This issue of Texte zur Kunst takes this year’s summer of exhibitions as an occasion to lend an ear to the art world (i. e., to you and us). How are people currently talking about art? The concept of a “short guide” is to be taken literally: the introductions are indeed short, they are entries dedicated to some of the most-used concepts and expressions in art criticism, theory (jargon), press releases and small-talk today. This issue would also like to provide a kind of dictionary that, with no encyclopedic claim, examines different types of concepts – it therefore appears in two separate parts: the glossary with art-critical vocabulary on the one hand, and selected reviews on the other.
“Bespielen [to use as stage, to fill with art]”, “the stake”, “event”, “to inscribe”, “black box” and “verhandeln [to treat of, negotiate]” are just a few examples of concepts used in an inflationary way and which seem to have lost their specific contour, purpose or function. Yet it appears impossible to dispense with them. Texte zur Kunst has thus taken up the task to newly define these terms and to analyze the way they function in the social and theoretical field of contemporary art. Words such as “weird”, “interesting” or “amazing”, empty phrases expressing enthusiasm that can be heard everywhere at openings and fair booths, are examined just as thoroughly as the extravagant rituals typical of the art world (see the entry on “dinner”) or the tendency to personalize (Martin Kippenberger, Yves Saint Laurent or Andy Warhol). Moreover, concepts of critical theory and aesthetics that are as fundamental as they are omnipresent are questioned regarding their relevance to the present, for example, “autonomy”, “spectacle”, “truth”, “dispositif”, “multitude”, “society of control” and “community”.
The invited authors were able to choose the concept they wanted to address against the background of their own interests. The selection is therefore subjective and lays no claim to completeness. It is symptomatic of our times and the state of affairs in the field of art (see, for example, the entries on “Dubai”, “project”, “shape shifter”, “knowledge production” and “hedge fund”), as well as of the current thinking of our authors. Different styles and types of texts are brought together in this issue – next to the entry mimetically adopting the rhetoric of a lexicon there are narrative, literary essays or manifesto-like statements.
We deliberately chose this point in time for the “short guide”, imagining that it would prepare our readers well for the much-conjured summer of art, which thanks to the numerous large-scale shows promises to be one of the densest in a long time. It is especially the upcoming “documenta 12” that has vehemently put concepts such as “bare life” (to which one entry is also dedicated), or more recently “migration of form” (Roger M. Buergel in an essay of the same name for the daily FAZ on April 21, 2007), on the agenda. Against this background, we find a redefinition and sorting of such concepts to be indispensable, not least to better assess the adequateness of each linguistic legitimization, each explanation attempt promising plausibility. However, the aim of this endeavor is by no means to part once and for all from our own tools – a certain theoretical set of concepts or collective language games. Instead, we are concerned with a readjustment, because when using some of these words, we occasionally have the feeling that we really cannot leave them unquestioned any longer. So, in the end, it is also about checking our own rhetoric and what it claims, for many of these concepts serve to principally hide the insecurity that the confrontation with art gives rise to. Instead of facing the fact that works of art cannot be made plausible with the help of words like “precise”, “specific”, or “wonderful” (it often seemed to us as if this issue could have been expanded ad infinitum with similar words one has grown fond of), one all too often adheres to certain phrases that signal “meaning” or “critique” or “reflection”. Precisely these phrases need to be reviewed. Their examination leads to a critical stocktaking that provides epistemological insights and is at the same time entertaining.
(Translation: Karl Hoffmann)