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Art, Globalisation and the Exhibition Form


Angela Dimitrakaki
Published online: 08 Jun 2012.

To cite this article: Angela Dimitrakaki (2012) Art, Globalisation and the Exhibition Form, Third Text, 26:3,
305-319, DOI: 10.1080/09528822.2012.679039
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Third Text, Vol. 26, Issue 3, May, 2012, 305 319

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Art, Globalisation and


the Exhibition Form
What is the Case,
What is the Challenge?
Angela Dimitrakaki

ART AND CAPITALIST GLOBALISATION:


THIERRY DE DUVES DETOUR

1. Thierry de Duve, The


Glocal and the
Singuniversal: Reflections
on Art and Culture in the
Global World, Third Text
89, vol 21, no 6, November
2007, pp 681 688
2. Thierry de Duves essay was
reprinted in Open: Cahier
on Art and the Public
Domain 16, special issue
The Art Biennial as a
Global Phenomenon:
Strategies in Neo-Political
Times, March 2009. The
5th International
Symposium on Art
Criticism in A Global
World, Resistances: The
Glocal and the
Singuniversal through
Biennials, was organised
by AICA (International
Association of Art Critics)
and ACCA (Catalonian
Association of Art Critics)
and held on 20 21
November 2009 at
MACBA, Barcelona.

In 2007 Third Text published an article by Thierry de Duve titled The Glocal
and the Singuniversal: Reflections on Art and Culture in the Global World.1
Based on a 2006 talk in Mumbai, the essay was to generate further international interest in the coming years including as a reprint in Holland
and as the theoretical centrepiece of a conference in Spain.2 De Duves
main argument focused on how a past epoch in the history of aesthetics
could help us rethink arts position in present-tense capitalism. De Duve juxtaposed the potential universality of the singular aesthetic judgement, as
described by Kant, with the glocalism of the contemporary art scene and
the art biennial. Engaging the particular (singularity, local) and the general
(universality, global), his analysis can be a starting point for apprehending
the art exhibition as framing our encounter with art today. This is the
approach to which this article seeks to contribute, an intensifying dialogue
of multiple foci and outlooks but more or less addressing the advent of a
new era for art in globalisation. I will not explain this dubious our to
begin with, as one aim is to consider its constitution and implications for
bringing forth a different artworld a major issue posed by de Duve.
De Duves own starting point was the 140 art biennials dotting the transurban artworld map a figure that, even if approximate, indicates the
massive expansion of the exhibition as a cultural dominant today. In
seeing biennials as an exemplary feature of the global artworld, de Duve
called attention to the instrumentalisation of art for purposes allegedly external to it, as biennials have been consistently associated with economic opportunism and forced urban or even regional regeneration that benefits capital
rather than those deemed to be in need of benefits. This emphasis on arts
Third Text ISSN 0952-8822 print/ISSN 1475-5297 online # Third Text (2012)
http://www.tandfonline.com
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2012.679039

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306

3. De Duve, op cit, p 682


4. Ibid, p 684, emphasis in the
original
5. Ibid
6. Ibid
7. Stephen Wright notes the
application of expert
culture in the
contemporary artworld,
where experts of
expression, display,
interpretation and
appreciation known
respectively as artists,
curators, critics and
audiences all jealously
preserve their specific
spheres of expertise and
contrasts this with the rise
of user culture where
usership relies on
experience. See S Wright,
Users and Usership in Art:
Challenging Expert
Culture, 4 June 2007,
online at: http://transform.
eipcp.net/correspondence/
1180961069, accessed 4
October 2011.
8. De Duve, op cit, p 687

