, boundaries and divisions between categories of all kinds are eroding. In particular, t he dualities, o r b inary pairs, so c ommon i n W estern t hinking a nd culture n o l onger are convincing as p olar opposites. Male and female, g ay a nd straight, white and black, public and private, painting and sculpture, h igh a rt a nd low art~istinctions ,b etween these and o ther cat­ egories dissolve in a p ostmodern w orld and the elements merge i nto h ybrids. U nder t he b anner o f p oststructuralism, a significant core o f c ontemporary a rtists aligned t heir s tudio practice w ith t heoretical positions t hat e mphasized t he d econstruc­ tion o f m eaning w ithin e ver-shifting relationships of power and symbolic signage. A mong t he m any a rtists influenced b y t hese theories are Sonia Boyce and Helen Chadwick from England and Barbara Kruger and Lorna Simpson i n t he U nited States . . The perspectives of f eminism a nd p ostcolonialism have p rofoundly affected con­ temporary visual culture. Feminists and postcolonialists challenge artists, a rt h istorians, critics, and audiences t o c onsider politics and social issues. Feminists look at experience from t he perspective of g ender a nd are particularly concerned to e nsure t hat w omen h ave t he s ame rights and opportunities as men. Feminist theoretical critiques analyze hi­ erarchical s tructures t hat c ontribute to male dominance, w hat f eminists caU patriarchy, t hat is, t he c ultural beliefs, rules, and structures t hat reinforce and sustain masculine values and male power. A k ey area of feminist analysis i n t he visual arts is t he gaze, a t erm u sed t o r efer to h ow categories of people are stereotyped in visual representations b y gender, race, sexuality, and o ther factors. Postcoloniahsts are interested i n c ultural interactions of all kinds (in politics, economics, religion, t he arts, philosophy, mass media, and so on) a mong peoples of different nations, regions, and communities. Postcolonialists examine h ow peoples' his­ tories a nd i dentities d emonstrate t he economic, political, social, a nd psychological legacy o f colonialism i n p articular locations, which oppressed indigenous peoples and resulted i n h ybridity, o r a m ingling o f peoples a nd cultures. T hey also analyze migrations and displacements o f peoples (diasporas a nd n omadism, to use two o f t he c urrent t erms) and highlight t he d iversity o f c ultures t hat coexist i n c ontemporary communities. Postcolo­ nialists' a ttention t o t he visual cultures of Africa, Asia, t he Americas, and t he Pacific has helped foster t he i nternationalization o f t he c ontemporary a rt world. M any d ifferent theories have influenced feminism and postcolonialism, and ideas and positions are constantly mutating. 23 T he perspectives are u sually interdisciplinary, drawing from literature, history, sociology, anthropology, and o ther disciplines. Since 1980 poststructuralism has been h ighly influential, and critics a nd a rtists have used deconstructive strategies to analyze, o r II decode," h ow p ower functions to limit t he 25 b 6 a chievements a nd p otential o f w omen a nd p ostcolonial people a round t he w orld. Feminists a nd p ostcolonialists have applied o ther t heories as well, including M arxism a nd p sychoanalysis, a nd h ave c ontributed t heories o f t heir o wn. Postcolonialists have p romoted t he u se of theoretical models t hat a ttempt t o u nderstand t he v isual a rts o f v arious c ultures o n t heir o wn t erms r ather t han i n c omparison to a rt t raditions i n E urope a nd t he U nited S tates. T he p ositions of feminists a nd postcolonialists, a t t heir m ost ideological, propel a rt w ith a n a ctivist agenda. T hus f eminist artists m ight m ake a rt a bout1reproductive rights o r b ody i mage o r o ther social issues i mportant to w omen. P ostcolonial artists m ight m ake a rt a bout racism, disparities b etween rich a nd p oor nations, o r t he b lending o f c ultures a mong i mmigrant g roups. Feminists a nd p ostcolonialists q uestion a