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

Dog Plays | Hayley Silverman

Hayley Silverman’s “Dog Plays,” an ongoing series in which a cast of untrained dogs take on the role of characters from a range of pop-culture texts, disrupt the canon of identities traditionally represented in Hollywood as they are re-inhabited by animals. Calling on artifacts ranging from Richard Linklater films, to science-fiction thrillers, to Depression-era musicals that rhapsodize class difference, these performances investigate how our understanding of narrative, authority and identity transforms when we project stories,… [read more »]

A poem by Ser Serpas

ripped apart you rip me apart collage million dead collage donde queda mi cuerpo el temporal como dios en mil partes clothing as point of impact a totem is a wrap around a city as it is engagement with one’s surroundings and engagement with that which has been worn out discarded and filtered into alms buckets and newly tagged i wear my surroundings on my feet when it wears out i see only my vantage… [read more »]

DISCREET Call for Participants

DISCREET – An Intelligence Agency for the People The 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art invites you to apply for one of fifteen spaces open to individuals interested in taking an active part in a three-week-long public workshop conceived of by Armen Avanessian and Alexander Martos for the formation and development of a civil secret service organization. Held from June 22 to July 11, 2016, the workshop brings together renegade experts from art, theory, technology,… [read more »]

Parent and Parroting | Nancy Lupo

Each year retail displays are readied in preparation for the gestation and labor of the catch-all holiday season before floating into a colorless postnatal celebration of mundane plenty. Capitalism’s sympathetic pregnancy makes for a cold and lifeless pas de deux, at times humorously inseparable from the vitality of social milestones. In Parent and Parroting, Nancy Lupo continues with a series of interventions into commercial products and industrialized food. Her interferences often reveal or reconfigure the… [read more »]

Telfar and White Castle | FW16

No ATM for time — seeking the sublime of brown. Black. White. Tonight. Back. Amen. (Excerpt from a Telfar-inspired poem by Jamie Richardson, the Vice President of White Castle. Written on a hamburger carton.) After a rabidly loud party crusade at America’s most iconic fast food chain restaurant last fall, fashion designer Telfar Clemens has become the king of White Castle once again. To celebrate the FW16 ‘Tricolor’ collection, he brought the Telfar squad back… [read more »]

The Speculative Time-Complex | Armen Avanessian & Suhail Malik

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to the Post-Contemporary Issue to be launched in April. The issue is edited by Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik, with contributions by Benjamin Bratton, Elena Esposito, Victoria Ivanova, Laboria Cuboniks, Aihwa Ong, David Roden, Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams. Armen Avanessian: Time is changing. We are not just living in a new time or accelerated time, but time itself — the direction of time — has changed.… [read more »]

Eckhaus Latta | A/W 2016 @ PS1

For Autumn / Winter 2016 Eckhaus Latta produced their most mature collection to date and did so without diluting many of their signature motifs, their close ties to the art world, and their resistance to stereotypes such as notions of an ideal body, rigid gender, race, or the fetishization of youth. Taking place within the VW Dome in the courtyard of PS1 MoMA rather than the more traditional venues of New York Fashion Week, Eckhaus… [read more »]

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 »]