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Explosive and jargon-heavy about contemporary art

The metamorphosis of contemporary art
Forfatter: Mikkel Bolt
Forlag: Antipyrine, 2016
The metamorphoses of contemporary art are perhaps too interesting.


What contemporary art really is, many people wonder – even those who know it. The reason is, I think, that the art field has become obscure. In this book, Mikkel Bolt tries to think of "the art as a prism for a more comprehensive analysis", but there are no major changes in his view of art from the past. Admittedly, the discussion of the relationship between art and society offers well-reflected, spicy observations about the "twisted relationship" of political art to capital and establishment. The art that presents itself as radical and overbearing is in reality almost always "an art of decorating the cake," Bolt writes. The "political is visualized as the exotic second, the art by definition must embody and show to live up to its autonomous status." Well put.

A left-radical pose makes the art more marketable to the bourgeoisie, who, in orderly forms, can enjoy a spicy dose of contrarian thinking. Communism and revolutionary stencils are thus not something it lacks in contemporary art, but it is very rare that this type of art gets any real impact in the real world, as Bolt writes quite correctly.

Innsideaksjonisme. Bolt constantly relies – with good reason – on the Frankfurter philosopher Herbert Marcuse's thoughts on the "affirmative character of culture", ie that cultural expression both criticizes and is part of what is criticized – capital in one form or another – at the same time. This type of repressive tolerance is especially tricky when it is obscured, something it often becomes through shameless posing as rebellious with reference to modernist art. Two flies in one snap, we could say, something we see in pure form with, for example, Gardar Eide Einarsson and (partly) Matias Faldbakken here at home.

A left-wing pose makes art more marketable to the bourgeoisie, who can enjoy a spicy dose of contrarian thinking in orderly forms.

Fortunately, it is also the case that thoughts and practices in art can emerge that do not unfold elsewhere, says Bolt. A natural place to see is the room itself has opened up around different types of radical new communist thinkers such as Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou. Bolt also cites some examples of coincidences between real political actionism and the art space – such as the Occupy movement's take on Artists Space in New York in 2011 – but this is the rare exception. What should be done then? Bolt asks, via Lenin. He believes in seeing an ideological breakdown in the position that has long characterized the pseudo-actionist art scene, but gives no strong clues as to where it carries forward.

Painted jargon. From here I lose some grip on the book. Not because it's not interesting – on the contrary, it might be too interesting. Certain names, concepts and ideas within recent art theory are grounded in chapter after chapter without Bolt bringing us on. Communism, anti-capitalism, participation, fallen labor movements – and so on. Bolt knows his stuff, but he stays safe within the established cycles of thinking in the arts.

So that there can be no doubt: Contemporary art's metamorphosis is full of knowledge and the "right" art references – those found in art literature with a certain level of ambition – but the text is so marked by art-jargon that it borders on the parodic. Now this is not that uncommon in academically oriented art texts, but missed out on something else and more, something – dare I say it – sincerely, not less with this book: I am left with breathing difficulties and a strong desire to read something that is outside this bubble.

Not too outdated. The overview and diagnosis – which impresses, no doubt about it – would obviously have been more readable if the author had turned up the temperature a few notches in between, for example sketching art experiences where he was seized in a way that challenged the dominant language of art. Which created violations of the text, ambiguity, a compelling wonder. Warm, maybe? But it is the slightly distant view that dominates, even though Bolt inserts himself into the essay tradition by calling his texts "attempts" in the book's introduction. In light of these announced "trials", I get curious as to how Bolt himself is behind all the words and all the well-articulated mapping of the art field.

Bolt sees an ideological breakdown in the pose that characterizes the pseudo-actionist art scene.

While reading the last part of the book – an exposition of Grant Kester's very interesting art criticism-actionism – I thought of Friedrich Nietzsche's outward considerations and the importance of finding a balance between remembering and forgetting, in life as in thinking. If you remember too much – implied: you know too much or let the knowledge take over – the thinking is lost, which often follows a more exploratory gaze than that carried out by professionals.

The individual is forgotten. As an overview of the ongoing conversation in the art world, the contemporary metamorphosis of contemporary art will work perfectly, but as a vision, with temperature and something at stake, it is a disappointment all the time Bolt's thoughts on communism and "resistance" are safely within that art field. like to talk about before. The discussion of avant-garde, for example, and whether it is dead or not, becomes a theoretical cast between the classic actors Adorno, Horkheimer and Jameson and newer names such as David Joselit on each side. Interestingly enough, but in the long run thirteenth as both the playing field and the playing field are set.

Many theoretical texts are overshadowed by the fact that the individual and its art experiences have had to give way to an abstract diagnosis of the contemporary as destroyed by realization and the "acting community" effects. Such diagnoses distort and simplify reality. and if they are not complemented by individual experiences and thoughts, we lose touch with the realities. And that is the opposite of what the author wants: "to ask questions of the self-evident in contemporary art and at least in contemporary".

Kjetil Røed
Freelance writer.

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