The relationship between art and the political

ART: Though many of today's patrons use art as a giant advertising pillar, what can art still do when politicians lie?

Conflictual Aesthetics: Artistic Activism and the Public Sphere
Author: Oliver Marchart
Publisher: Sternberg Press, Germany

At a time when fashion companies like Louis Vuitton are building pompous and spectacular art museums and self-consciously critical feminist artists like Claire Fontaine are staging fashion shows for Christian Dior with feminist slogans bent in neon, it can be hard not to resign giving up contemporary art.

When international oil companies like BP fund large museums, artists like Olafur Eliason decorate luxury shops on the Champs-Élysées, and the Fredriksen sisters enter into collaborations with national museums, the art public seems to have disappeared and been replaced by the richest one percent’s promiscuous self-promotion through art. The discretion of the past is gone, and today’s patrons use shameless art as a giant advertising pillar, and this can be felt without the art institutions daring to speak out.

Fortunately, this is not the only story about the development of contemporary art. As the Austrian philosopher Oliver Marchart explains in his new book, Conflictual Aesthetics, then, in parallel with the «neoliberalisation» of art, a politicisation has taken place in which artists have used art as a kind of laboratory for the political.

Public Movement
Public Movement: Temporary Orders, 2018

«The Davidic Moment of Art»

Marchart anchors his analysis in the context of a long history of anti-systemic movements, drawing a line from May ’68 to the Alter Globalisation Movement’s 1999 Summit Protests in Seattle to the Occupy Movements in 2011 and on to the Yellow Vests in 2019. This anti-systemic tradition goes all the way back to what Marchart calls the «Davidic moment of art», in which the painter and Jacobin Jacques-Louis David played a leading role at the beginning of the French Revolution as a stage director of political events in which the revolutionaries tried to portray the new world they were by creating. These are the heirs to David’s project, which Marchart analyses in his book.

the revolutionaries tried to portray the new world.

According to Marchart, the new art activism is distinguished by revealing what he calls the «spontaneous ideology of the art field», namely that art is political when it is not too directly political. That is, the idea that art can quickly become for politics, and thus . . .

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Mikkel Bolt
Associate Professor at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen. He is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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ART: The relationship between art and the politicalThough many of today's patrons use art as a giant advertising pillar, what can art still do when politicians lie?
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