Chasing Time: Art History and Criticism in Late Modern and Contemporary Art

Art criticism, as it exists today, is not historical enough.  Let me rephrase: American art criticism today is not historical enough. Still following in the footsteps of its postwar incarnation, art criticism in the U.S. spends too much time on the work itself and rarely steps beyond the provided visual framework, for purposes of context.

The responses to Irving Sandler’s inquiry in the December 2012/January 2013 issue of the Brooklyn Rail titled Art Criticism Today reflect this narrow purview along with a sense of panic, revealed by Eleanor Heartney who wrote, “more recently I have begun to feel like an outsider in ways that don’t feel so good.”  Dave Hickey’s self-imposed retirement startled some but not others.

Meanwhile the role of art criticism is far more functional in Europe. France maintains an extensive archive of art criticism located in Rennes, France called Les Archives de la critique d’art.  Writers for publications such as Germany’s Kunstforum maintain a historical long-view while assessing the quality of contemporary art.  When meeting with artists in Europe, there is no panic about the need for the art of the present to be sharply separated from the art of the past; time is a continuum.

In comparison, American artists and art critics are too comfortable within the framework of 1945 onward. For instance, while Occupy Wall Street protests coursed throughout the city for 6 months, the 200-year old New York Stock Exchange was up for sale to the Deutsche Börse.  However the purchase was blocked in early 2012 by the European Union due to antitrust violations.

The EU continues to emerge as an effective player in the fast-changing art world.  In 2010, the European Commission ruled that art by Dan Flavin and Bill Viola is not considered art, subjecting the import of these pieces to a higher import tax. In 2014, the Commission will launch Creative Europe with a proposed budget of EUR 1.8 billion, thus becoming the largest source of funding for anyone working in the creative and cultural industries located in EU Member States.

If American art criticism does not contextualize itself and engage the larger narrative of art history, its usefulness will become largely bleak, serving only as inbred entertainment. With that said, there is so much more to say about American art than what’s been said over the past 67 years.

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About Jill Conner

Jill Conner is New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and is a Contributor to Afterimage, Art in America, ArtUS, Art Papers, Interview and Sculpture. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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One Response to Chasing Time: Art History and Criticism in Late Modern and Contemporary Art

  1. Allen Patten says:

    Sometimes history is kept out of the picture for one reason or other. Like a rudderless ship, a somewhat directionless cultural expression can result. Appearance for the sake of appearance the way some products appear to be products until you want to use them for their intended purpose and discover then that they are, in fact, just imitation junk. Like the Independent article notes, the American people were astonished by abstract expressionism and whatever else it was, it did stamp out modernism… as did Nazism in Europe and Bolshevism in Russia. In fact “modernism” represents a short lived democratic episode in history (and art history) worth keeping alive I think. “My kid could do that” was exactly the point, no one needed an academy (pyramid power) to make art.

    Alice, down the rabbit hole before the first world war and Dorothy over the rainbow before the second, appear to me to be on shamanistic (god of the garden) quests prior to major social and economic upheavals (hell on earth) emanating from gold brick heaven (god of the pearly gated community.) Not religious here, but, taken all together we have a cultural context and partial analogy for the appearance of modernism as a strategy in the world.

    Still viable perhaps.


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