What are we looking at?
Sometimes, it feels like looking at postmodern art (and the theory behind it) is something like looking at the world through the code of the Matrix. It doesn’t make sense until you start to pick up the patterns. I still feel like a novice at this, even though I’ve been reading around the subject for a little while now. Gerald Deslandes third lecture was a quick dip into the world of postmodernism, and of globalisation. Again, it was quick and quite superficial because of the time constraints (90 minutes again, or thereabouts), but despite this it was still interesting.
In the 80’s and 90’s, art became “cool”, travel became easier and media was rammed down our throats. And then there’s digitisation and computers. Postmodernism seemed maybe like a logical way to go after two world wars and two atomic bombs… Something a little more playful. Something confusing. Something made up.
Looking at the first 40-ish slides on postmodernism, there were some artists I didn’t know and there were some I did. The Dusseldorf school (The Bechers, Gursky and Struth) got a mention – I’d not actually considered them to be postmodernists, but on reflection I can see the case for Gursky and Struth, a little less for the Bechers. Are their trademark typographies playful? Are they signs referring to other signs? No, but there is an element of “the end of the machine”. I’d not identified this as being part of postmodernism, but sure enough, a quick Google and you find “Postmodernists rue the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion” ( allaboutphilosophy.org) – these buildings are the remains of a bygone technology…
The work of John Kippin may be worth a more detailed look. I’d not heard of Kippin, but both images appealed to some degree.
Other key ideas highlighted were detournement and appropriation (Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince), Gerhardt Richter’s paintings, especially that of Gudrun Ensslin of the Red Army Faction (called Ulrike Meinhof in the presentation).
With the globalisation presentation, artwork from beyond the West was introduced. Ai Weiwei was there obviously, with his sesame seeds (mass produced like things are in China, but will cultural implications as they’re made from ceramics, and of course it is representing food and abundance…) Other artists mimic “native” or “tribal” artefacts and iconography, with some exhibitions displaying the two side by side (“what are we looking at?” comes to mind again), and also non-Westerners realign their practice to gain advantage from globalisation – the example was given of Cyprien Tokoudagba, a shaman from Benin who made work to help people becoming an artist and selling the same works as art.
Certainly food for thought, and a great foil for the postmodern theory I’d been reading of late – good to see some of it actually appear as artwork of one kind or another.