Extracted from Joxerra Melguizo’s text in ocassion of the book published by Euzkadi Goverment.

art-forum-berlin

I

One of the principles of art, and one that has developed like a hypertrophied muscle, has been to place authority before the authorship of a work. Works are valued by the square centimetre or metre, by the weight of their volumes, by the size of the support or by the production of the video or film they present. Even in those cases of actions or performances mounted in order to be consumed by time, in the belief that they would thereby avoid the physicality that was liable to have a value placed on it, the records that bear witness to their existence have been reproduced, creating copies, and hence mass-produced works, that have entered the art market via the back door, which has quickly been equated with the main entrance in terms of prestige and monetary value. Nothing in art can escape being valued. Nothing, therefore, can avoid valuation and, by pure logic, everything has been sold or is up for sale. However, an inherent element of these modes of valuation and value is authorship by such and such an artist. Once a particular artist or respect for his work has been has been widely accepted, expert opinion on his works is produced regardless of their individual quality and is based principally on size, volume and/or the final production costs. The debate on the output capacity of each artist in relation to the quality of his work is a recent dilemma and has been affected by the market itself and its derivations.

When the former Young British Artist Damien Hirst, also a former Saatchi boy, sidestepped paying his current gallerist’s percentage by presenting his works himself at auction, he kindled what one might term a state of anxiety among his collectors. To ensure that the works they had acquired some time back did not suddenly drop in value, he forced them to maintain and improve the exorbitant price of his new works. Hirst presented his collectors with an easily resolved dilemma: to buy again in order to keep what they had already bought at a high price. We are all aware of the experiment, so we will not dwell on it at length. The real question is knowing which artists might be able to do the same and how often Damien Hirst can get away with this, since reprising this tactic would be like turning a spatially and timewise unrepeatable experience into a mere repertory piece.

It is not difficult to determine who is setting the trends, which groups of experts have acquired the power to do so and the target of their attention (and profits in some instances). The cultural sniper Guy Debord hit the mark when he said “All experts are owned by the media and the state: that is why they are recognised as experts. Every expert serves a master, since each of the old possibilities for independence has been reduced to virtually nothing by the conditions that structure present-day society. The most useful expert is, of course, the one that lies. Those who need an expert are, for different reasons, the forger and the ignorant.”

This is not, however much it might seem otherwise, an attempt to settle accounts but rather the confirmation of an impossibility, because even the art most sophisticated in the magic of political compromise has no hesitation in suppressing its most belligerent content when daddy market (or the capitalist heirs of Mao, which boils down to the same thing) suggests that they should eliminate compromising material. Search in Google for committed concepts such as ‘democracy’ or ‘political activism’, in Mandarin Chinese if possible, and see what they come up with on the subject. In short, if globalised society has unified anything, it is the ability of each and every one of us working in the world of culture, however large, small or minuscule our radius of operations, to be experts as well. Hence the success of this model and, of course, hence the drama of activating others, which are perhaps possible to theorise on yet impossible to put into practice. This model has, moreover, provided all the right conditions for numerous approaches that have gone unpunished (in view of their incompetence) and many instances of a lack of rigour; it provides a suitable climate for those who subscribe unwaveringly to the notion that ‘anything goes’ as a mark of quality in a mediatised visual culture, in which contemporary art, a cultural ambit in which subjectivity has been taken to fever pitch, has come out very badly.

It is difficult to work out whether the need to use words in art has had the effect of making its navel-gazing possible, thought it seems self-evident that the ubiquity of wordsmithery among critics, exhibition curators, gallerists, valuers, collectors, artists, cultural managers and so forth has contributed to a large extent to making art ever more cryptic, distancing it from the public to such an extent that the gap can no longer be bridged. On occasions, contemporary art (and we include here the practice as well as the theory that comes before or is derived from it) has taken on the guise of elitism; in other instances it has dressed itself up as a trend; and in the best, and rarest, cases it has appeared as a specific language that values the new that leads to ongoing advances and which is also founded on a logical continuity with what has gone before: an adaptation to the contemporary context of the doubts and enigmas that continue to matter. As the specific language that it is, there is a need for greater awareness within society of its real capabilities, but similarly it must shun populism as the principle and premise of its development.

Critics should shed light, in the sense of clarifying content in the ambit in which it is generated; they should contrast and compare, from the point of view of weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of what they are analysing; they should describe in order to make the allegorical abstraction of contemporary art-present even, or above all, in the most figurative photography-readable; they should interpret, that is to say, they should express their views and justify their own subjective and individual opinions. This is what critics ought to be doing, not repeating ad nauseam the simplistic task of putting into the artist’s mouth words that he is thought to be incapable of saying or explaining. It is due to the improper use of this apparent superiority of the word over the image-paradoxically in a society mediatised by the dazzling brightness of images and with the credibility of words damaged beyond repair-that art criticism has died, at least as far as its credibility is concerned. Experts in resurrections have been summoned, but it seems that no-one as yet knows what to do or what to say, while some have not even bothered to turn up, including, it goes without saying, the media and their special supplements and specialist journals, at a time when the written press faces a serious crisis in mercantilist, rather than communicative, values and an unpredictable future.

Download on PDF format