This issue of Texte zur Kunst gathers contributions from art historians, critics, artists, and curators under the programmatic title “13 Theses on Contemporary Art” – each attempts to outline the parameters, phenomena and trends with a normative claim in the field of contemporary art that are crucial for their respective current projects. Since the 1990s we increasingly speak of “contemporary art”; auction houses establish entire divisions for it, art history professorships and curatorial courses of study cater to it. The recourse to “contemporary art” presumes a claim to contemporaneousness, that is, an immediate relevance of artistic production for the present. It therefore implies a diagnostic potential that always already points beyond the narrow scope of the aesthetic.
Despite some skepticism about the viability of this concept in the description of cultural practices and their institutional and economic preconditions, in this issue we are concerned not with the question of how to historicize or define “contemporary art,” but rather with taking a position: the crisis in the finance market and its gradual effect on the so-called “real economy,” or the provisional end of the “boom” in contemporary art are everywhere associated with the ominous hope that it is “finally” once more all about “content”. But what is this much-lauded content that is supposedly able to resist every crisis? What is at stake “after the crisis” for various actors in the art field? How does their perspective change? Or can it still be business as usual? It is thus the present situation, in which more or less well-founded existential anxieties intermix with diffuse hopes for a return of “fixed values” that has inspired us to gather findings on the current state; these are inevitably particular and unfinished, but they are all the more significant for it.
In this sense, this issue is also an editorial experiment, as the only parameter given the authors was to present, explicate and justify concise theses. We specifically did not want to set any parameters on content or method, but rather to invite and encourage the reflection upon and naming of each author’s own commitment and own critical interest in contemporary art under the present conditions, which are still changing and whose consequences are still largely incalculable. The spectrum of answers to our request is correspondingly broad, even though the relationship between art and economy, the current relevance of institutional critique and the general question of the critical potential of artistic work has emerged as the common denominator of the essays collected here. It extends from considerations of the legacy of institutional critique under the conditions of a growing digital public sphere, the possible revision of consensus in art criticism from the perspective of Dingpolitik, the continuing relevance of modern topoi of addressing the observer in contemporary photography and video art, from the potential of art to hold on to emancipatory ideals in spite of everything, through the critical work on the format of the exhibit as the sine qua non of political pretensions in the art field, the tendency towards affect production instead of reflection in contemporary art and the question of materiality’s role in aesthetic experience, all the way to the philosophical leveling of political efficacy of art, the perils of allegorical strategies of art and art criticism, continuing institutional resistance to historicizing practices which engage the current situation, and the impossibility of gaining an overview through a thesis at all. In the reflection of this diversity of approaches, reviews and outlooks, this issue is not least responding to a desire to strengthen not only art criticism, all too often stuck in mere description, as a historically and theoretically-founded form of argued judgment, but also the reflection on the current perspectives of artistic, theoretic and curatorial practices.
At this point we would like to direct our readers to the expanded website of Texte zur Kunst. In addition to information on all issues and editions – which can now be ordered directly from the online store – you will also find here new blogs by Isabelle Graw (“Reiche Römer”) and Gunnar Reski (“Kofferleben”), which will regularly report on exhibits, openings, readings and travel impressions with commentary, aphorisms and aperçus, as well as the column “Studioline” by Stefanie Kleefeld, for which she visits the ateliers of Berlin artists, and finally the “Seen and Reviewed” page, which collects discussions by various authors of current exhibitions, books and events. More than one good reason to always come back to www.textezurkunst.de!
(Translation: Michael Lattek)