Discover

Where are the Masterpieces of Our Time?

If the notion of the masterpiece pertains to a category of modernist art, then we could certify that in our postmodernity there is no longer a place for them. Historically, one of the first tasks of so-called masterpieces has been to identify a period. This quality of representing the spirit of the time, the zeitgeist,sucked them into higher values on the market, although on occasions their entry into the patrimony of humanity protected them from commercial ups and downs. The question that provides the title for this text is obviously rhetorical, though it interrogates us about those contemporary pieces that possess or acquire a character that represents the zeitgeist. One could carry out a survey amongst professionals and art lovers for examples of these works from the last ten or twenty years. The answers would be a motley assortment. Despite the market trying to inflate the horizon with never-ending promises of the next-big-thing, the durability of these promises is revealed to be ephemeral. However, the market still plays a role, maybe not in the fabrication of masterpieces so much as by raising monuments that aspire to emerge as timeless symbols, at the same time as being representations of historic junctures.

In any consideration of contemporary masterpieces the association with architecture, and the sphere of architects, also ends up being inevitable. Art and architecture. I’m referring to Ai Weiwei with the Olympic stadium in Beijing (2008) (along with Herzog & de Meuron), or more recently the sculpture ArcelorMittal Orbit by Anish Kapoor (also in celebration of the Olympics in London this year). In both instances it’s a case of art in close alliance with capital and power. Now if we established another survey, about the artistic pieces that best represent the current phase of global capitalism, possibly these two would win all the bets. This derives (luckily for us) from the fact that art on its own is incapable, not even with polemics and scandal, of concentrating the attention of the media or the social impact that any masterpiece would claim. Contemporary architecture, or this association of interests between power and capital that I mentioned, does manage, albeit failing on a critical level, as despite their popularity (or populism) these new monuments of cultural spectacle veto their own entry into the pantheon due to their excess and grandiloquence. They don’t serve. It also ends being ironic that both Kapoor and Weiwei have in recent times paid tribute to the Monument to the Third International (1919-1920) by Vladimir Tatlin, the first with his tower in London and the second with Fountain of Light (2007), a personal “version” of Tatlin’s monument but as if it was a huge spider of lights. These pieces converted into spectacle only account for a typical, citational, post-modern style that is of little interest.

Maybe instead of looking in this direction, a more modest type of art could illuminate our inquiry. It is known that the Documenta in Kassel has always been the place where the volatile zeitgeist has had an abode from which to materialise. The accumulated memory of art turns our attention, over and over again to the German rendezvous, and the sediments solidify. The names and works flow in the collective memory. Documenta, quite aside from whether it does or doesn’t produce masterpieces, has always been generous in the elaboration of images that operate as indicators of the zeitgeist. There exists a fairly broad consensus amongst the critics that the work, from the last dOCUMENTA (13) that most aspired to occupy any place of honour, is that of Pierre Huyghe. Untilled (2011-2012) lists in its explanatory sign the following materials: “living entities and inanimate things, made and not made”. Huyghe, a big name within art, can be more or less gratifying, but this work made of materials, animals and rubbish, has to be taken seriously. It would also be naïve here not to see the market (the sign makes it quite clear), however, the difference with respect to the previous examples is notable.

The circulation of images of the no-place indicated by Huyghe amplifies their effect, along with the oral and experiential mythology (who saw the greyhound and who didn´t! or even who saw Huyghe, and who didn’t!). One has to admit with regret that, from the marathon of the dOCUMENTA (13) and the Karlsaue, the installation of Huyghe was left pending. Even so, the circulation of the memories of those who experienced it can be enough; Untilled becomes the work that symbolises the current collapse in to which things have entered. Detritus and composting as metaphors for the spirit of our time, our zeitgeist. The beauty of waste, the no man’s land and abandonment seem to nourish a spirit of decomposition that needs to process, recycle and compost…to become renewed material. We don’t know if it is a masterpiece but Untilled is worthy of entering into the category of non-masterpiece, representing the totality of the world distilling its symptoms of decomposition.

Text previously published at http://www.a-desk.org

Peio Aguirre writes about art, film, music, theory, architecture and politics, amongst other subjects. The genres he works in are the essay and meta-commentary, a hybrid space that fuses disciplines on a higher level of interpretation. He also (occasionally) curates and performs other tasks. He writes on the blog “Crítica y metacomentario” (Criticism and metacommentary).

