Art & Development, Research

Pop teeth

Artists are consumers themselves. They have their own elaborately constructed systems of valuation as subsets within larger realms of consumer value. No art is absolutely pure, or created in a vacuum outside those larger realms. (Gibson Cuyler on Libby Black’s Be Here Now, Art Practical 13, April 22, 2010)

Strange that this must be re-stated, but it’s often the case that criticism and radical opposition are considered equivocal. (Johanna Drucker argues that critics and academics best accept our complicity and move on to responding to the actual art in Sweet Dreams.)

To broach capitialism or material culture in one’s artwork is to risk easy, politically loaded readings. The work might be interpreted sympathetically as anti-capitalist commentaries, leftist/Marxist/politically correct indictments of globalization/consumerism/mass media/environmental destruction. On the opposite extreme lie allegations of consumerist gluttony, environmental sinfulness, aesthetic hedonism, artistic slumming, or naked ambition. Tsk-tsk! should art, which could signify genius and the sublime, muddy itself in base, money-grubbing popular culture.

I’m interested in work that doesn’t deny the facts of the world: capitalism, labor, production, material culture, popular culture. I think artists have the right to beg/borrow/steal from these themes without having being pigeonholed into positions of critical subversion or immoral kowtowing. It’s possible I’m a waffler. That I’m exploiting ambiguity by not taking a stand. If you were really cynical, you could argue that the only crime worse than politically incorrectness in contemporary art is being boring and didactic.

I’m looking at the catalog for Pop Life, the recent survey of Pop Art after 1970 at the Tate Modern. As I’m developing Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), a shop-like exhibition of work on paper, sculpture and installation coming up at Sight School (opens May 14), it’s neat to think about Keith Haring’s Pop Shop and Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin’s The Shop. I also listened to the Tate’s podcast of Emin talking about The Shop, wherein Emin clicked for me: her personality, class, background, enmeshed in the world, results in work that is likewise enmeshed in the world and her life.

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