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Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.
15 July 2017
Dr Great Art Episode 16: Postmodernism Exists
My newest podcast! Episode 16: Postmodernism Exists.This artecdote concerns the beginning of
the period, or transitional subperiod, of art in which we now exist:
Postmodernism. It cannot be talked away or ignored, nor should it be
worshipped. But we are in it since 1979. It is a transitional period,
true, but it is here. How it began and what it is so far. http://drgreatart.libsyn.com/episode-16-postmodernism-exists --- This is the script (not a transcript, as I change elements when recording).
Art Podcast Sixteen
is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 16th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I
hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.
Today my Artecdote concerns the period, or transitional subperiod, of art
in which we now exist: Postmodernism.
Yes PoMo exists. "PoMo" is, by the way, artists'
slang for Postmodernism.
Postmodernism began in the artworld about 1979. As always, there were philosophical texts
prefiguring the idea before that, stretching back to the 1960s mostly. That is
indeed where the term 'postmodernism' itself came from. Such prefiguring in
philosophy is quite common in art and art history, nevertheless these texts do
not count as any real beginning of any trend itself. It is not part of art
until it is manifested IN artworks themselves, and regularly. Furthermore, once
an entity or direction of art and thought clearly exists, we always go back in
time looking for antecedents. That is one of the most significant uses of
history. It does NOT, however, replace actual activity and embodiment.
Therefore, as a clarification, two of the preferred
precursors of Postmodern art, frequently cited by PoMo artists, are Dada,
particularly Marcel Duchamp, and Pop Art, particularly Andy Warhol. That fact
does NOT make them themselves "postmodern." rather
Conflating retroactively acknowledged forerunners of a thing
with the actual historical engendering of it is a logical fallacy. That,
together with simple chauvinism is why Germans are wrong in claiming
Postmodernism is anything after 1945. 1945 was the end of THEIR (and Europe's
dominance) of art, not the end of their important participation it must be
added, and certainly not the "End of Art" or anything similar. The
dominance went to New York. To ignore or try to rewrite that is simple
Nationalist, Continental and Cultural Chauvinism, even unacknowledged jingoism.
And while I have learned that surprisingly many do not know the
term 'chauvinism' let me quickly define it. It is excessive or blind nationalism
or partisanship, undue partiality or attachment to a group or place to which
one belongs or has belonged. Something linked to but separate from racism. It
can turn up in sexism, but that is a topic for another podcast.
All endings and beginnings are actually fuzzy. They overlap
other cultural entities. History is inherently messy. Late Modernism, for
example, has continued on through Postmodernism; artists doing that have produced
many great works. But it is the slow ending of an important cultural and art
historical period, Modernism,--- no longer the dominant force.
That said, to clearly conceive of when something begins, one
needs to plainly determine operative determining properties, principles--- or paradigms.
(For that listen the last Dr Great Art podcast about fuzzy categories and
paradigms.) When these are tossed overboard, contradicted, countermanded, ---
something has changed drastically. When the largest group of creators do this,
a new period of culture is at hand. Such as the change from Renaissance over
Mannerism to the Baroque, which was slow but sure, ending in a period which at
the first was as powerful as the Renaissance, yet contradicted many of its
mainstay ideas --- clear, stable geometric compositions become spirals of
activity, lucid color and light become dramatic chiaroscuro and so on.
But FIRST there was the transitional period of Mannerism,
which I discussed in Dr Great Art podcast Nr. 9. That too, was a clear shift,
one closer to our topic today, Postmodernism's beginning: irony, exaggerated
spectacle, capricious "shoddy-chic" structure, unresolved
technological borrowings, overly fashionable poststructuralist theorization,
and so on replaced the avant-garde experimentations, solidity, revolutionary
drive and so on of Modernism.
Most importantly, the rejection of sincerity and reductivism
signals Postmodernism's turn away from Modernism. I welcomed the rejection of
the latter, but still rue the loss of the former.
Postmodernism in art? Over-superficially described, it is a purposeful
departure from Modernism, flavored by skepticism and irony, often
associated with theory such as deconstruction and post-structuralism; it is
anti-reductivist, anti-sincere, playful at best, academicist at worst. Jeff
Koons and others. It is clearly a transitional period.
