Monday, December 5, 2011

Stuckism vs. Suckism: What Is Modern Art?



I'd like to talk about boring modern art. We're all familiar with the type; huge, lofty, and hopelessly abstract monuments of intellectualism which fall flat on most folks. The type that earns it that special "modern art" stigma.

Why is art today this way?

Mark Di Suervo "Are Years What?" 1967. Washington, DC ● Di Suervo's piece conjures a derelict iron building.
The answer begins in the late 1800's with the startling transition the human condition underwent going from a non-industrial society to the modern world. The replacement of workers with machinery, as well as the crushing anonymity of the modern city generated an enormous amount of existential stress for the common man. Originality became a coveted rarity. Simplicity became a nostalgic desire. Within this climate artists like Gauguin, Picasso, Jean Arp, and Mondrian were sensationalized due to their uniquely reduced styles.

Mid-20th century witnessed a shift away from the rich expressiveness of early Modern painters towards a new form of self-reflexive conceptual art. This shift is essentially the transition into post-modernism, as it has become generally associated with conceptual art. Duchamp's "Fountain" of 1917 was the debut of this type of meta-art which caused an entire reevaluation of the fundamental roles of artistic process and authorship. Suddenly, the finished artwork became secondary to the original idea or concept.


Joseph Kosuth "One and Three Chairs" 1965. London. Sit & Think on this one for a while.

Above, Joseph Kosuth critiques this phenomenon by focusing his concept on the actual representation of the idea. Here the viewer ponders the importance of each of Kosuth's four iterations of the chair; the actual idea of the chair set on par with the visual representations instead of over them.

These types of short quips corresponded with the development of Minimalism, the movement responsible for eradicating any necessity of thoughtful aesthetic composition in art. Artists such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris found success with works which were nothing more than a metal box, or plate, in space. Though much can be (and has been) said about the interesting play on space and specified objects in the works of minimalists artists, the movement caused a trend of art so stripped-down that it was generally uninteresting to folks. John Baldessari's work "I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art" references this.

John Baldessari "I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art" 1971. New York, NY ● Cute.

The future of art..
Taking after the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, the Stuckists (est. 1999), a well-organized group formally responding to conceptual art, push for a return to figurative painting as a mode for representing modern ideas. Their manifesto Remodernism outlines the foremost failures of current works (loftiness, sarcasm), and make a call for a new spirituality and return to beauty & authenticity in art. Stuckists are known for dressing in clown suits and protesting the Turner Prize, a large cash sum usually given to the driest conceptual artists.

Although conceptual art is still the dominant school of thought today its nature and media are changing. It was traditionally a multimedia movement; found objects, text pieces, performance, etc, but today media such as video games, Real-Time 3D Multi-User Virtual Environment (
RT3D MUVE) and especially the internet have emerged to the forefront and we find ourselves undergoing another drastic transition of social structures (a Digital Revolution).

Like newspaper or television before them, these media have a way of incorporating other forms of media as content, such as photos, illustration, text, and eventually video, sound & interactivity. This McLuhan inspired idea is known as Post-convergence, and gives us a glimpse into the future of how art might look. The Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002) by Matthew Barney, which includes five feature-length films as well as sculptures, drawings, photographs, and artists books, exemplifies post-convergent tendencies in artmaking.

We may expect future artwork to remain entrenched in much of postmodernism's looks and feels, as 60's style Conceptualism (with its various intersections with Pop and Abstract Expressionism) continues to define the global trajectory of Western art, though as new technologies become available contemporary artwork begins to reflect the capabilities of new media. Conventional examples such as the CGI in Avatar or Transformers, and the sound engineering of Skrillex demonstrate the way that digital technologies become integral to the artwork and has a tendency to rely upon effects that are shinier and in higher definition than anything in reality. This relates to the notion of hypermodernism, or a deepening or intensification of modernity as information and media infinitely converge, and as science and technology push our species towards singularity.

Of course we are left only to speculate on how art will look in the future until these next few decades have passed. However I'm sure there will be plenty of robots.


EDIT: If you're interested in reading more, here is the article I would have written if I were a tenured professor.

1 comment:

  1. awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really sweet!
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