Recent Posts

Starting everywhere, ending nowhere, spreading like wildfire: Telfar SS16

For SS16 TELFAR continued to refine and expand his core practice of taking what is most utterly normal in American style — and doubling down. The result is a speculative wardrobe for the future-present: a style-fi uncanny precisely because it’s so familiar. In this video TELFAR teams up with art-collective-cum-anime-miniseries culturesport, creating an in-world advertisement in which Telfar Clemens himself plays a young designer fighting corporate backers not only over the use of his name,… [read more »]

Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé | Curated by Timur Si-Qin at Andrea Rosen Gallery

Organized by Timur Si-Qin at Andrea Rosen Gallery, the group exhibition Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé (Changing Woman) is an ambitious display of varying capabilities of artistic production. In the world Si-Qin constructs, the artist is not only a regenerative creative force like the mythic namesake of the exhibition, a central figure within Navajo mythology who grows old each winter and is young again come spring, but also an architect looking at extant forms of culture in order… [read more »]

Sonic identity politics with Christine Sun Kim

The social conditioning of deaf people constitutes Christine Sun Kim’s inquiry into the anthropogenic definitions of sound. As a sound artist born without the ability to hear, Kim investigates the sonic as a form of capital, and the currencies it formats in social, cultural, and political life. A former artist-in-residency at the Whitney Museum, she has compared American Sign Language and music in TED talks and was featured in MoMA’s Greater New York, cutting through… [read more »]

DISmiss | Jennifer Moon

Jennifer Moon is in her own words an artist, adventurer and revolutionary. With the slogan “Always for the love of continuous expansion for all on this earth and beyond!” she heralds an idea of revolution based on abundance, acceptance and above all love. Yet it’s not just a matter of self-help and feelings; Moon’s mission is clear and she wants to change the current system. With four primary factions each dedicated to a pressing topic… [read more »]

Sim Hutchins | Tie Me To A Rocket (Elysia Crampton’s Absolut Erasure Remix)

Virginia-based Elysia Crampton remixes the lead track from Sim Hutchins’ ‘I Enjoy To Sweep A Room‘ (out now on No Pain In Pop), bringing some of her American Drift signatures (FX hits, breathless trap chant samples and wind/brass MIDI preset). She ends her remix with a recital of names of transwomen murdered in the US this year. See a statement by the artist below. “Today, trans rights and trans advocacy are more crucial than ever,… [read more »]

Kickbacks | Soda Plains

As previously showcased in his unrelenting Firmiana Simplex mixtape release via DIS, Berlin producer Soda Plains takes a full frontal approach with his astutely-crafted musical and visual aesthetics. Having first made his debut on Renaissance Man’s Black Ocean label, his new EP arrives on experimental London imprint Liminal Sounds (Visionist, Blackwax, Air Max ’97, Copout etc), loosely based around concepts drawn via diverse subject matters such as architecture, corruption and cohabitation. “I’d hesitate to make… [read more »]

My Sole, On the Sidewalk | Miami-Dutch

Flower petals are sprinkled like debris and time passed is preserved like fossils in sedimentary rocks in Miami Dutch’s first New York solo show, My Sole, On the Sidewalk which was on view through December 13 at Shoot the Lobster gallery. From the items deposited in a wax trough to the pulpy handmade paper banner across which “finally” is scrawled, the thread of layers and leftovers throughout the exhibition gestures at a moment of looking… [read more »]

69 Winter 2015

69 Winter 2015 Get cozy! 69 is having a winter SALE tomorrow December 12, 11-4pm in studio and on Ebay. Director EJR Director of Photography Caroline Stinger Models Marcel Alcalá & Brandon Drew Holmes Follow 69

Bidoun.org | Everything, ever, online now

ANNOUNCING THE NEW bidoun.org Offering a detour from the mainstream media’s monolithic narratives surrounding the Middle East, Bidoun magazine has since 2004 been producing writing and interviews as well as curatorial and educational projects that belie current conceptions of the Middle East – as a region, culture, and a fixed idea in the collective imaginary. It has since become a unique and unparalleled voice in questioning how the Middle East can be perceived, understood, and… [read more »]

DINGUM

A MACHINIC REPERTOIRE There is a moment of artifice when you enter another culture, when movements and actions do not feel like your own. How does one approach a system so coded and at the same time loaded with meaning? Enter the deep mind. “A machinic repertoire” is set in an empty residential house in the outskirts of Kyoto in Japan. It is through this empty house that one further enters into a constructed system… [read more »]