nd challenge m any core values o f Western civilization, such as some o f t he ideologies, practices, a nd effects o f t he c apitalist economic s ystem. I n t he e yes o f i ts critics, capitalism centralizes p ower a nd m oney i n t he h ands o f a few a nd leads t o t he p overty a nd o ppression o f m any, including m inorities i n t he W estern w orld a nd l arge populations i n m any c ountries outside t he W est. Feminists a nd p ostcolonialists also challenge W estern d ualistic thinking, a rguing t hat t he u nderlying logic is hierarchical a nd p rivileges o ne o f t he b inaries as s uperior a nd r elegates t he s econd to t he m argins as i nferior a nd " Other." H ierarchical t hinking b uilt o n d ualities p uts m ale o ver female, w hite o ver black, W estern o ver n on-Western, y outh o ver age, o rder o ver chaos, a nd so on. T he t heories d iscussed above, as well as o thers n ot d iscussed such as M arxist a nd p sychoanalytic theories, p ermeate t he p roduction,reception, a nd i nterpretation o f c ontemporary a rt. B ut t he explicit embrace of t heory h as n ot b een u niversal o r c onstant o ver t he p ast t wo a nd a h alf decades, and its influence is o ften diffuse a nd u nacknowl­ edged r ather t han s ystematic. For example, t here h as b een a w idespread cultural back­ lash against feminism; as a result, y ounger w omen a rtists a re o ften r eluctant t o caU t hemselves feminists, even w hen t heir a rt a nd ideas s upport f eminist t enets . A rtists d idn't s eem t o p ay a ttention t o t heory as m uch a fter 1990, a nd t he d ebates o f t he p revious decade o ver m odernism a nd p ostmodernism died down. According t o c urator T oby Kamps, i n a n ideologically u ncertain m oment, a rtistic strategies o f t he 1 980s-appropriation, c ritiques o f c ommodification, d econstruction-seemed e mpty o r calculating. Instead, a rtists t ook u p accessibility, c ommunication, h umor, a nd play. As a style, P ostmodernism, p ositing s tylistic eclecticism, social criticism, a nd e nd-of-history i rony, appeared b ankrupt; as a n a ttitude, however, i t was t he definitive zeitgeist. T he a rt o f t he 1990s, w ith i ts i nterest i n complexity, multivalency, a nd a mbiguity, m irrored a n u ncertain, t ransitional period.,,24 A lthough i n g eneral o ver t he p ast t en y ears a rtists s eem less c ommitted t o s trong political positions a nd n ot as well versed i n academic theories, t hat does n ot m ean t hat a rt h as lacked m eaningful c ontent. To t he c ontrary, a preoccupation w ith deep m oral a nd e thical q uestions a nd r esonant t hemes, such as spirituality, beauty, violence, s exu­ ality, transience, extinction, memory, and healing, is a p owerful c urrent i n t he m ost r ecent a rt. T he r eal w orld is t reacherous a nd volatile. According to Richard Cork, t he q uestion p osed b y Joseph Beuys's 1985 w ork The End o f the Twentieth Century s till resonates: " ls [ our era] a bout t o t erminate p rematurely i n a n uclear apocalypse, o r will it be succeeded b y a n e ra w hich asserts a less destructive s et o f v alues 7// 25 O r as H omi K. B habha w rote: liThe ' 80s i naugurated a d ream o f d ifference which is n ow b eing h aunted b y h orror a nd d oubt: abhorrence o f t he I d eterritorialized flows' of global t error II networks; doubts about t he feasibility of global politics with the increase in ' homeland' s ecurity and international surveillance; doubts about preemptive strikes; doubts about war; doubts about o ur r ights and responsibilities for t he world and ourselves. W hat h appened to the dream ?"26 A rt M eets C ontemporary C ulture O ne of the leitmotifs of a rt o ver the past h undred y ears has be~n t he blurring of dis­ tinctions between t he r ealm of a rt a nd other categories of culture. Before World War t while developing Cubism, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso produced the first h igh-art collages, combining scraps of newspaper and o ther m aterials from the everyday world with traditional a rt materials. A t a bout the