Archive for March, 2007

Quality in Art: Part 5

March 29, 2007


The thing is that there are no 100 art projects available for a choice. The choice is made before. A network choice. Quality is already a fact before something is chosen. 

If we take the example with Documenta 11. Okwui Enwezor is chosen as director of the exhibition. The winds of globalization and post-colonialism are blowing and Enwezor is a good opportunity: Social critique,
Africa and a black man. He brings in 6 co-curators whom he has been working together with before. The team is in itself a composition of the global world. Each of them will of course bring in artists who they have been working with or have a special interest in. Enwezor has a strong interest in promoting black and African artists and documentary films. He is also interested in political activism as art. Thus it becomes a strong quality in this connection to have such an identity. It also means that Documenta will show less well-known artists whose range of quality quickly will rise.

Almost every artist concerned with post-colonialism will address this issue indirectly. The rule of “not illustrating” is a strong one.  That means that many artists are available. It is enough to have a working situation which reflects a post-colonialist aspect or that the artist himself is an example. And the team’s concept is also wide. One member of the team, Sarat Maharaj, has a strong interest in the concept of “translation”. Translation can in this connection be seen as “translation of one culture to another” and there it is. Maharaj himself is a perfect object for this period of post-colonialism being an Indian of origin, brought up in South Africa and professor in
London. He is also very intelligent and with an ability to lecture with a sense of poetic theory. Just listen to him here.

Enwezor and the curator team are of course concerned about making correct quality art and thus not forcing the exhibition to become an illustrated idea. This is not necessary as the only thing needed is works and artists which can be discussed in relation to the questions and the massive theoretical program which was the first parts of Documenta 11 (“four platforms”). A theme should not be overdone. 

If we sum up the exhibition it will be confirming a quality which already was established. A few African artist and a few documentary filmmakers were rather new name in the context but also that is needed for an exhibition. We have the rule for curated shows that they should bring forward some “new blood” – but hardly too new.  

The interesting thing when analyzing this – or any other exhibition – is that the quality was already established. The chosen ones were chosen because they had already been chosen. And those who are choosing were also chosen to make the correct choice for a certain quality present at that time. 

It is then simple to put forward why something is high quality in art. The argument used will be that art deals with certain relevant topics and then again added: with newness, incomprehensibility, being poetic, good aesthetic and so forth.  

It could be understood as if we have some, but a limited number of very good artists in the world. These artists are chosen because of their artistic qualities. But as we can see in Enwezor’s case; he is not satisfied. The African artists are not appreciated as they should be. So he picks some of these, hoping that this will change the situation. One can say that it really doesn’t. One curator, even with a magic power from such an exhibition as Documenta, cannot change a situation. The documentary filmmakers returned to documentary film after the exhibition and the new African artists and groups were mainly given a start. A promotion is a long track run. 

But if some African artists might not be appreciated as they should – how about all other artists? Here we probably have the clue. The artworld could be full of artists who are treated in an unfair way. Or is there no such thing as being treated unfairly? 

Next part will deal with this subject.

Quality in Art: Part 4

March 28, 2007

The characteristics which have been presented don’t give art an identity. There is still the problem with how an “art identity” will be brought into them. Here we have some important aspects:  

The existential level. Art is seen as a field of high discourse. This means that basic and deep questions concerning life and death are a natural level of art. It is a serious business. The backup for this are philosophers and their texts on art and aesthetics. And this came about from Kant and onwards. The point is that art is “talking back” to philosophy on the same level but in a non-philosophical way.  

Even when an artwork seems ridiculous or stupid it will be taken serious and discussed in a high discourse manner. That is, of course, if it is considered worthy. This means that it should carry enough quality. It is important to compare with our fields. Art can look like a student’s joke, sport or fashion. The difference is the existential level and the level of text which are attached to the work – or sometimes a part of it. 

This means that quality is built into the art system. A lesser good artwork or a bad one is an attempt that more or less failed. Some artworks can be seen as just formally a part of the artworld. For example mass-produced paintings or “bad taste” works can in a way be called art but they are not considered worthy for being a part of a higher discourse, which is quite obvious.  

Now, we have a possible answer to the question about how the artworld motivate quality in art. A work is considered being a part of the higher discourse, expressing an existential level and also expressing this through newness, incomprehensibility, poetic, and aesthetics. But this is not a satisfying answer as art in practice is more specific. The next step is to examine relevance. 

