Yesterday Lian and I went to the Whitney Biennial. We did not discuss much of the work after, and I asked Lian why he did not want to talk about it.
He said that most of the works did not resonate with him (my words not his). That he can understand modern or contemporary art within the context of art history, but most of these works did not seem to be in dialogue with that history.
This to me was an interesting statement. It made me think about concepts like fracture, fragmentation, and order. In “The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World” , James Hillman talks about the greek word kosmos as meaning order, arrangement, and adornment. He connects the greek kosmos with the English word cosmetic, a word that keeps this etymological sense more than the English word cosmos.
There is something in art or beauty that is about adornment and arrangement. This is both the surface arrangement for our sense perception, but also I also think we can talk about adornment and arrangement in terms of a lineage. How does an artwork fall into an order or arrangement of other artworks. We talk about a great work as a ‘crowning’ achievement – a description about adornment. What is a crowning achievement for an artwork as standing in its lineage.
A lot of the work was conceptual in nature in that the idea in many respects drove the production and was perhaps more important than the production. The work was an index into the idea, rather than an idea that could only be expressed through matter, adornment, or what we would call art. My favorite pieces were the works that seemed to create a new material language: the sculptural works of Ragen Moss and Daniel Lind-Ramos and installation of Gala Porras-Kim(who i saw last year talk at the Guggenheim and blogged about as well). These were pieces that created worlds of their own that did not have analogs in simple conceptual descriptions. There was a generative power to these works, a certain aliveness, that perhaps all creations have but the richness of the material representation makes it easier to construct more (and more intense) sites of communion.
A lot of the work reminded me of the Duchamp ready made, the act of an artist that disintegrated the category of art, like Wittgenstein removed the category of metaphysics from philosophy (and Kant before him did as well).
But we still have art – although this sort of cynical capitalist consumerist art is something I think about in relationship to the image of the Magician. It is a trick. The art of the Renaissance I think about in terms of the Priest or the Church – a mode of devotion. The art of the industrial age (impressionism, cubeism, dada, everything upto the readymade) I think of in terms of the sun, as illumination, art as science, as an alternate mode of perception. What is next art after its ready made turn, once it has been valorized at the cost of content?
When I ask this question I imagine the wheel of fortune. A monte carlo simulation, an engine, or a mechanism that powers possible choices. It is the creation of domain spaces from which we can build our reality. Hopefully it is not a bunch of junk that we buy from cvs.