same time, Dada artist Marcel D uchamp f amously exhibited unaltered found objects such as a urinal and a snow shovel as w hat he called readymades, o r found sculptures. N umerous a rtists since have experimented with found objects, i ncluding o ther Dada artists, t he Surrealists, the so-called j unk sculptors of the 1950s, Pop Artists, and a range of artists interested in techniques of as­ semblage o r t he conceptual implications of t he readymade. Performance artists likewise have mixed everyday movements, sounds, props, a nd behaviors with more convention­ ally theatrical elements. In the contemporary period, t he dissolution of boundaries between a rt a nd life has continued in a n umber o f directions. There continues to be cross-fertilization between high and low art. T he use of found objects and the readymade remains a significant direction, frequently involving appropriations from consumer culture. Americans Jeff Koons and Ashley Bickerton and Israeli-born Haim Steinbach have each in their own idiosyncratic way referenced the slick refinement and packaging of mass-produced consumer products in t he c reation of their art. Koons's gleaming Rabbit (1987) [1-4] is an appropriation of a novelty M ylar balloon, n ow cast i n polished stainless steel. Koons knowingly fuses, and confuses, commercial glitz with t he polished forms of earlier mod­ ern a rt a nd the everyday subjects of Pop A rt sculptures. Like m any o f his o ther sculptures in which t he a rtist appropriates actual consumer objects (e.g., kitsch statuary, toys) and remakes t hem i n a new medium as h ighly crafted l uxury objects for wealthy collectors, Koons's Rabbit appears to w armly embrace o ur c onsumer lifestyle while, at the same time, coolly appraise t he shallowness of a civilization devoid of deeper meaning. This bifurcated stance toward contemporary reality, in which m any o f us are simultaneously attracted to a nd repelled b y t he tidal wave o trampant c onsumerism, is reflected in the alternative use o f comic book and cartoon imagery and styles. Now a thriving subcultu~e o f visual culture as a whole, t he comic and cartoon format is seen in t he w ork of Raymond Pettibon, Laylah Ali, Glen Baxter, and Christian Schumann, a mong n umerous others. Japanese anime ( animation films) and manga comics, with t heir super-cute, super-violent, and super-sexualized imagery done in an insistently flattened style, have exerted a particularly strong influence o n t he y ounger g eneration of Japanese visual artists. The painters Takashi M urakami a nd Yoshitomo Nara, for instance, are known internationally for t heir characteristic approach to painting in the Superflat s tyle (a t erm coined b y M urakami). The early 1990s also saw the beginnings of t he" abject" or "pathetic" art trend, w hen artists such as the Americans Mike Kelley a nd Candyass evoked adolescent bad-boy behavior b y u sing materials such as soiled stuffed animals and techniques such as rude graffiti. 8 1 -4 Jeff Koons R abbit, 1987 Stainless steel, 4 0 1 5/16 x 1 8 1 5/16 x 1 13/4 inches (104 x 4 8 x 3 0 cm) Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery Distinctions between a rt and the larger visual culture are dissolving and even disappearing. Artists bring n onart experiences into the sphere of art; t hey also i ntro­ duce art into the larger visual culture. Artists mingle their works with other products of visual culture b y electing to exhibit t heir w ork in certain kinds of sites and choosing not to limit their display opportunities to a rt venues only. This phenomenon is n ot 'I ~5 Jenny Holzer I S election f rom The S urvival Series. 