Monday, 20 June 2011

On contemporary art's (strange) relationship to the past

Contemporary art can sometimes feel like a completely new thing. It’s surprising, sometimes, to realise it’s only the latest way of thinking visually we’ve been able to come up with. Paranoiac art historians, eager to stress the academic credentials of a subject once thought ‘soft’ (Calvin Tomkins’ 2001 profile of Kirk Varnedoe for The New Yorker outlines the anxiety of the male art historian nervous about the feminizing influence of all those pretty pictures) hide in the murky maze of research, safe in their bastions of specialization. This is not to suggest that academic art history has had a pernicious influence on the way art is shown and seen; the benefits of the subject are obvious and need not be discussed. Rather, that an overly historicist approach, born of a fear of not being taken seriously, has placed art-historical artifacts into distinct compartments, and that compartmentalization threatens to cut contemporary art from its moorings and push it away from the centre of culture, like an enormous yacht gently turning in the middle of the ocean.

Read the whole article (at Art21) here.

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