bory on Tue, 9 Jul 2002 23:35:22 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-ro] parerea lor (din nou)

Mult stimata shi iubita lista,
(cu dedicatzie speciala pentru Nikolai Rostopaski)
Iata ce am gasit in editzia de astazi a cotidianului britanic Evening Standard, la sectziunea The Arts. Mi se pare chiar interesant shi foarte making sense (nu am stat sa caut cel mai bun echivalent romānesc al expresiei).

" _Looking for meaning_
by Andrew Renton

One of the criticisms that I always hear levelled at contemporary art is that it's really just a neat bit of design in disguise. There's no "art" or soul left in the work. It's a tough proposal to counter, so I jumped at the chance to talk through some of these questions last week with Hal Foster, one of the world's leading art historians, in front of a packed audience at the ICA.

  Foster is Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, and there can't be a clued-in art student who hasn't grappled with one of his books. Throughout his career he's looked at various movements central to 20th century art, such as minimalism or surrealism, and has managed to change the conventional wisdom on the subject. He's a founder and co-editor of October - a journal so overwhelmingly influential in the past decade that, in the art history corridors of the world, the word itself is almost synonymous with art criticism.

But Foster has been a bit troubled of late. He's hungering for something new in art, and all he seems to find is a slick product. Design, by any other words. And he has just published a book, Design and Crime, which pinpoints this design-as-art crisis and might just offer us an escape route into a 21st century culture.

After all, he says, we live in a world that's just so much design. From designer faces (surgery) to designer personalities (drugs), even designer babies through genetic manipulation, we're constantly surrounded by design.

The result is that we're inhabiting an increasingly smooth, glossy and superficial culture. And it's a culture looking for a subject. In Foster's words, design is the "package" that "all but replaces the product".

Weren't we warned never to judge a book by its cover? Foster cites Canadian uber-designer Bruce Mau, whose two huge doorstop books, S, M, L, XL (in collaboration with architect Rem Koolhaas) and Life Style, aren't so much to be read, or even placed on the coffee table - they are the coffee table. And look at the irony of that first title - it's culture, any size you want it.

Design moves product so successfully that the product can't catch up and design becomes the driving force. Foster called this the "political economy of design". This is the late-Modernist equivalent of putting the cart before the horse, doing the packaging before there's something to be wrapped up. 

Design doesn't need to be the devil's work. It clarifies and clears the cluttered space of so much of our world. The problem is, we're left wanting something more. Something we can't quite reduce to stylistic flourishes.

We feel this most in the museum - the place where, as a last resort, we hope art might touch us. Often we find that we're no longer engaging with the object, but a digitally manipulated version of it, where the artist mediates our very own view for us.

We see it most clearly in the works of two Germans, Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth, the world's most successful photographic artists. Their photographs build the act of seeing into themselves.

Struth, for example, often returns to the museum to make his work, photographing some of the world's masterpieces in situ, with crowds of tourists also milling about in the frame of his lens. Now he finds his own work in the museum too.

Is there anything left for us to do, when we're standing in the museum looking at an image of some people standing in the museum looking at an image? Will we feel the need to go to the museum when its contents are fully digitised and accessible on-line?

The museum itself has also been looking for its subject. It used to be cathedrals that conferred status on cities, now it's the museum that puts a place on the map. But a grand tour of Europe's new museums will reveal great design and an empty heart. There's nothing to put in them, or rather there's nothing that needs to be put in them. They call it the Bilbao effect - great for the local restaurant trade, but hardly the saviour of our culture.

To my mind the Guggenheim in Bilbao, jaw-dropping as it may be when you glimpse the metallic sheen through the cobbled streets of the Basque capital, has become a celebration of its own surface, rather than of its contents. It's part of a larger Guggenheim brand, which is developing an international resource of "reassuring" cultural consumption.

You know where you are with a Guggenheim. It's the grand tour - fuelled by Big Macs. The problem with the art/design conundrum is that the art can become all too strategic, too stylised. What we might be seeking now is the old-fashioned magic that often comes when you least expect it. We need an artist to see it and, in this digitised age, we crave the artist's touch.

Here's where I see a glimmer of hope. Towards the end of his book, Foster speaks of a simple but touching work by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, made in 1993. It's a photograph that documentsa little assemblage of stones and wood detritus, found in the streets and propped up against a wall and a dirty puddle. In the distance we see the Manhattan skyline. It doesn't lay claim to any grand gesture. Although it's set up by the artist, however humble the assemblage, it still has meaning. So where does this meaning come from?

The temporary configuration, for all its fragility, echoes the immovable, modernist grandeur of the cityscape. Orozco snaps the scene and moves on.

The work of art, the little gathering of materials on the street, lasts until the next street sweeping. But it's a moment that sees beyond the discarded qualities of the materials, holds these incongruous elements together, and situates them in a real place. And they hold together in the memory.

How affecting the image appears to us now, after that same skyline was fractured last year - even though Orozco's moment happened some nine years earlier. But somehow this work that was hardly ever there still resonates and means something anew. That touching moment observed by the artist couldn't have been designed - it's art."

see the online version at

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