In order to achieve a high or a reasonable standard of quality an artwork must be relevant. That is it should fit into the existing issues. A work can be motivated as to have a high degree of quality if it to a large extent is showing similarities with already existing quality works.  

An example. The last 10-15 years the art connected with InCo has been about social and political issues: “social critique”. In practice this means that an artwork cannot achieve a standard of quality, become “interesting”, unless it is connected to this subject. But the social critique is a broad concept and includes different aspects as identity, gender, migration, post-colonialism, ecology, media, and institutional critique. All these subjects are not operating all the time. When Okwui Enwezor in 2002 created the Documenta 11 it was heavily based on post-colonialism. This huge exhibition had a strong impact on the artworld. The idea of post-colonialism as the leading quality content was spread all over the world. But post-colonialism can be understood in many ways and other forms of social critique did not disappear. Still it is possible to say that quality centred on this concept in the following years.  

When social critique and post-colonialism are used as foundation of quality it is necessary to combine it with the other aspects which were mentioned earlier. Thus it is possible to define the main quality at this time (approximately 2002 – 2006) as post-colonialism touching an existential level (could be a subjective perspective), showing newness (made in a surprising way – a documentary film could e. g. be extremely long), incomprehensibility (partly difficult to follow, not illustrating the theme), poetic and aesthetics. Of course, not all of the aspects have to be present or stressed.  

Next part: If the artworld has 100 projects on post-colonialism which are the parameters to choose the best ones?

Quality in Art Part 3

March 27, 2007

Another important aspect of quality is Newness. An artist is supposed to create something new. Such behaviour is not foreign to most fields in modern society. Our society is constantly developing new things: fashion and design must be new, companies need new strategies. Science and technology make new discoveries. But art has its own profile of newness. First it has to be new, and, second, connected with the concepts transcendence and transgression. The idea of a radical newness comes from the idea of the romantic genius; the genius was able to create a higher form of experience. The genius is nor more, but transcendence/transgression remains. Transcendence is the more profound change. But it is, however, very rare. It might be possible to talk about transcendence when modernism was created and later when Duchamp made his ready-mades. Conceptual art in the 1960s and post-modernism in the 1980s are other reasonable candidates. Transgression is an innovation within an existing system and more common. Provocation and challenging are other possibilities to claim that a work has newness. In modernism the only way to express newness was visual; newness meant a change or variation in what could be seen in the artwork. In InCo the newness can be constructed in the content, the aboutness. As there are only small variations left to be discovered in the visual aesthetics the standard for contemporary newness is the combination of different parts of a project: Aboutness, installation details, performing, activities etc.  

It is not necessary that the physical appearance or even the project as a whole is innovative. A written text can explain that the artwork is new, different and interesting. If it is accepted then, of course, we have newness. 

The production of artworks within InCo is enormous and as newness is a natural standard we have to face the conclusion that most of the newness is not new at all. It is a standard product. But the convention of art makes it impossible to accept a standard product as good enough. Therefore it is necessary to constantly create newness which are convincing for the artworld. This means in practice that the level of quality in today’s art is rather low. But it is normally only to be used for a short time. Then most such qualities will be completely forgotten.  

The presentation of newness is mainly to be found in the biennales or exhibitions of that kind. Newness does mean something like the spirit of time or at least a relevant view of the world around us. Therefore it is not the individual cases of transgressions which are the most interesting rather tendencies; a number of artist can be seen as creating a new vogue of meaning and statements. As everything in art today is related to the social, it has to be within this field. 

But it is still important for the individual artist to make enough newness to be recognized. The basic task for every artist is to express a certain style and/or a special range of interest and content in order to establish a “trademark”. “Trademark” is a bad word in art so very few members of the artworld use it in a positive way.  

Newness is a necessary aspect of quality but in practice the newness doesn’t need to be very alarming.  

Incomprehensibility is another necessary condition for quality. If an artwork is too clear it will not leave anything to the interpreter. An artwork is about something but should be so in a twisted way. To be unclear is a part of the art game. It happens that artworks are very clear often because of an interest in urgent social or political questions. It could work for a very short time but as it tends to be an illustration of something it breaks just this rule: Do not illustrate. Normally artists know this without thinking. To make the message a bit obscure and twisted are the way things normally works.  

Poetic and aesthetics. A work of art has certain effects which during modernism were the identity of art. Now poetic attitudes and aesthetics expressions are complementary aspects of quality. They are neither necessary nor sufficient but they are present in almost every work or project. If a project is made about refugees from
Iraq a straightforward documentary might not be enough for being a good work of art. The poetic and aesthetic effects are thus complementary as it is not possible to accept a full quality standard of an artwork (belonging to InCo) from only these aspects.

