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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.

This is the script (not a transcript, as I change elements when recording). 

Dr Great Art Podcast Sixteen
"Postmodernism Exists"

Hi this 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 "proto-PoMo."
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.
What is 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 unpleasant change.
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-Fran├žois 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 and Easter).
At this 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.

1.    Postmodernist Architecture
2.    Feminist Art
3.    New Imagism
4.    Pattern and Decoration
5.    Neo-Everything (many 'Neos', "Pictures," Graffiti, etc.)
6.    Neo-Expressionism
     (incl. Neue Wilden, transavanguardia)
7.    Neo-Geo / Appropriation
8.    Neo-Conceptualism
9.    Video-Installations
10.  Conceptual Abstract Painting
11.  Provisional "Bad" Painting
12.  Neo-Conceptualist-Events / Spectaclism (incl. Relational Aesthetics)
13.  Vernacular-Art / Street Art / Sequential Art as Fine Art
14.  Social Practice Art
15.  Sci-Art (Green-Eco-Art, Science-Art, etc.)
16.  Mongrel Art / Democratic Art
17.  Post-Postmodernismus?

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."

Thanks for 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.

I take 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.

You can find or contact me at
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