Issue 3/2018

The Institute of "Art"


The art business has long split into many parallel strands, each with its own institutions, markets and illusions. Patterns of practice spanning a huge spectrum, from amusement for the super-rich to survival techniques for the super-precaritised, have crept into these undertakings. There is still a pretence that a single unifying - and in particular institutional - basis exists for all these spheres. Nowadays however, not even formerly hegemonic large-scale events like documenta or the biennials in Venice, São Paulo, Istanbul or New York can still create coherent narratives with a lasting impact. In the light of this, what holds the "institution" of contemporary art together? Where can lines of connection be identified, cutting across social or scene-specific coordinates as well as regional or international geographic zones?
Does this unifying dimension exist today solely in the projection that success on global markets is a possibility? Or does it lie in the hope of finding at least a brief reflection as a purportedly universal value in large-scale exhibitions, which increasingly seem to offer refuge from the everyday routine of local struggles concerning prestige and competitive conflicts? Or is this hope itself subject to a logic of travel and dissemination grounded primarily in each specific circle - that particular milieu outside of which less and less is perceived?
Art continuously strives towards the "outside", dissolving boundaries to other realms - yet ultimately always returns to itself. The conclusion drawn by Keti Chukhrov's essay in this issue could, in a nutshell, be summarised in these terms. Chukhrov's engagement with "institutions of performativity" takes as its starting point the field of performance, which for some time now has increasingly been thrusting its way to the heart of the art scene, and identifies a rather sobering insight in the light of this phenomenon: although these practices do to a considerable degree reveal transgression of the art world's inherent rules, they ultimately always affirm the supposedly expandable framework of such rules. Art as a "hyper-institution" that in roundabout ways does after all once again establish a connecting thread - an insight that is also confirmed by the growing prevalence of short circuits forged between contemporary art's agendas and realms such as dance, theatre and other stage-based formats.
Which specific starting points, aesthetic attitudes and institutional backgrounds determine these agendas? What are the primary models of reflection, resistance and success in artistic work today? Questions such as these inevitably lead to the aspect of production, which currently seems subject to, or steered by, an increasingly dense institutional fabric. How can artists counter this in a self-determined mode without in a sense banishing themselves from the art business? Pierre Bal-Blanc addresses an increasingly acute institutional imbalance: the tendency to move towards private cultural sponsorship, accompanied by a simultaneous shrinking of the public sector. Referencing a number of recent developments in the French (and Austrian) institutional landscape, Bal-Blanc discusses the growing emergence of a scenario in which artistic production, however stubbornly or obstinately it may act, is increasingly subject to a capital-driven logic that tends to erode all distinctions.
However, until such a time as that state of affairs becomes entirely entrenched, other fronts also need to be taken into account - currently, for example, the impending subordination of artistic production to resolutely national interests. Edit András traces out a detailed depiction of the changes that have swept the Hungarian cultural scene since Viktor Orbán came to power - moving in a direction fatally reminiscent of the socialist regime widely believed to have been relegated to the past. A similar paradox - the way in which liberation from old, rigidly systemic approaches can lead to even more all-encompassing authoritarianism - is also the point of departure for Süreyyya Even's assessment of the contemporary art scene in Turkey. Here, too, art as an institution is subjected to exceptional state-imposed constraints, yet many artistic practices nonetheless display their own idiosyncratic persistence. Viewing the motifs of procrastination and lingering presence that Evren emphasizes as per se constituting resistance would however be erroneous. Nevertheless, elements of future modes of life and work also take shape within this context, perhaps providing information about the future configuration of the hyperinstitution of art (irrespective of how institutionally disjointed its local forms may be). Anna Khachiyan, in a sense complementary to this insight, addresses the question of what would be needed for artistic creation within and outside institutions to genuinely take up a position directed against Trump's authoritarianism.
However, are artists and their work still even primarily the protagonists that can claim to play an effective role in this respect? Haven't other concepts long become established in today's exchange regimes concerning the question of what actually constitutes or renders effective the institution of art as a space for living and thinking? Two artists in this issue unfurl this conceptual space through the prism of specific forms of practice that feed into the artistic process from an unexpected direction. Khaled Jarrar shifts to the violent present the focus of the historical link that once accompanied the rise of Abstract Expressionism and the triumphal march of Western capitalism. Good at Shooting, Bad at Painting, as Jarrar's action is entitled, holds up a distorting mirror to this present in which the contours of what once held art together as an institution fade away artistically. Adrian Piper deploys a simple gesture, the opening of a hand, to shed light on how a transition from self-fixation, isolation and separation to opening, release and union could be conceptualised. Perhaps one could hope that this could also form the core of a new universality that would be more than just an empty promise.