1 983-85 Signboard Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Wembly Stadium, London, 1 988 Courtesy of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, © 2 004 J enny Holzer 29 new: e arth a rtists a nd a rtists involved i n site-specific public a rt have b een p ositioning t heir a rt in locations outside t he m useum since t he 1960s. T he t rend h as expanded a nd m utated since 1980 in response to e ntertainment c ulture a nd n ew t echnologies o f e lectronic communication. A merican J enny Holzer, for example, inserts a mbiguous messages i nto public places, u sing posters, T-shirts, baggage carousels, electronic bill­ boards [1-5], a nd p ark b enches as sites to display h er texts. Artists, according to c urator B enjamin Weil, " have b een e xploring approaches akin to an ambient strategy, focusing o n w ays to i nsert t heir p rojects w ithin t he chaos of an overmediated public sphere. Billboards, u sually d esigned to advertise commercial products, have been used b y a rtists such as t he l ate Felix Gonzalez-Torres to 'sell' ideas. Marquees o f a bandoned theaters are ideal surfaces for t he p lacement o f i nconspicuous messages; stickers, posters, a nd o ther f orms o f s treet culture become compelling i nstruments i n t he h ands o f artists." 27 A rt m ore a nd m ore appears to be i n c ompetition w ith t he bold graphics, sedllctive objects, a nd lively stories o f c ommerce a nd e ntertainment. S ome artists adapt b y m aking a rt t hat has become m ore like e ntertainment, a dopting strategies o f d isplay and production from popular culture, installing m ultimedia spectacles i n e xhibition sites, crossing over i nto t he d omains o f film, music, a nd fashion, and serving professionally as consultants a nd e ven e ntrepreneurs i n c ommercial enterprises such as r estaurants a nd magazines. Examining t he t rend, p hotographer Jeff Wall said, " I t hink a n ew k ind of a rt has e merged since t he '70s, a kind t hat is easier to appreciate, m ore like e ntertainment, m ore a ttached to media attitudes . ... I t's m uch closer to e ntertainment a nd d epends o n p roduction value a nd o n spectacle i n a w ay t hat s erious a rt n ever did before." 28 T he p ervasive influence of popular culture, including Hollywood action filn1s, B ritish rock, interactive computer games, a nd so on, which has been embraced e nthusi­ astically b y y oung people a round t he world, is a powerful influence o n t he p roduction of c ontemporary a rt in countries from Korea to Nigeria. T he w orld appears to be chang­ ing so rapidly t hat a rtists m ay feel t hey have n o choice b ut t o get o nboard a nd c reate works t hat e mbody the ride. More rare b ut e qually welcome are those instances i n w hich artists succeed i n s topping the world in its tracks, so to speak. Such was the case with t he design and iIl$tallation of t heir m onumental Bottle o f Notes (1993) b y Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen in a public space i n England. Appearing like an enormous bottle containing a message t hat has washed ashore, this work of public art brings the potential for meaning to passersby going about t heir daily lives. The message the sculpture brings o nly verges o n legibility (in fact, t he b ottle itself is formed b y t he nonsense script t hat comprises its surface), yet t he s culpture holds o ut t he hope for communicating meaning. This last point i n o ur r econnoitering mission t hrough t he p ast twenty-five years of a rt reasserts this chapter's initial premise: content matters, even i f t he content is multilayered and open-ended. I t is with this fundamental idea in mind t hat we t urn to a n e xamination of contemporary artworks t hat e mbody six resonating themes: time, place, identity, the body, language, and spirituality. N otes 1. For more information, see Eduardo Kac's website, at, or the recently published book about t he project: The Eighth Day: The Transgenic A rt o f Eduardo Kac (Tempe: Institute for Studies i n the Arts, Arizona State University, 2003). 2. Toby Kamps, "Lateral Thinking: A rt o f t he 19905," in Lateral Thinking: A rt o f the 1990s (La Jolla, Calif.: M useum o f Contemporary A rt San Diego, 2002), p. 14. An exhibition catalog. 3. Erika Doss, Twentieth-Century American A rt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p.203. 4. S tephen Koch, "Andy Warhol, 1928-1987," A rtforum, April 2003, p. 94. 