There are some people who claim it doesn't exist. Or better
said, they believe that by avoiding or denying the term, they can somehow magically
make Postmodernism go away. Sometimes I would love to have that power too, but
it is not possible, and is inane denial. Others, or even sometimes the same
people, particularly architects, try to confine PoMo by alleging that it is
only a simple style tic, and that we will return or have returned to Late
Modernism. There is no reverse on this gear box called history. We may later
return to certain values of Modernism, but in new fashions. Believing the
"tic" theory is blatantly sticking ones head in the sand to avoid an
Indeed many of us, including me, want to get beyond it, out
of it. But not by ignoring or disavowing Postmodernism.
The term 'postmodernism' first entered the philosophical
lexicon in 1979, with the publication of The Postmodern Condition by
Jean-François Lyotard, but reaches as I said waaaay back, to around the 1880s.
For artists the beginning can be seen as 1979. Then, the term began to used to
describe a turning away from Modernist architecture, an attack on the Modernist
International Style. Postmodernism in architecture saw a re-emergence of
surface ornament, reference to surrounding context, historical reference in
decorative forms, and eclecticism, but not usually syncretism. (For a bit about
eclecticism and syncretism, please listen to Dr Great Art Nr. 11 on syncretism
time, the artworld was in an uproar. It
was increasingly clear that Modernism had, surprisingly, indeed been a
"period," not the ultimate state of culture, and furthermore that it
was slowly coming to a close. Postmodernism seemed a little insipid, even
unappealing at first, then later exciting as diverse anti- or retro-styles vied
for the pole position. French literary theory of a Deconstructivist bent
slowly became hegemonic.
Architects were shocked by Philip Johnson's conversion, by Michael Graves and Robert
Venturi. Critic-turned-architect Charles Jencks began writing books on
Post-Modernist architecture --- then still with a hyphen, not elided in
imitation of French until it became trendy.
All we artists read that stuff and the term stuck. It was
true enough (it was after all AFTER Modernism in several senses) and yet seemed
free and open enough. Then came the second surprise, the right-cross following
the left-lead of PoMo architecture: Feminist Art! It had been gaining speed and
power since the 60s, but about then it really spread to the art schools and
opened all our eyes. Art from Womanhouse from 1971 on, Miriam Schapiro and Judy
Chicago and others, but especially Judy's wonderful 1979 The Dinner Party--- and "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"by Linda Nochlin, finally being taught and argued over in schools,
museums, Kunsthallen, galleries, and studios everywhere! Art that CLEARLY had
CONTENT! What our largely Formalist instructors had most vociferously
prohibited! It was exciting! Well
--- until 1985 when PoMo froze into a New Academicism. But that is a story for
a later podcast. Soon.
For now, an introduction. What are the sections or movements
of Postmodernist Art until now? Note: This is NOT "Stilkunde" as it
has sometimes been practiced --- this is a list, from an eye-witness, of groups
of artists who share, or felt they shared, important core concerns and
approaches, in the order in which they gained peak attention form the artworld.
Most are New York-based, until just recently, which accounts for certain
dissent, as mentioned already, but this is little different from looking at the
important river of movements in Europe, primarily Paris, from Impressionism
through Early Abstraction and so on. True, in many of these from 1985 on, the
artists are curators' and speculators' servants, but much of early art was
dependant on aristocracy or the church or such earlier European power-brokers.
Now the American power-brokers are capitalists, the European ones curators.
That is all a theme for several future podcasts.
Let me list the "movements" of PoMo so far. As
they gained world-wide "traction," attention.
/ Street Art / Sequential Art as Fine
14.Social Practice Art
(Green-Eco-Art, Science-Art, etc.)
16.Mongrel Art / Democratic Art
1979 till now. More about dates and such in future Dr Great
Art Podcast where I hope to discuss each of these individually.
For now, let's accept it. Analyze it, get hopefully get beyond it by maturing and healthifying
it. Postmodernism in Art Exists.
Changes in society and economics usually must occur before
art can take up a new course. Great things do not come of terrible disasters as
is currently a popular ahistorical trope, but RATHER of HOPE based on the
promises of new developments. We are faaaaar from there yet.
That was "Postmodernism Exists."
listening. That was podcast number 16. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting
and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more.
Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live
custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.
viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally
and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of
art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety
of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history.
The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my
painting-installations. Some recent ones were on the image of Social work in
Art History, "Kunstgeschichte in Schnelldurchlauf, Sozialarbeit in der
Kunst," the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today,
and Metaphor(m) in Art History.