Five Fragments Towards Alienation: Art Stage Singapore 2012
Prices (2011), William Powhida. Image courtesy of the artist’s personal site.
A belated look at Art Stage Singapore 2012 .. or ASS, as some are fond of referring to it.
There are no numbers here.
And there are no definitely no checklists inventorying who sold what to whom for how much. (Interest in art itself deflected by interest in their prices – just about so neat a fulfillment of Marx’s notion of the commodity fetish it’s nearly ridiculous.)
A disjointed juxtaposition seemed like the only comprehensible response to the bloated phenomenon that is the contemporary art fair.
Next to the entrance to this year’s Art Stage fair, where a posse of goons in dark suits stand like chthonic sentinels before a walkthrough metal detector soaring ceiling-wards, guests are greeted by an aureate version of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue (above). This one isn’t too large. Measuring some six by six feet, it’s love on a manageable, human scale. Unlike its more monumental counterparts – say, the colossal one just a block away from the MoMA in Manhattan – this piece crouches down to look the viewer in the face … or, more pertinently, to let the viewer look it in its (type)face.
Painted a gleaming gold, this particular incarnation of Indiana’s work was proudly displayed on a L-shaped platform, like the embrace of a cupped hand, with spotlights trained on it both from above and below, the illumination serving to bring out the incandescent shimmer of the hue. The sides were coloured a bold, garish red: besides chiming with the rich vermilion and crimson shades of the wall-to-wall carpeting beneath, the immediate evocation – for me anyways – was a pair of Louboutin stilettos.
Indiana’s LOVE design first emerged from the socio-political ferment of the 1960s as, of all things, a MoMA Christmas card. (It was also probably a response to certain nascent visual trends, like Pop Art and hard-edge painting). According to this Mental Floss article:
Robert Indiana never intended for his LOVE sculpture to become an emblem of 1960s counterculture, because it had nothing to do with free love or hippies. As with his other works, LOVE was all about personal symbolism
The word “love” was connected to his childhood experiences attending a Christian Science church, where the only decoration was the wall inscription, “God is Love.”
The colors were an homage to his father, who worked at a Phillips 66 gas station during the Depression. “When I was a kid, my mother used to drive my father to work in Indianapolis, and I would see, practically every day of my young life, a huge Phillips 66 sign,” he once wrote. “So it is the red and green of that sign against the blue Hoosier sky.”
The tilted O was common in medieval typography, and Indiana has variously described the leaning letter as representing either a cat’s eye or an erect phallus.
The LOVE icon as commentary on Christian Science – and, more broadly, the promises and blandishments of organized religion …
… here morphed into a gilded monument, glittering away under the spotlights.
A neat segue.
First, Stephen Colbert on what he dubbed “moneytheism”:
And it means that our collective cultural belief that the unfettered free market will take care of us is also not delusional. No. It is actually a religion. You see, psychiatrists often use use cultural acceptance to explain why it is not crazy to hold certain religious beliefs, say, a virgin gave brith to God’s son, or it’s an abomination to eat shrimp, or we protect ourselves from evil by wearing magic underwear. So, let’s just classify belief in the free market as religion. After all, they both have invisible hands, and move in mysterious ways. That way, no one can call us crazy and we can get all the benefits the government gives to churches. We no longer have to pay taxes on the money we make as long as we face Wall Street six times a day and say our prayer. “There is no god but Alan and more profits are his prophet.” Then on Judgment Day Ronald Reagan will return on a cloud of glory and take us up to money heaven.
(From the Nov 19, 2008, episode of The Colbert Report. Watch the relevant clip here.)
Now Martha Rosler on the money-driven world of the contemporary art fair:
Accusations of purely symbolic display, of hypocrisy, are easily evaded by turning to, finally, the third method of global discipline, the art fair, for fairs make no promises other than sales and parties; there is no shortage of appeals to pleasure. There has been a notable increase in the number and locations of art fairs in a short period, reflecting the art world’s rapid monetization; art investors, patrons, and clientele have shaken off the need for internal processes of quality control in favor of speeded-up multiplication of financial and prestige value. Some important fairs have set up satellite branches elsewhere. Other important fairs are satellites that outshine their original venues and have gone from the periphery of the art world’s vetting circuit to center stage. At art fairs, artworks are scrutinized for financial-portfolio suitability, while off-site fun (parties and dinners), fabulousness (conspicuous consumption), and non-art shopping are the selling points for the best-attended fairs—those in Miami, New York, and London (and of course the original, Basel). Dealers pay quite a lot to participate, however, and the success of the fair as a business venture depends on the dealers’ ability to make decent sales and thus to want to return in subsequent years.