In the next part: The conclusion about how the mentioned aspects of quality will be made specific for art.  

Quality in Art Part 2

March 23, 2007

Thus the choice is one of the main issues in art. A very important part of the game is that the choice in itself is a quality. An artist who has been chosen several times for exhibitions in good places will be chosen mainly for being chosen before. The choice is of course connected with the establishment of a network. When a network is built it will become easier and easier for an artist to remain at a certain standard of artistic quality. 

That explains the main routines in the artworld. But, as I mentioned before, this is not enough to explain a success. There must be a beginning of a career and it is naturally important, at least to a certain extent, what an artist is doing.  

An artist starts his carrier by imitating other artists. As the new artist gets to know more about the contemporary art situation, the imitation normally turns to unique works. This is of course a “must” for an artist; one of the most basic rules is that an artist must do works of his own, different to others. Not all artists are capable of making works good enough to be recognized as “interesting” but I guess you can say that most of them are. At least if the invest in being serious and hardworking. Thus something new has to be created. This is not difficult. Constructing the work and creating a work with “newness”, add a meaning, an “aboutness”, is basic. Other important aspects of this kind are transgression, adding poetic dimension to a work, incomprehensibility, artistic twist. All these are artistic qualities and the fine thing is that they are uncontroversial; they are elements in art which everyone in the contemporary artworld agrees on. If we bring these qualities into a list we will get the following quality issues: 

AboutnessTransgressionNewnessPoetic dimensionIncomprehensibilityArtistic twist  

Now, it is important to describe the art we have today and recently. The art which is setting the trends and creating discussions, the art to be considered as the most progressive – in short where it happens – is the international contemporary art. It is to be found in the advanced places of exhibitions like the biennales, certain museums and galleries. Magazines are dealing with this art as well as newspapers, books and websites on the Internet. What we recently had was modernism which is much bigger than “international contemporary” (InCo). But it is not valid as the most advanced form. Modernism is today an art which makes no progress. It is rather a part of the history of art. Roughly it means the time from around 1900 until 1970. 


Aboutness is the answer to the question: “What is this artwork about?”  

Modernism is about form and aesthetics. The quality issues above are the same for InCo and Modernism. But Modernism has an essence: Art is about aesthetics though it has never been possible to define what exactly this means. Therefore when you turn to aboutness, something which answers the question: “What is the work about?”, the answer will always be the same: It is about form and aesthetics. That is the deeper level of aboutness. On a lower level a modernist artwork can refer to a style, or content, connected to the form. For example: It can be a cubistic work where certain methods are used to create the work. Or abstract expressionism where another aesthetic method is used and where the content normally is said to be about expressions of feelings or inner experience. 

When we turn to InCo the deeper level of aboutness is ideas. The artwork is thus basically about some sort of idea in contrast to the modernistic approach, the aesthetics. Indirectly this means that art does not have an essence; any idea can be brought into art. Art has no limits; anything can become an artwork. When the artworld accepts something as art it will be art as well as when the artworld accepts something as quality art it will be quality art. This is “the institutional theory of art” which refers to George Dickie and partly to Arthur Danto. But we should keep in mind that the theory is a stub and in the artworld it is not used in a deeper sense. “Aboutness” in this deeper sense doesn’t give an identity to an InCo artwork as the aesthetics did for Modernism.  

Aboutness on a lower level is much clearer in InCo. Since the early 1990s it has been totally dominated by social issues: “social critique”. It is also possible to be even more specific. Almost all art projects can be sorted as either about identity, gender, migration, post-colonialism, institutional critique or ecology.  

Aboutness is not in itself a quality rather a characteristic. But it is in practice necessary to supply an artwork with social critique (lower level of aboutness) in order to create the possibility of relevant quality. The relevant aboutness is of course not only a task for the artist. The construction of a coherent discourse on a specified social critique is normally created by critics and theoreticians.  

The deeper level of aboutness will always be taken for granted. Artist working within the field of InCo will always work with ideas as a point of departure. 

(Part 3 will soon be published)

Quality in Art Part 1

March 19, 2007

The idea about this writing is very simple. To define art and define quality in art. It sounds very ambitious and difficult. But it might be a reasonable task. 

Most writings on this subject go wrong from the very beginning. If you don’t find the art, if you just take it for granted, it will probably end up in a mess or another contribution to the long story of posing question about the nature of art. 

