Altermodern: It’s a Walk-Off

Yesterday I started reading the UK reviews of Altermodern, the new Tate Triennial curated by Nicholas Bourriaud. Bourriaud is best known for coining the term “relational aesthetics,” and Altermodern deliberately attempts to develop a similar catch-all label for contemporary production after Modernism and Post-Modernism. The exhibition website includes a Manifesto of the Altermodern and hilariously, a Mix Tape (quite nice actually). In the interest of melding content and form the website needs some more hyperlinks, but let’s not quibble just yet.

picture-11For obvious reasons I am skeptical of this desire to label and posture, etc. I find the book Relational Aesthetics to be a useful rubric for understanding forms of contemporary artistic production for the particular time period. Bourriaud’s follow-up, Post-Production, is more nebulous in it’s focus, and although it was intended as continuation of the previous book, it has never acquired the same influence. Altermodern is the crystallization of these concepts, an Uber-interconnectivity no longer simply applied to people but also to words, images, objects, ideas, ad infinitum. It’s also very difficult to come up with a rebuttal, as it is something of truism. The manifesto immediately brought to mind Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11, and conveniently Enwezor contributes a catalogue essay.

The British dailys’ art writers are always a hoot, and not in a good way, so I figured I’d do an overview. Immediately after deciding this, I saw that the Frieze editors had beat me to the punch. There was no way I was going to log 3,000 words on the subject, so instead I will refer you , dear readers, there directly. I recommend reading the entirety of Dan Fox’s post, but for Cliff Notes here are few hightlights:

Here’s how Campbell-Johnston saw fit to broach the Triennial’s theme in the Times: ‘So what will this new Altermodern era entail? Don’t expect the catalogue to help you. Bourriard is a Frenchman. He has svelte Gallic looks and a Left Bank aroma of Gauloises. And he seems to have been brought up on Baudrillard and Foucault in the way that the rest of us were brought up on our ABC.’ Does that really deserve to be called art criticism?…

After the laboured references to French cuisine, he went on to assert that ‘The weakness of Bourriaud’s theory — and of all French theory — is that there’s too much philosophy and not much historical perspective.’ I bow before Lewis’s encyclopedic knowledge of continental philosophy. All French theory? Really? I’d love to see him argue that down at La Sorbonne…

Januszczak’s article contains a comparison that is worthy of mention. At one point he describes Nathaniel Mellors’ Giantbum film as ‘seemingly interminable.’ He goes on to mention the work of Iranian artist Tala Madani, currently exhibiting in the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Unveiled’ show, saying that her paintings display ‘such astonishing courage and punchiness, the Middle East could be a significant location’ for new developments in art. (In the context of art exhibited under the banner of being Iranian, the word ‘courage’ here has patronising Orientalist overtones, almost suggesting that Madani goes to her studio everyday in downtown Tehran hiding paintings under her burqa.) The print edition of Januszczak’s piece was illustrated with a large image from Mellors’ Giantbum and Madani’s painting Holy Light. What neither Januszczak nor the newspaper’s picture researchers evidently know is that Mellors and Madani are partners, and that they exchange ideas and opinions about each other’s work on a daily basis.

The fires have been stoked. Get ready for the glossies. It’s a Walk-Off.


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