(See Martha Rosler, “Take the Money and Run? Can Political and Socio-critical Art “Survive”?” in e-flux Journal 12 [01/2010].)
The always-already interpellated subject, according to Althusser:
To take a highly ‘concrete’ example, we all have friends who, when they knock on our door and we ask, through the door, the question ‘Who’s there?’, answer (since ‘it’s obvious’) ‘It’s me’. And we recognize that ‘it is him’, or ‘her’. We open the door, and ‘it’s true, it really was she who was there’. To take another example, when we recognize somebody of our (previous) acquaintance ((re)-connaissance) in the street, we show him that we have recognized him (and have recognized that he has recognized us) by saying to him ‘Hello, my friend’, and shaking his hand (a material ritual practice of ideological recognition in everyday life – in France, at least; elsewhere, there are other rituals) ……
As a first formulation I shall say: all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject.
This is a proposition which entails that we distinguish for the moment between concrete individuals on the one hand and concrete subjects on the other, although at this level concrete subjects only exist insofar as they are supported by a concrete individual.
I shall then suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellationor hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’
Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn round. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him, and that ‘it was really him who was hailed’ (and not someone else). Experience shows that the practical telecommunication of hailings is such that they hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whistle, the one hailed always recognizes that it is really him who is being hailed. And yet it is a strange phenomenon, and one which cannot be explained solely by ‘guilt feelings’, despite the large numbers who ‘have something on their consciences’.
Naturally for the convenience and clarity of my little theoretical theatre I have had to present things in the form of a sequence, with a before and an after, and thus in the form of a temporal succession. There are individuals walking along. Somewhere (usually behind them) the hail rings out: ‘Hey, you there!’ One individual (nine times out often it is the right one) turns round, believing/suspecting/knowing that it is for him, i.e. recognizing that ‘it really is he’ who is meant by the hailing. But in reality these things happen without any succession. The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing.
I might add: what thus seems to take place outside ideology (to be precise, in the street), in reality takes place in ideology. What really takes place in ideology seems therefore to take place outside it. That is why those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology: one of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says, ‘I am ideological’. It is necessary to be outside ideology, i.e. in scientific knowledge, to be able to say: I am in ideology (a quite exceptional case) or (the general case): I was in ideology. As is well known, the accusation of being in ideology only applies to others, never to oneself (unless one is really a Spinozist or a Marxist, which, in this matter, is to be exactly the same thing). Which amounts to saying that ideology has no outside (for itself), but at the same time that it is nothing but outside (for science and reality).
Above is Indo-Thai artist Navin Rawanchikul’s massive painting, part of his Navinland installation.
This, perhaps, represents the navel-gazing of the art world at its best.
The label describes it: “Navinland Needs You: We Are Asia! is a newly composed art created especially for Art Stage Singapore 2012. Almost 13-metres in length, the centrepiece acrylic canvas is a celebratory Who’s Who of many of the significant figures in Asian Art today.”
Indeed it is. Below is a listing – helpfully provided by Art Stage, next to the painting – of just who.
Wally-spotting was never so amusing.