So, the first aim is to find the art. Either you have to find the authority who will be able to tell you what is art or not or receive a definition which will make it possible to see the difference between art and non-art. Of course this authority is the represent of the institution of art. Not a certain person or a special option but the general opinion. The point is to find what is valid, what is regarded as the opinion of the serious artworld. This could mean asking about art to an art historian, a critic, an aesthetician, an artist and so forth – as representing the general opinion of the artworld. 

It is obvious that there is something we call art in the contemporary society. We can find it in museums, galleries, read about it in books, magazines and newspapers. And there is such a thing as history of art where the qualified objects of art a brought together and organized after certain principles. 

This is the outline of the answer to the question about where to find the art. One important aspect is that the answer is connected with quality. Traditionally classifying art is equal to classifying a quality; art in this sense has always a standard of quality. Bad art is not art at all.  

But taking a liberal standpoint, and I don’t think this causes any controversies, we could say that there are many artworlds; most of them consisting of low quality art – but it will still be plausible to name it art. We can simply say that objects created for more or less aesthetic pleasure can be classified as art. It doesn’t mean that it is a correct definition of art, just that it is a widespread opinion and probably the only way to connect all the broad artworlds.  

It isn’t too interesting as the next step will be to formulate what actually is the qualified part of artworks. Thus, classifying art is something that can be done in order to get an overview, but it is not the point. Rather, the point is to be found in the qualified part of art.  

In most examination of art the target is the artwork itself. This may certainly be of interest but it could be a better strategy to start with how the artworks are handled. No doubt a clear sign of quality is when an artwork is chosen by represents of the advanced artworld institutions. This is e.g. the case with history of art. Here we find a general agreement about what is to be considered as good art and even very good art. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya and Manet are always chosen to be a part of the main core of history of art. And as most of the content in different books of the history of art is the same it is possible to say that there is a general – and uncontroversial – agreement about quality in art.  

What should be keenly observed is that it is about choosing. The artworks and artists in the history of art are chosen. To be chosen is the sign, the activity that concludes quality. The artworld confer the status of the object through choice. It is a necessary condition though not sufficient. There must also be a reason for the choice. But choice is safe as it is an activity which can be observed. Even if it is possible to find reasons it will be very hard to proof that a certain reason is why an artwork will be chosen. 

In the following part these subjects will be discussed: 

Are general opinions in the artworld always correct?A traditional history of art is a book on quality works. Certainly this is correct when the book is printed. But how was it before and how will it become later?Why is choosing important as a way of measuring the quality of an artwork and an artist?Is it possible to find the reasons why the artworld is choosing certain artworks? 



March 8, 2007

Idag har vi Den Internationella Kvinnodagen. Det som föreföll mig värt att uppmärksamma är genusfördelningen i de internationella biennalerna. Sedan den 1 mars pågår den 2:a biennalen i Moskva:


Av ca 110 konstnärer är 28 % kvinnor. Ungefär samma siffra som Berlinbiennalen för något år sedan.


Aïda Ruilova (663), som tillhör Birnbaums gäng och kommer från USA, är en av deltagarna på Moskvabiennalen. En rätt hygglig studsare på biennaler: Prag, Whitney, Berlin. Hon arbetar med film och video och spelar i experimentbandet Alva.



Aïda Ruilova Endings 2006

Del 261: Påbud om risktagning

March 8, 2007

Så var vi där igen. Förra veckan kunde jag notera att konstprogrammet Arty hade spottat upp sig. Men säg den glädje som varar. Knappt hade Carl-Johan de Geer lämnat studion förrän lekskolan började på nytt. Kanske första programmet föreföll redaktionen för tungt. I varje fall var det tydligen lämpligt att låta Jockum Nordström säga några ord om konsten. Han har inte så mycket att meddela om den men vi kunde glädja oss åt att få något som var befriat från varje intellektuell ansträngning. Måhända är det inte den synliga redaktionens fel, jag vägrar tro att de skulle vara så korkade. Det kan vara direktiv uppifrån att skapa ett drama med relationer till publiken där vi främst skall lära känna programledarna. Och skall det vara något med konst får det vara lättsmält.

