With this 80th issue, Texte zur Kunst celebrates its 20th anniversary. However, the correspondingly “grand” topic of our anniversary issue is not immediately revealed on the cover. Only gradually do the words “Politische Kunst?” (“Political Art?”) emerge from the golden stripes. Already this visual effect, but even more so the question mark in the title, highlights the innumerable layers of meaning in this pair of concepts. Which can hardly be reduced to a common denominator, for political art seems to be omnipresent today. In addition to the Kunstvereine, biennales and other large-scale events have meanwhile established themselves as venues predominantly presenting political art. Yet it cannot be grasped as a fixed category. What does apply, though, is that a certain form of commitment and a fixed positioning of political art must by all means be considered in the framework of their differentiation. But what is the political of political art in the first place, and in what relation do art and politics stand? How do the claims, modes of reception and the effects of political art relate to each other (cf. the statements of Claire Bishop, Tania Bruguera, Diedrich Diederichsen, Hans Haacke, Tom Holert, Clemens Krümmel, and Otto Karl Werckmeister)?
From an arthistorical point of view, the idea of a political art is a phenomenon opposing modernity’s primacy of autonomy. In delimiting themselves from the academism of their time, artists in the 19th century sought their own forms of expression and themes going beyond functional appropriations. For the most part, these attempts took place on an individual basis and within the field of art proper. However, the avant-gardes felt that their breaks with the conventions of representation were a radical step similar to the cataclysms in society, and for this reason made a political claim for their actions. Upon first sight, this point has become superfluous in the postmodern environment of anything goes, but perhaps precisely the insistence on the autonomous status of the artwork can today offer a possibility to express dissidence and retain independence, also in regard to sociopolitical issues (see the text by Helmut Draxler).
Political art has long become an international phenomenon. What is often hidden behind the funding of political-critical art are precise expectations on the side of politics. The biennale in São Paulo, for example, after all the second oldest of its kind, was initiated by the United States during the Cold War to feature Western art in Brazil. And it still stands in the tension zone of politics, something that could be seen this year in an especially clear way in the case of the work of the Argentine artist Roberto Jacoby, which had to be covered partly because it contained current election campaign posters (see the text by Simon Sheikh). Regimes with a dubious democratic reputation have also been inviting political artists from the West in recent years to suggest processes of freedom of opinion and expression. This problem demands that artists deal more intensively with the respective exhibition contexts and reflect on the instrumentalization of their works (see the round table with Alice Creischer, Hans-Christian Dany, Tim Eitel, and Constanze Ruhm).
Certain forms and strategies appear to be particularly associated with political art. In addition to collage, the tradition of which ranges from John Heartfield to Martha Rosler, it is foremost the practices of institutional critique that count as outward signs of political art. But realism is also a feature of the political. The concept has detached itself from its painterly background since the 1960s, at the latest. Concepts of representing reality still play a pivotal role in painting (see the text by Sven Beckstette). However, the mediums of photography and film today count as the place where these issues are actually negotiated. Especially in the past years, one can observe in the exhibition circuit an increased interest in the question of how art and reality are related to each other. This discourse is often theoretically underpinned by the writings of the French philosophers Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou. Their differing approaches, however, can only be partially used for contemporary art theory (see the essay by Maria Muhle). Only the critical reflection on and questioning of the factors that determine political art, e.g., its concepts and conditions, its history and means, offer the opportunity to reconsider the relationship of art and politics. Political art? – Political art!
(Translation: Karl Hoffmann)