Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Boris Groys Art and Power

I just found a new book by Boris Groys. His arguments are strangely out of date, although this is a new book from 2008.
"If we want to speak about the ability of art to resist external pressure, the question must first be asked Does art have its own territory that is worthy of defending?
The autonomy of art has been denied in many recent art theoretical discussions. If these discourses are right art cannot be a source of any resistance whatsoever. Dos art hold any power of its own or is it only able to decorate external powers? Yes art does have an autonomous power of resistance. "
Groys from "The Logic of Equal Aesthetic Rights" in Art Power

What is wrong with this argument?

First, he is defining "resistance" as "resistance to external pressures". Well, of course he is shaped by his own background in the Soviet Union as the champion of the dissident art movements.
In that context, resistance was to external pressures to be doctrinaire and follow a party line. His concept of the "autonomus power of resistance" is an oxymoron, resistance cannot be autonomous. What I think he meant was the power of art to defend its autonomy, which of course is a meaningless modernist dead end.

But in the US in 2008 resistance in art is resistance to capitalism in all its manifestations in the art world, and outside of it.
The artist today who can use "the power of art" to speak to the problems in the world, like those artists of the 1930s, is the resistance artist. Why should resistance be focused on defending the autonomy of art? What a waste of time!

Context is everything.
I have noticed that among other critics bred under Communism that they often read political art as only that which is dictated by an oppressive central authority, and therefore political art is always bad. They often tout abstraction as a sign of freedom. Indeed abstraction can be a political act in certain environments. At the same time, critics from formerly communist countries like Marius Babias have a far more complex reading of the relationship of art and politics than the typical US critic who is hampered still by the Greenberg legacy. Amazing how enduring that is.
Today, the art world still loves abstraction as a marketable product. Art critics ( and artists)can still thoughtlessly dismiss political art as "preaching" or whatever.

see, a nation wide group of exhibitions and artists who are creating art that speaks to what is happening now. And that is just the beginning. There are several shows in New York including Martha Rosler's new work that continue the tradition of engaged art.

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