Saturday, July 19, 2008
Perhaps Damien Hirst's in vitro installations satirise the reification implicit in Mark Wallinger's copy of Brian Haw's "Stop the War" stalls. Or vice versa. It's easy to read into these works ideas that aren't intended, as per Rorschach inkblots, because they are inconclusive.
Our contempories in the visual arts are not just the children of Saatchi, but of a vast spectacle growing out of several grand institutions: universities, museums and their trusts, publishing houses. The equivalent institutions in Paris had, in recent memory, produced a new international style, not in the visual arts but in literature; Alain Badiou talks about "a French philosophical moment of the second half of the 20th century which, toute proportion gardée, bears comparison to the examples of classical Greece and enlightenment Germany." The British institutions sought to mimic this.
The work of the British Artists is coloured by its reproducibility via art spectacle as much as commodities are marked by their reproducibility via the commodity market. In a way there was only one sort of work conceived at a high level of abstraction; talked about essentially in vague terms; only contingently materialised in a different way: as art in London, as literature in Paris.
Given this parallel each can be understood as an indirect criticism of the other. The success of the Republic's doctors of thought rested on a fetishisation of the individual genius, and an evaluation of content following from it: consequently on an implied expressionism absent from the manifest content of their work. Likewise the British Artists derived their sales pitch from their university work: reproducing its style but without any particular content. The British version is a mute copy.
It is as if in response to the Beatles' success the French made stars of four young men who were dressed exactly as the Beatles, but unable to conjure music from their plywood instruments instead insolently chewed gum.