Art Power

Am reading Boris Groys' book Art Power and will attempt to take some notes as I go.

Based on three chapters:

-He is good at working through the contradictions of contemporary art--e.g., the continued enshrinement of objects in an age of Enlightenment egalitarianism, the classification of marketed art as "art" and the art of totalitarian societies as "not art"--and his standard rhetorical trick is to pile one nonsensical idea that we're all in denial about on top of another in a very logical manner and then to pull the rug out with some "aha" inversion that shows the shaky structure clearly. A few too many of these moments in a single chapter leaves the reader groping for some foundation, however.

-The best chapter so far is "On the New," where he explains the function of the museum as a place where real readymades (Duchamp) and fake readymades (Fischli/Weiss) are collected to provide some perspective on rapidly-changing objects and fashions outside the museum. Even the collected objects have a shelf life and will eventually be discarded, but their existence in a privileged space allows us to recognize the new, which he distinguishes from the merely different, perversely quoting Kierkegaard's leap of faith about the godly nature of Jesus Christ (who looks like a man, just as Duchamp's shovel looks like a shovel). Here's where the foundation starts swaying:

As I have mentioned, a new artwork cannot repeat the forms of old, traditional, already collected art. But today, to be really new, an artwork cannot even repeat the old differences between art objects and ordinary things. By means of repeating these differences, it is possible to create a different artwork, not a new artwork. The new artwork looks really new and alive only if it resembles, in a certain sense, every other ordinary, profane thing, or every other ordinary object of popular culture. Only in this case can the new artwork function as a signifier for the world outside the museum walls. The new can be experienced as such only if it produces an effect of out-of-bounds infinity--if it opens an infinite view on reality outside the museum. And this effect of infinity can be produced, or, better, staged, only inside the museum: in the context of reality itself we can experience the real only as finite because we ourselves are finite. The small, controllable space of the museum allows the spectator to imagine the world outside the museum's walls as splendid, infinite, ecstatic. This is, in fact, the primary function of the museum: to let us imagine what is outside the museum as infinite. New artworks function in the museum as symbolic windows opening onto a view of the infinite outside. But, of course, new artworks can fulfill this function for a relatively short period of time before becoming no longer new but merely different, their distance from ordinary things having become, with time, too obvious. The need then emerges to replace the old new with the new new, in order to restore the romantic feeling of the infinite real.

This is a lot of fun but basically insane. Am looking forward to similar convolutions in the later chapter "From Image to Image File--and Back: Art in the Age of Digitalization."