In the meantime, here is a snippet from art critic Ben Davis’ 9.5 Theses on Art and Class:
2.0 Today, the ruling class, which is capitalist, dominates the sphere of the visual arts
2.1 It is part of the definition of a ruling class that it controls the material resources of society
2.2 The ruling ideologies, which serve to reproduce this material situation, also represent the interests of the ruling class
2.3 The dominant values given to art, therefore, will be ones that serve the interests of the current ruling class
2.4 Concretely, within the sphere of the contemporary visual arts, the agents whose interests determine the dominant values of art are: large corporations, including auction houses and corporate collectors; art investors, private collectors and patrons; trustees and administrators of large cultural institutions and universities
2.5 One role for art, therefore, is as a luxury good, whose superior craftsmanship or intellectual prestige indicates superior social status
2.6 Another role for art is to serve as financial instrument or tradable repository of value
2.7 Another role for art is as sign of “giving back” to the community, to whitewash ill-gotten gains
2.8 Another role for art is symbolic escape valve for radical impulses, to serve as a place to isolate and contain social energy that runs counter to the dominant ideology
2.9 A final role for art is the self-replication of ruling-class ideology about art itself—the dominant values given to art serve not only to enact ruling-class values directly, but also to subjugate, within the sphere of the arts, other possible values of art
And here is current darling of the New York art scene, William Powhida, famed for his take-no-prisoners approach to art world critique, and his Dear Art World, the text of which is transcribed below (courtesy of brainpickings.com):
Dear Art World,
I feel you sitting there trying to process the CRAZY shit going on. I’ve been there for months, and it’s driving me INSANE. Fuck it, it seems counterproductive to EVEN talk about this shit, because EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS WHY “SHIT is REALLY FUCKED UP,” or why I’m wrong.
BUT, I’ve come to some conclusions about shit. One is that we spend A LOT of time BLAMING each other for notunderstanding WHAT the problem actually is — TRANSPARENCY, Barack Obama, mandates LOBBYISTS, immigrants, RESPONSIBILITY, FREEDOM Truth, LIZARD PEOPLE, FLUORIDE in the water… TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE OF ANY OF IT.
I mean, everyone ALREADY has the Answer, it’s just that every ELSE just has ‘it’ all wrong. It’s really simple, apparently, to fix everything by applying some JESUS™, REGULATION®, or CONSTITUTION™ to it. If only we’d just free the Market, convict some bankers, spiritually channel the Founding Fathers, regulate derivatives, STOP eating GM corn syrup, spend more…time with your Family OR LEGALIZE DRUGS.
EXCEPT WE don’t do shit*, because this is AMERICA, Land of the Mr. Softee® and home of the BRAVES® where we are FREE to ARGUE about the CAUSES of social and ECONOMIC inequalities until the grass-fed cows come home. We argue in comment threads, on Facebook™, and twitter™. AND, when we aren’t arguing, We agree with our favorite ‘experts’ on FOX®, CNBC™, and CNN™ as we slide into RECESSION 2.0.
One of the OBVIOUS conclusions I’ve arrived at is that a very FEW people LIKE it that way. WHILE SHIT is bad for MOST of us — 9%+ unemployment, $14 TRILLION+ debt, and a perpetual War on Terror® — *THEY* hope we’ll all just pull a lever next fall ‘PROBLEM SOLVED’ and argue some more about the INTENTIONS of the CLIMATE, BECAUSE the 1% is doing fine.
The only FACTS worth stating are that 20% of the population controls 85% of the net worth and earned 49.9% of the income last year. IN the AMERICAN SPIRIT™ of BLAME and recrimination I’m going to point the finger at…deREGULATED CAPITALISM®! IT is in the very spirit of Capitalism to ACQUIRE MORE CAPITAL. To quote @O_SattyCripnAzz, fellow citizen and member of #Team #1mmy [?], “Money is money no matter how u get it.”
Unfortunately, the same 1% also supports the rest of us by BYING shit and funding almost everything else (museums, residencies, grants…) putting some of us in an awkward position (YOU TOO NATO and Pedro), BUT that doesn’t mean we should SHUT THE FUCK UP, take their MONEY, and say ‘Thank you!’ The Art World is NOT separate from SOCIETY and THIS is how SHIT gets all FUCKED UP — PLUTARCHY, motherfuckers.
So, in my useless capacity as a tool artist, I’ve made some pictures about this SHIT that are FREE to look at**, and they’re ALL DERIVATIVES.
[signed William Powhida]
** Bring a chair
Dear Art World (2011), William Powhida. Image from the artist’s site.
Korean artist Lee Yongbaek’s Broken Mirror Classic consists of a mirror in a gilt frame.
Serendipitously, the perfect moment of self-regarding complicity.