instrumentalisation rests on the cornerstone of de Duves argument: the


polarisation between art, not necessarily tied to capitalism, and culture,
necessarily tied to capitalism and Marxs commodity form. De Duve
states: Culture sells, attracts tourists, generates economic activity, and is
an integral part of the entertainment industry.3 Commodification is the terrible fate from which art should be rescued, if, stresses de Duve, we attach a
value to the word art other than its economic or its entertainment value.4
De Duve sees in aesthetics the reason why art can and deserves to be
rescued from its fate as cultural goods. He states: Works of art are
the outcome of aesthetic judgements the artists, in the first place,
then ours, members of the art community whereas cultural goods are
not, or not necessarily.5 This phrase elucidates the we that the reader
keeps coming across: we refers to the members of the art community.
Stating that Kant got it right, de Duve asserts that an aesthetic judgement as in the phrase this rose [or this painting] is beautiful, can establish the idea, if not the fact, of a universal, inclusive sensus communis
introducing the possibility of peace.6 Peace requires the potential for
agreement, but such agreement is the outcome of a dialogue in which
only the art community, and first the artist, is capable of making propositions that is, aesthetic judgements. And so the possibility of universal
agreement hardly challenges the exclusionary logic separating the art
community, as a community of experts, from its others.7
A crucial and unexpected slippage in de Duves text appears later: it is
the one from culture to cultures. We read: Art and culture are not the
same thing. The line is drawn case by case by the singular aesthetic judgement in its claim to universality. Cultures, in their variety, are a subject of
comparative analysis for the anthropologist, but our global world has
turned us all into amateur anthropologists of our own cultures global uniformity.8 This slippage is important because the relationship of cultures
to culture is not explained. Are cultures merely the plural of culture?
References to our global world, to us having the time to be amateur
anthropologists imply that this view is offered from an alleged vantage
point where such global uniformity of our culture becomes visible. One
of the few places creating and reproducing the illusion of cultural uniformity, in the anthropological sense, is indeed the art exhibition where
art from various cultures is now habitually anthologised, often under
grand curatorial concepts. The art exhibition, with the biennial as its hegemonic expression at present, establishes transcultural participation in
the manner of supermarket democracy. Like the supermarket, the art
exhibition may give the impression that we all inhabit a truly shared
world one open to all either as sellers/exhibitors or consumers/visitors,
even if its contents are to be taken home only by the haves. Contents (that
is, art) from whatever culture can be displayed in proximity and privileged
subjects (those who feel entitled to access) are expected to behave in a
certain way (stroll, look, respect property) in encountering comparable
brands delivered in recognisable aesthetic forms. The vantage point of
the amateur anthropologist, from which cultural uniformity can be perceived, is therefore secured as a global class privilege.
We may, however, wish to imagine a different vantage point, one that all
humanity shares, apart from birth and death: the experience of a given historical moment. It is the shared historical moment that positions us asymmetrically even in relation to resources such as water, food and clean air and

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307

9. See http://www.sil.org/
literacy/litfacts.htm,
accessed 30 November
2010.
10. See http://www.ifpri.org/
publication/2010-globalhunger-index, accessed 30
November 2010.
11. See Jacques Rancie`re, The
Emancipated Spectator,
Verso, London, 2009,
where it is stated: It [postMarxist and postSituationist wisdom] also
depicts the law of
domination as a force
seizing on anything that
claims to challenge it. It
makes any protest a
spectacle and any spectacle
a commodity, pp 32 33.
12. De Duve, op cit, p 687:
whereas all works of art
are definitely cultural
goods, some are not
reducible to cultural goods,
and that these are the ones
that matter, the ones I
would call, using an oldfashioned word, authentic
works of art. Emphasis
added.
13. See http://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/
authentic, accessed 30
November 2010.

that which undermines arguments about pockets of backwardness and


spots on the globe not having entered the temporality of modernity, postmodernity and, more recently, modernity after postmodernity. Thinking about
global cultural uniformity in relation to our shared historical moment
means thinking about the one billion people who are unable to read or
write;9 and the one billion people starving as these lines are written and
read.10 In contrast then to arguments in which globalisation is identified
with a homogeneous cultural space (and the possibility of cosmopolitanism), the widening gap between haves and have-nots identifies globalisation
with an increasingly heterogeneous, that is, wildly uneven, economic space.
What would compel us to prioritise cultural homogenisation over economic
heterogeneity as the meaning of capitalist globalisation?
Not much at present. The financial crisis of 2008 brought into sharp
focus that the historical experience of globalisation is of an economic
rather than a cultural-ethnographic nature a fact which art had
already comprehended. In 2001 Santiago Sierras 133 persons paid to
have their hair dyed blonde at the Venice Bienniale took seriously the historical experience of globalisation by acknowledging the rise of a new
otherness the one proper to capitals empire. 133 persons replaced the
cultural other associated with postmodernisms cultural diversity, with
the economic other associated with globalisations economic asymmetry
and its manifestation in the art community club. Claiming a connection
between race, class and economic migration, 133 persons brought to the
fore this new other as the site of spectacle notably one which finally
rids us of the screen and becomes embodied (in the dark-skinned
migrant street vendors who accepted payment to have their hair dyed
blonde). Perhaps unintentionally, 133 persons highlighted the strong ties
between representation, spectacle and the art exhibition, positing the
latter as a factory dedicated to the supply of spectacularised subjects of
otherness (and, interestingly, participation and consent were essential
to the manufacturing process).11 There is an opportunity here to think
about how biennials, and art exhibitions more broadly, partake of a capitalist production regime and what this has to do with art. In a nutshell, the
generation of spectacle as embedded in cycles of production seems to be the
case curiously, not too far removed from the problem that de Duve
associated with the phenomenon of the biennial as a site of cultural goods.
But if de Duve and Sierras positions can both be comprehended as contemporary, how do they differ? The short answer is that they differ in how they
negotiate the artworks authenticity. De Duve argues that whereas all
works of art are definitely cultural goods, some are not reducible to cultural
goods, and that these are the ones that matter, the ones I would call, using
an old-fashioned word, authentic works of art.12 Authenticity here is achieved
by means of ring-fencing a space for the aesthetic away from the economic
sphere. As opposed to this, the authenticity of 133 persons is closer to the
dictionary definition, where authentic means worthy of acceptance or belief
as conforming to or based on fact paints an authentic picture of our
society.13 The fact that this work is based on is the fusion of the aesthetic
and the economic in its given historical milieu. Unlike de Duves position,
this work does not rely on a return to a past definition of aesthetics but exemplifies a turn within aesthetics. It reminds the art community that art is made
by social beings in historically specific circumstances, which explains why such
an artwork was not made during Kants lifetime but during that of de Duve.

