I didn't know Gilbert-Rolfe was your teacher. He now teaches at the Art Center in Pasadena CA. I've been a fan of his writing since I heard him reading his paper "Seriousness and Difficulty in Criticism" at an Art Papers conference, around the time of the Mapplethorpe/NEA flap. He got hissed by someone in the audience for this statement:
I have suggested that resistance to difficulty in the work of art comes in three varieties: the innocent; the pious [i.e., the left]; the embittered [the right]. The point I should like to make is that while the innocent deserve our help, the left and the right deserve one another. There is, from the point of view of anyone actually interested in seriousness and difficulty, no significant difference between Andres Serrano and Jesse Helms. Indeed they need one another.


Here's another passage (worth quoting at length) from his essay Art Writing and Art School:

Contemporary art journals mirror the general culture inasmuch as they do not regard art as mysterious and alien, but as transparent and exhausted, and they converge with it in their desire to see and enjoy the subordination of the art object to that which it is said to have once been indifferent. In confirmation of this belief, most of the contemporary art that gets exhibited and written about is suspicious of art as such and is grounded in a counter-esthetic of, usually, one of two sorts -- Pop or Conceptualist.

These are Duchampian arguments, and as I've said elsewhere, Duchampianism provided the `80s art world with a version of postmodernism that galleries can sell. The art world wanted postmodernism in the sense that it was sick of modernism, but it couldn't afford to want what postmodernism implies, which would be something like the end of an art history describable in Hegelian terms. Duchampianism preserves modernism by demystifying it, thus prolonging it through critique. Such demystification always presents itself as metacritical, which is its commercial strength and the basis of its appeal to art historians.

Moreover, the art of the `80s raised no questions about Duchamp's definition of art's problematic while attaching it wholesale to the aspirations of the Frankfurt Institute. The crucial text was Peter Burger's Theory of the Avant-Garde, which permitted the art of the `80s to make the ready-made into a lens through which to look at the question of high and low culture and to maintain that question in a persistent condition of artificial resuscitation. The art magazines conspire in that artificiality and derive sustenance from it. Thus has the ready-made been assimilated to what might be described as a social realism of the symbolic, the constant theme of which is that art is dead but its ghost is a populist and very productive.

Following Calinescu, I'd agree that once one has Warhol one doesn't need Duchamp. Following that, I'd suggest that Baudrillard is right and that where Warhol "made nullity and insignificance into an event where it was transformed into a fatal strategy of the image," his successors "have nullity only as a commercial strategy, to which they give the form of publicity, the sentimental form of merchandise, as Baudelaire said" ("Le complot de l'art," Liberation, 20 Mai 1996).

The social realism of the symbolic proceeds from the notion that art is dead but has an afterlife as its own critique, which takes the form of a redemptive engagement with the everyday. The latter proceeding from the assumption that there's nothing wrong with the everyday but art is beyond redemption. Therefore, one does not find in contemporary art magazines any arguments about the success or failure of works or larger projects. Appearance in print renders success presumptive. What is discussed instead is what the work is about in the old-fashioned sense of its subject matter, the importance of which is already presumed for the same reason.

It's in this sense that I'd summarize the recent history of art magazines as a passage from art to everything else. In the `60s there was a lot of formalism in the art magazines. Artforum's square format said a lot about its founders' interests. This, by the way, raises a question which can't be pursued here, which is that the exfoliation of art journals comes after the heroic era of Greenberg and Rosenberg and so forth--there was no Greenberg magazine, but there was a question about the extent to which Artforum should be a Greenberger magazine. In respect to which there was plenty of hostility to formalism, however conceived, already present in the Artforum of the `60s, all of which had to do with the need for a ritual victory over the absent but thus more present Greenberg rather than with anything that was going on in a work of art.

In the `70s this kind of resistance to what we'd now call "theory" won its victory in a convergence of populism with the marketplace that would set the tone for the rest of the century. "Theory" was by and large banished from the art magazines and obliged to find refuge elsewhere, including in October, which was invented for that purpose. The art magazines would henceforth retain "theory" for guest appearances only. Persons reputed to be important theorists would sometimes be asked to write something, not too long, about a specific cultural event or phenomenon like Disneyland or Documenta or somebody's retrospective.

Otherwise by the end of the `70s populism had become both the norm and normative. The stage was set, just as Carter set the stage for Reagan, for the `80s and `90s, where art itself would be regarded as both passť and too elitist for comment in art magazines, its memory and its critique instead serving as a base from which to address cultural production in general, and indeed as kinds of simulated cultural production themselves.

Here it should be said that once again Artforum set the tone and the pace. ARTnews, once the journal in which Barnett Newman and Panofsky traded letters about whether Newman should have written "sublimus" instead of "sublimis," has long since settled into being the CNN of contemporary art. Like CNN, it tells you only about money and power and simultaneously that they are the only things worth telling you about. Arts somehow failed to survive, I think because Paul Shanley and Barry Schwabsky liked art too much.

Every magazine that's emerged in the last 20 years has defined itself in relation to Artforum, which in turn apparently sought to resemble other magazines, like Rolling Stone and Interview, which cast a wide net in terms of topics covered while maintaining an unambiguous ideological position, known as an editorial policy. Like them, it usually has something on identity, film, style and politics. It locates these discourses in an art context by publishing them, and the process is reversible, art thereby being relocated within these discourses.

[emphasis supplied]
- tom moody 5-30-2002 4:45 am

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