"When viewing PLAYTIME, Isaac Julien’s two monitor flat-screen film installation at Metro Pictures, one is gripped by the way in which the subjects of the narrative represent open secrets of capitalism. Using the clean, attractive cinematography of an exercise in corporate branding, Julien peers into formulas and arrangements that we always knew to exist. They seem to operate all around us, but just exactly how they proceed has often felt alien."
A lot of hand-wringing occurs when an auction record is broken. There is a distortion, though, in the outrage and response to Christie's and Sotheby's respective showings this week. There is nothing "bad" about these sales. By no means would I cheer on the market--which has on the whole deleterious effects on the sphere of the visual arts--but the fact that such vast values are ascribed to the subjects of our study and production should not be too quickly decried. Of course, it's a bit sickening when this value is expressed in dollars. There could be a middle road where we let the super-rich spend what they wish, and be at least a little redemptive of the fact that they compete over mid-century masters instead of struggling banks, distressed loans, or mining ventures. (though they still do...) What well-organized left ever made it a priority to spend time, energy, and anxiety on the frivolous exploits of the super-rich? Socialist progress occurs quite independent of the outlandish spending habits of oligarchs and new money. Let them buy their last Warhol and meanwhile workers will achieve healthcare and equality. (Frankly, I'm convinced their money is better spent on a Léger than a lobbyist). But the reaction is all too often simply soak the rich, near-Palinesque populism. What is more pressing are the issues that lead to the accumulation of wealth, as pointed out by Art Fag City today.
(title inspired by Grey Goon)
A part of Gillick’s “accusation” is that the artist is the perfect “knowledge worker.” This has important implications for a question central to Marxist aesthetics. Some recent discussion about the artist’s class position (see Davis, 9.5 Theses) have focused on their entrepreneurial nature—that their personal fulfillment and their professional fulfillment have significant overlap. Gillick, too, contests partly that the “accusation” is that artists offer little to no alternatives to the neo-liberal model of entrepreneurship. Artists “communicate and behave in the same manner as those who spend their days trying to capitalize every moment and exchange of everyday life.” Resulting “moments of stress and collapse” in their practice are a natural outgrowth of the resistance to a possible “realm of permanently unrewarding work.” Gillick seems to advocate not for expression in art but instead for a contextual “breakdown of the barriers between work, life, and art.” He reminds us that the fact that "it is superficially hard to determine observable differences between the daily routines and operations of a new knowledge worker and an artist is precisely because art functions in a close parallel track to the structures that is critiquing.”
The attempt to fit artistic production into neat categories of commodity relations, since at least the 1970s, has been a complete quagmire that ignores the immaterial, discursive, (perhaps neo-Trotskyite), practice so endemic to “contemporary art.” Gillick explains that “art is a series of scenarios/presentation that create new spaces for thought and critical speculation.” Further “art is” not a functioning relationship of producer and consumer structured by a pre-determined imperative to work, but an “ethical equation where assumptions about function and value in society can be operated upon.” For Gillick, they are at best “capitalizing” upon an immaterial labor or good, a situation afforded to them by the “constant restructuring” of the “models of the recent past.” “The notion that artists are a perfect analogue for the flexible entrepreneurial class is a generational concept that merely masks a lack of differentiation in observation of practice and the devastating fact that art is in a permanent battle with what came just before.” Some have even advanced the proposition that artists should be paid for their work/time when included in exhibitions. But how do we engage them in such a materialist position in light of this? How do we use precise terms to pin down commodity relations when at every turn the practice "defies the logic of capital"?
I’ll try to deal with Gillick’s concepts of capitalization of the mind, the “accusation”, the artist as immaterial laborer or knowledge worker, and his definition of responsible didactic criticism as they appear in his essay Doing Nothing. Gillick opens all of these with the following estimation of “current artists”, a term he uses to avoid the thorny associations with “contemporary art”: “The challenge made is that artists today… have fallen into a trap that is pre-determined by their existence within a regime that is centered on a rampant capitalization of the mind.” One definition of capitalization in finance is the addition of the accrued interest of a loan back on to the principal balance. There are other definitions, but I find this one brings up notable parallels to the artist’s vested contingencies and the power that is ceded and gained through them.
There will be more entries, but let me begin by stating that Gillick leads me towards a definition of capitalism vis-à-vis aesthetics as a system that erects “barriers between work, life, and art.”