5. Richard Cork, "Introduction," i n Breaking Down the Barriers: A rt in the 19905, by Richard Cork (New Haven: Yale U niversity Press, 2003), p. 10. 6. H aim Steinbach, " Haim Steinbach Talks to Tim Griffin," interview by Tim Griffin, A rtforum, April 2003, p. 230. 7. Neal Benezra and Olga M. Viso, Distemper: Dissonant Themes in the A rt o f the 19905 (Washington, D.c.: H irshhorn M useum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution), p. 10. An exhibition catalog. 8. Doss, Twentieth-Century American Art, p. 217. 9. Some active practitioners within the expanding field of new media include Rebecca Horn, Jon Kessler, Alan Rath, Laurie Anderson, Margot Lovejoy, Pipilotti Rist, Mariko Mori, Jeffrey Shaw, and Michal Rovner. 10. Quoted in Liz Wells, Photography: A Critical Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 257. 11. Jonathan Knight Crary, "Perceptual Modulations: Reinventing the Spectator," in John B. Ravenal, O uter and Inner Space: Pipilotti Rist, Shirin Neshat, Jane and Louise Wilson, and the History of Video A rt (Richmond: Virginia M useum of Fine Arts, 2002), p. 23. An exhibition catalog. 12. Nicholas Mirzoeff, A n Introduction to Visual Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 91. 13. In the age of mechanical reproduction, such processes as p hotolithography allowed newspapers and magazines to duplicate and disseminate images. The electronic age, however, is different in degree as well as i n kind from preceding eras, as i magery is now sent around the world at the speed of light. 14. For descriptions of Byrne's work, see David Byrne, Envisioning Emotional Epistemolog­ icalInformation (New York: Steidl and Pace-McGill Gallery, 2003). 15. The statistical information and the quote from Homi Bhabha appeared in A nn W ilson Lloyd, "Rambling r ound a World That's Gone Biennialistic," N ew York Times, M arch 3, 2002, p. 34 and 36. 16. Crary, "Perceptual Modulations," p. 25. 17. Bennett Simpson, "Pushing an O pen Door: The Artist as C ulture Broker," in The Americans: N ew A rt (London: Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2001), p. 296. A n e xhibition catalog. 18. Prior t o p ostmodernism, various artists including t he Dadaists and m any S urrealists also were interested i n kitsch. 19. John Rajchrnan, "Unhappy Returns," A rtfarum, April 2003, p. 61. "Beaubourg" is a nickname for the Centre Georges Pompidou, a cultural center t hat opened in Paris in 1977. 20. Artists working with appropriation in t he 1980s and after include Sigmar Polke in Germany, Jeff Koons, Mike Bidlo, and Louise Lawler in t he U nited States, Carlo Maria Mariani in Italy, and Wang Guangyi in China. 21. Laurie Fendrich, W hy P ainting Still M atters (Bloomington, Ind.: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 2000), p. 16. 22. Influential theorists of poststructuralism include the French intellectuals Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Lacan. 23. The m any feminist thinkers influencing t he visual arts include Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Craig Owens, Laura Mulvey, Lucy Lippard, and Griselda Pollock. Thinkers associated with postcolonialism include Homi K. Bhabha, Edward Said, Rasheed Araeen, Paul Gilroy, and O lu Oguibe. Intellectuals involved with both feminism and postcolonialism include bell hooks, Trinh T. M inh-Ha, and Ella Habiba Shohat. 24. Toby Kamps, "Lateral Thinking," p. 15. 25. Cork, "The End of the Twentieth Century," in B reaking D own t he Barriers, p. 628. 26. H omi K. Bhabha, "Making Difference," A rtforum, April 2003, p. 76. 27. Benjamin Weil, "Ambient A rt and O ur C hanging Relationship to t he A rt Idea," i n 010101: A rt in Technological Times (San Francisco: San Francisco M useum o f Modern Art, 2001), pp. 58-59. A n e xhibition catalog. 28. Jeff Wall, "Jeff Wall Talks to Bob Nickas," interview b y Bob Nickas, A rtfarum, March 2003, p. 87. 31 ...
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This note was uploaded on 01/31/2011 for the course WOMEN'S S 240 taught by Professor Cole during the Spring '07 term at University of Michigan.

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