#47 Art Is Dead
The ever evolving art landscape. Commentary on NFTs.
Art Is Dead
When we think it terms of centuries or decades we impose false meaning in the division of time. A person "living way back when" did not know they were living "way back when." We in turn will be someone else's "way back when" looking back. When someone talks of the 20th century in terms of attitudes towards science art, and politics, what they really mean is the period that began with the publishing in Das Capital in 1867--1992. This is the period of modernism during which centuries old ideas were were challenged and re-challenged. Underpinning all of it, from Das Capital to Einstein's theory of relativity, was a search for universality and a political system that would solve every problem.
Art is an evolutionary quest for the universality of expression. A ship that was unthinkable--a great war that would end all wars, only to see an even bigger war with the same belligerent parties a few decades later, the outcome of which ushered in the new universality of liberal democracy as a means of essentially lowering the chances of another great war--not ending all conflict but creating a system of alliances that would temper global catastrophe--a perpetual stalemate of permanent destruction in nuclear weapons sometimes lazily called the cold war.
The same search for unified theory of science in physics also took place in the context of art, or what we call "art history." To define what is and is not art is quite possibly the most boring conversations anyone can have. Many thousands of people have looked at a piece of art (insert image of Rothko) and said that is not art! Similarly, the same number of people dismiss music--rock and roll wasn't music; punk not music; and on and on. It does feel all a bit arbitrary at times even to an avid collector. A child splashing paint across a surface is an accident. Jackson Pollack doing it was genius.
It is understandable to have a feeling that titles are being arbitrarily assigned to objects in calling them art. The privilege of assignment goes to curators, who are now having their moment as we see the phrase "curated content" everywhere. A new form of a curator in the form of automated curation by algorithms (AI filters). Is a requirement for art that it is displayed in a museum?
Within a 12 month period, Karl Maleivic and Marcel Duchamp ended art history on the one hand and extended it for eternity on the other. In 1918, Malevich painted white on white. This was the end of art. White is the color of all colors summed up; to paint a painting of every possibility--ever means of expression being represented in one work--that was the summation. Art was dead. Whatever came after it, would be a permutation of that expression of infinity.
One year earlier, however, Marcel Duchamp guaranteed those permutations would be considered separate and apart--he made art a perpetual undead expression when he placed the urinal in an exhibition and signed it R Mutt. It could be argued that the piece absent of the exhibition would have stripped it from the title, art. This was the end of the search for universality in expression. This was the triumph of individuality.
The role of curator has been put into the hands of the artist. Marcel Duchamp actions parallel the ability NFTs unlock for artists across the world. The authority of art was taken away from the curators. NFTs have taken art out of the physical realm entirely and into the digital. Many have debated the current value of individual NFTs, but few are considering what NFTs mean for art as a whole, art history, and contemporary art.