January 12, 2009
This is a quote from an interview with Victor Burgin in the early 1990s by Laura Cottingham in the Journal of Contemporary Art.
Burgin first came to prominence as an originator of conceptual art in the UK. US77 was one of Burgin’s signature black and white photo text works from the late ‘70s, combining documentary style photographic imagery with texts in the manner of glossy magazines. US77 considers the construction of the subject in a patriarchal and media-dominated society. The show also includes three works from Tales from Freud, a series of five related photo-text works from the early 1980s, which made explicit Burgin’s interest in psychoanalysis and extended Burgin’s ever-widening range of references to include such themes as fetishism and voyeurism.
Burgin is asked: If you were in a position to navigate the course of contemporary Western art, what would you chart for the next thirty years? What would you like to see happening in art- making? Or in art's reception? His reply is:
If you'd asked me that question twenty or more years ago I would have found it much easier to answer. Back then, I wanted to see a dissolution of the hegemony of modernism and an expansion of art-making to include considerations of content that, you may remember, Greenberg defined as "something to be avoided like a plague." I wanted content to be defined not solely in terms of "personal expression" but in terms of critical social and political issues — considerations that Greenbergian modernism defined as improper to art. I wanted an end to the definition of visual art in terms of the traditional media alone. I wanted to see a use of contemporary technologies and forms that would make a link between what was on the gallery walls and what was in the world outside.
And now? Burgin says that today most of that seems to have happened. What didn't happen, or at least didn't happen very widely, was the element of critique.
What took over was a sort of sixties pop art celebration of the eighties, a period of Reaganomics and junk bonds, when a speculation-fed art market had expanded to the point where it could economically support those "alternative" sorts of activities — but only to the extent that they could be commodified. ....What I would like to see now, though, is going to be much harder to get. I would like to see the creation of a critical and curatorial climate in which long-term critical projects in art can be sustained and flourish. I would like to see novelty and "mediability" displaced from their present positions as paramount aesthetic values. I would like to see just a little less of museums being led by the nose by fashion. This is even more politically important now that being "right on" is becoming chic. I would very much like to see "critique" take forms other than simple accusation.
There is very little in the way of a critical and curatorial climate in which long-term critical projects in art can be sustained and flourish. So how do we create such a climate? Can we do so through the resources provided by the internet?