Issue #11
“What is Contemporary Art?” Issue One
With: Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle, Zdenka Badovinac, Boris Groys, Jörg Heiser, Hu Fang, Carol Yinghua Lu, and Dieter Roelstraete
About a year ago, while trying to develop a wiki archive for contemporary art at e-flux, we encountered a small technical problem in deciding how to implement a simple menu structure to allow readers to navigate such an archive. We thought first to organize it according to movement. Yet there have been no significant movements in the past twenty years, and artists have not been interested in organizing themselves around any. By medium? But contemporary artists work with their materials in a…
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7 Essays December 2009
When the editors of e-flux journal invited me to write about contemporaneity, they suggested that I take my own professional experience as a starting point. And it seems that, in order to understand contemporaneity, we cannot neglect the particularity of various approaches. Contemporary theory, however, and especially Badiouan theory, teaches that this can lead us astray and we should rather devote ourselves to thinking about a new understanding of universality. For this reason, I have…
Comrades of Time
Boris Groys
1 Contemporary art deserves its name insofar as it manifests its own contemporaneity—and this is not simply a matter of being recently made or displayed. Thus, the question “What is contemporary art?” implicates the question “What is the contemporary?” How could the contemporary as such be shown? Being contemporary can be understood as being immediately present, as being here-and-now. In this sense, art seems to be truly contemporary if it is perceived as being authentic, as…
There is a sharp contrast between, on the one hand, the often blunt commodification of art (and the processes of branding and generating wealth connected with it), and, on the other, the extremely heterogeneous, fragile practice of creating art. In fact, a good part of what makes an artist succumb to blunt commodification is the sheer anxiety caused by that heterogeneous fragility. Producing easily marketable, no-questions-asked work can offer a (deceptive) security no longer provided by…
Bo wu zhi (History of Nature), compiled by Zhang Hua during the Western Jìn Dynasty (265–316), is the first study of natural history in China. In this ten-volume book, Zhang recorded geographic features of the landscape, animals, biographies, myths and ancient history, immortals and ancient alchemy, and so on. He placed all that could not be categorized into a special section entitled “The Miscellaneous.” If we take the whole world to be a book, then we are today lost in its multiple…
I was recently invited by the editors of Afterall to contribute to a book they are preparing on the monumental 1989 exhibition “Magiciens de la terre” with a text reflecting on the impact of this exhibition on the practice of Chinese artists. On that occasion I had a discussion with Chinese critic Fei Dawei, who had introduced the curator of the show, Jean-Hubert Martin, to many of the key artists of the ‘85 movement in China prior to the exhibition and worked as one of its regional…
Ask not what contemporary art is, but what contemporary art should be. —Oksana Pasaiko, 2009 I. “What is contemporary art?” is (clearly) not the same question as “What is art ?” The former basically asks us to define what is particularly “contemporary” about art—not, significantly enough, what is particularly artistic about it. The question of what is “contemporary” about contemporary art seems straightforward enough: answering it would simply require our…

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