Thursday, January 01, 2009

I Don't Owe You Anything

PR bumpf from the Vancouver Art Gallery regarding How Soon Is Now, their upcoming survey of local contemporary art. No judgment passed on the works on display or the curation -- the show isn't even open yet! -- but I vehemently disagree with every assertion in the following:

"The exhibition is an inquiry into alternative narratives of art production, recognizing important shifts in contemporary art practice that privileges the event over the object, the process over the product, interaction over contemplation. Gallery spaces become a venue for a range of experiences, be they critical, transformative, social, introspective or political. Together this exhibition looks to the work artists are creating as a reflection of and insight into the ideas that continue to resonate in the broad field of cultural production."

Specific disagreements:

1. "Privileging the event over the object" or "the process over the product" obviates the neccessity of aesthetic judgment. The "art work" is reduced to the status of wallpaper, backdrop, ambient noise. A lot of second-rate or merely pleasing work thereby scrambles in the back door.

2. "Interaction over contemplation" turns the gallery into a science museum, full of buttons to push and xeroxed hand-outs to color, or an architectural container for tortilla festivals, reed mat distribution, listening parties, etc.

3. The elevation of "interaction" over "contemplation" mistakenly assumes that "contemplation" doesn't also produce "a range of experiences, be they critical, transformative, social, introspective or political," an assertion which is politically reactionary and contradictory to the first-hand experience of good art.

4. The production techniques the VAG's PR refers to have produced some interesting work (I am thinking of works by artists like Andrea Fraser, Mark Dion, or, locally, Kyla Mallett or Kristina Lee Podesva), but to presume, as the VAG seems to, that these techniques are somehow superior to, or more current than, art "objects," art "products," and the process of contemplation seems intellectually blinkered and deeply weird.

(Upper image: Jasper Johns, Target, 1958. Lower image: Kristi Malakoff, Target, 2005/8)

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