Monday, June 08, 2009

connecting the dots

Blake Gopnik wrote in the WaPo on Sunday on a trend in contemporary art that he refers to as a sort of new new realism.

I’m particularly keen on at least a couple of the artists he mentions—Aernout Mik, Rirkrit Tiravanija. But I think Blake has tried to group too many disparate things under too large an umbrella.

Much of what he describes is exactly the type of performative, socially engaged art to which I'm usually drawn—work that invites the audience to participate directly, or at least disorients the heck out of them. This kind of art attempts to create spaces where the viewer is given a respite from the usual terms of discourse in daily life, and ideally, the world as it actually is (or possibly could be) snaps a bit more into focus. (Locally, a list of favorites I'd put in this camp might include Matt Sutton, Lisa Blas, and Kathryn Cornelius.)
Bourriaud would call this kind of work relational; Grant Kester would call it dialogic. I just say contemporary, and leave it at that.

Blake relates that kind of practice to straight documentary, specifically photography…which I understand, I guess, except that these are two totally different practices, with very different explanations and histories. These distinctions matter; elide enough of them, even in pursuit of a clearer understanding for a general audience, and any sense of the structure of the art world can begin to slip away.

However, Blake did something really fabulous in this piece that made me want to jump out of my chair and applaud him. Did you notice? In laying out these practices, Blake examined international/Biennale artists, and offered them as a context for both what’s happening in D.C. museums right now—including what Vesela Sretenovic’s doing at the Phillips with this is not that Café, a project I am terribly remiss for not discussing here—and what’s going on in local galleries, with a mention of Chan Chao’s recent show at G Fine Art.

That is exactly the kind of dot-connecting I would love to see in the Post each and every week.


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