Jag kom återigen i tankar kring konstens risktagande. Jessica Kempe bidrog till funderingarna när hon skriver i DN om Dina Andersson:


”Just detta huvud saknas på ­Diana Anderssons rika, roliga och risktagande utställning i Sandvikens konsthall.” ”Risktagande”, vilket risktagande då? Man skall nog förstå att det är ett ord som habila konstvärldsagenter kastar in som ren utfyllnad. Det ger lite spänst åt formuleringen. Men i vidare mening: När tog en konstnär någon risk senast? Snarare är det så att ”risk” är en kvalitet – men som sådan alldeles riskfri. Även inom ramen för stramt teoretiska betraktelser existerar denna föreställning. Boris Groys talar ingående om risken för konstnärens misslyckande i sin bok Topologie der Kunst (2003). Han jämför med vetenskapen: ”Man kan misslyckas så grundligt i konsten, något som man inte kan inom vetenskapen.”  Klart att konstnärerna misslyckas eftersom de är alldeles för många. Av helt naturliga skäl skall de decimeras. Men inte sker det genom risktagande. Förr var det annorlunda när ordningen bestod i att en konstnär arbetade under ett flertal år med sin debututställning. Så kom kritikerna och publiken och antingen var det tumme upp eller ned. Då fanns det en reell risk. Idag är ambitiösa debututställningar ett minne blott och går ett projekt åt skogen finns det tusen till att förverkliga. Ännu längre tillbaka fanns det uppenbarliga taktiska risker. Som när Manet inte ställde ut med impressionisterna enär han då riskerade att avvisas från den officiella salongen.  Blir det något fuffens med ett utställningsprojekt innebär detta bra medietäckning; något som fullständigt överväger möjliga nackdelar. När Santiago Sierra pumpade in koloxid i en tysk synagoga anklagades han för att banalisera förintelsen. Sådana förstulna anmärkningar har dock ingen betydelse. Tvärtom: Äntligen en kontroversiell konstnär! 

Och på tal om Santiago Sierra. Vår käre Jacques Rancière är inte förtjust i honom. Emellertid medger han ändå en förtjänst hos denne konstnär i en intressant artikel i Artforum. I Rancière har vi en teoretiker som framgångsrikt fortsätter att kämpa för en reviderad socialkritik. Tro inte att estetik och fria fantasier utan vidare kommer att få fritt spelrum framöver. Ånej, det kommer att spännas många sociala tyglar över dessa lössläpptheter. Väl är det eftersom konsten måste visa något mer än marknadsvilja. 

Se bara på denna sammanfattande historik: Under 1980-talet skapas utställning med tema. Mest som ett varumärke på att det är en stor utställning alldenstund konstnärerna inte bryr sig särdeles om temat. I slutändan går det bra att komma med vad man har. Så får vi curatorn på 1990-talet och då blir det andra bullar med inpiskningar av konstnärer i tema. Rätt smärtfritt trots allt, det är vad som gäller och blir en gemensam angelägenhet. I detta nu har vi fått nya svårigheter då den enkla modellen temautställning under curatorns ledning börjar bli tröttsam. Antingen är konstnärerna mer än följsamma och drar lydigt ett parallellspår till det alltmer genomarbetade seminarie- och föreläsningsprogram (vilket närmast är obligatoriskt för en riktig utställning) – eller så blir det två saker: evenemang och underhållning på den ena sidan samt föreläsnings- och analysdelen å den andra.  

Under alla omständigheter är det garanterat riskfritt i konsten. Jonathan Meeses (244 – för högt för risk) stökiga performance kan inte sägas vara särskilt riskfyllda, men det är väl så man tänker sig riskerna:  

Mutter Parzival Berlin 2005:


Cross-overs är också riskfritt. Konsten gnuggade sig intensivt mot modevärlden under de stora visningarna i Paris för ett par dagar sedan. Där fann vi Douglas Gordon med Chicks on Speed:


Den kamelen var en dromedar

March 7, 2007

Idag, en trevlig bild av en dromenadar som dundrar förbi en pyramid. Kanske på väg till Dakar.


Monokromen som bild

March 4, 2007

Carl-Johan Malmberg skrev i en recension i SvD den 3 november i fjor om den monokroma bilden. Gemensamt för Kasimir Malevitj, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Robert Ryman, Brice Marden, Mimmo Paladino, Jan Håfström, Günther Förg, Sol Lewitt ”är att de väljer bort bilden, den som föreställer eller inte föreställer, till förmån för det bildlösa.”


Det är alldeles riktigt, men strängt taget inte nödvändigt. Jag bestämde mig för att göra en monokrom som en föreställande bild och målade därför en bild av en monokrom målning.




Det här är alltså inte en monokrom målning utan en bild av en sådan. Den borde ha varit mera vit men min vita akvarellfärg var inte helt ren.