Sunday, October 17, 2004

Is Carl Rove a genius on par with Marcel Duchamp? PART I

I've broken this up in into 2 parts , this part is about the situation we find ourselves in today, in which, in my mind the question in the title could be interesting, part 2 will get into that question itself, so forgive me for the tease. HERE IS PART 2

The following is an excerpt from The Education of the Un-Artist, Part I, written by Alan Kaprow in 1971:

The term “intermedia” implies fluidity and simultaneity of roles. When art is only one of several possible functions a situation may have, it loses its privileged status and becomes, so to speak, a lowercase attribute. The intermedial response can be applied to anything—say an old glass. The glass can serve the geometerist to explain ellipses; for the historian it can be an index of the technology of a past age; for the painter it can become part of a still life, and the gourmet can use it to drink his Chateau Latour 1953. We are not used to thinking like this, all at once or non-hierarchically, but the intermedialist does it naturally. Context rather than category. Flow rather than work of art.

One of the consequences of today’s "Post-Media" condition is that we are forever (potentially) speaking to all audiences, all the time. With the advent of the Internet, gone are the days when one could express something within a specific context and feel certain that only its intended audience would ever gain access. Graduate students deconstruct "high," "middle," and "low-brow” culture with equal intellectual vigor, and artists now feel comfortable using pop culture as a medium creating art that can only be understood by those able to see it as such, not unlike a private joke. One can imagine the various reactions by each of the groups mentioned by Kaprow above would have to a single news item about his glass. Today each of them would perhaps have their own blog, and thus, instant access to each other’s reactions. One can imagine the historians having a good laugh at the way the gourmets missed the point. Reactions and dialogues are now almost instantly available for critique, re- contextualization and deconstruction both by and for a mass audience. The web by its very nature encourages quick re-contextualization. A typical blog entry consist of a few pithy comments and a link an earlier source of information. The comments can and often do set up a new frame of reference in the mind of the reader that they take with them when they click the link. For each posting, essay, or artwork that comes into the world one can imagine the variety of reactions that people at various distances from its original audience might have to it.

One of my favorite examples of the way a single artwork could have multiple and potentially contradictory meanings is a conundrum involving the executive dining room at the Chase Bank headquarters in Manhattan, which contains a site-specific work by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren.

The work consists of a series of Buren's trademark stripes, in effect creating some very expensive wallpaper. Very few eat or have any other reason to enter this elite setting, with the exception of some of the top executives in one of the richest banks in the world.

Those unfamiliar with conceptual art (99% of the population) might interpret this as a situation in which a clever Frenchman hoodwinked rich, ignorant bankers into purchasing outrageously priced wallpaper.

Although, I’ve never seen this particular work, I know from reading about Buren’s other work that it is usually concerned with making visible the invisible structures of control inherent in the architecture of our environments (yes, really). A common assumption, (among artists less now than thirty years ago) is that the powers that be in our society are able to stay in power partially because they are able to naturalize, neutralize and essentially “hide in plain sight” the structures of their power. Given that, then making people aware of these structures of control is the first step toward fostering awareness, and encouraging change in society to make it more equitable and more just. Assuming Buren’ dinning room has some point to make in this direction, an interesting narrative shapes up for this work. In this narrative, Buren heroically uses global capital's insatiable desire for conspicuous consumption as a vehicle for the radical critique of both that desire, and the system that gave rise to it.

Seen from a different context, the bankers have last laugh. Because this is a private dining room, any value, discernible only to those equipped to discover it, which the artist intended the work to have, is presumably lost on the bankers. The bankers may congratulate themselves on both how well-versed they are in French conceptual art, how rich they are to afford it in so exclusive a setting, and how impotent any art is to change public opinion in any way that could ever threaten the status quo. From this point of view they've made Daniel into their interior decorator and you could ask was he, or any of us 'artists', ever more than that in the grand scheme of things?

Each of these three meanings could exist simultaneously. Which meaning you choose to pay attention to could depend on who you are and on which set of priorities you might have at the time. Artists are increasingly concerning themselves not just with the meaning of their work to other artists, and to critics and collectors but also with the meaning that work takes on within the context of the general public. In the arena of the general public, artists, commentators, marketers and political operatives confront the same problems, find the same opportunities and may make use of the same tactics to say different things to different audiences simultaneously.

Coming soon in PART II: 9-11, the 2nd Gulf war, Marcel Duchamp and Karl Rove, artist(?).


At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Karl Rove is not a Dadaist. He is a fascist, which is, incidentally EXACTLY what the Dadaists were fighting against (in addition to outright Nazis--- same thing).

Whereas Duchamp may playfully ask "Why not sneeze Rose Selavy", Rove will drag you to room 101 where you learn that 2+2=5.

And you will probably be Abu-Ghraibed in the process.

Miss Heather


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