308

GLOBALISATION: A CONCEPT AND ITS DISCONTENTS

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14. Although I borrow this


concept from Mark Fisher,
Capitalist Realism: Is
There No Alternative?,
Zero Books, Ropley,
Hampshire, 2009, its
meaning in my argument is
altered, no longer denoting
the tendency to succumb to
capitalism as invincible but
the need to diagnose the
true reach of capitalism if
meaningful strategies
against it are to be
imagined.
15. Luc Boltanski and Eve
Chiapello, The New Spirit
of Capitalism [1999],
Gregory Elliott, trans,
Verso, London 2006
16. Pascal Gielen, The
Murmuring of the Artistic
Multitude: Global Art,
Memory and Post-Fordism,
Valiz, Amsterdam 2009,
pp 38 40
17. Pascal Gielen, The Art
Scene: A Clever Working
Model for Economic
Exploitation?, Open:
Cahier on Art and the
Public Domain 17, 2009,
pp 8 16. This quote is
from p 16.
18. See for example David
Graeber, The Sadness of
Post-Workerism or Art
and Immaterial Labour
Conference: A Sort of
Review, The Commoner,
April 2008, online at:
http://www.commoner.
org.uk/?p=33, accessed 20
September 2011. Despite
criticising major
proponents of the
immaterial labour
concept, such as Toni
Negri, for imagining that
communism is already here
now as an outcome of the
co-operative multitude,
Graeber concludes by
suggesting a
reinterpretation of the past
in search of evidence that
communism has been a
constant of human society:
Perhaps everyday forms of
communism are really. . .
the basis for most
significant forms of human
achievement, even those
ordinarily attributed to
capitalism.

For nearly twenty years now, speaking about our shared historical
moment has meant speaking about globalisation. As the term glocal
(deployed by de Duve) suggests, globalisation is not necessarily the negation of the local or the national but rather the inscription of the particular
and the contextual associated with identity in the global operation of
capital. But globalisation is also an unfortunate term, as its emphasis
on the globe designates a geographical spread of capital. Contemporary
capital, however, moves in other dimensions as well. Globalisation can
be understood as a particular stage in capitalist economy where capital
operates fully as a social relation, making any neat distinction between
economy and culture, economy and geography, economy and
life and, predictably, economy and art hard to grasp. In the end,
only a voluntarist gesture would authorise arts exceptionalism in this
dynamic context, so that a rescue operation might be worthwhile. But
such a misguided struggle would soon have to face capitalist realism.14
For example, the old Marxist thesis according to which art registered as a
form of non-alienated labour no longer holds. The hegemonic presence and
structural prevalence of immaterial labour (another unsatisfactory term for
some Marxists and non-Marxists) in the world created by global capital
means that practically all work now can count as productive labour
and therefore it becomes easier to see how dimensions of subjectivity such
as gender are manipulated artificially to sustain hierarchies of highly
valued and undervalued immaterial labour (art-making and domestic care
work, respectively). Art is emphatically integrated in the production logic
of contemporary capital, and, as Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello have convincingly argued, the age of artistic critique that coincided with postmodernism is seen, from the vantage point of our shared historical
experience, to have played a key role in launching the labour regime that
gives us contemporary capitalism as habitually reviewed in recent years.15
Pascal Gielen has suggested that a general process of immaterialisation
marked the 1970s, including the gradual exodus of the curator from the
museum and the rise of the exhibition as the realisation of a good (curatorial) idea.16 And as he points out, autonomy including arts autonomy is
greatly valued in this new regime, where (reversing the Nazi camp slogan)
freedom creates work.17 An autonomous aesthetic sphere that would
create autonomous aesthetic values would be most welcome for contemporary capital, because freedom/creativity/unpredictability in production is
now a prerequisite for exploitation. Where and when does arts autonomy,
especially when understood as resistance to the obvious forms of capitalist
exchange, enter the cycles of capitalist production? And what does this
have to do with the autonomisation of the exhibition, exemplified as this
is in the independence of biennials (exhibitions outside museums), which
reveals the contextual application of a generic exhibition form?
Let us consider a radical tendency in contemporary art. This radical art
involves, one way or another, the gift which some might be inclined to
see as evidence of an actually existing non-capitalist economy, proof that
not all relations around us are capitalist. This heartening idea is incredibly
popular at present.18 The anthology What We Want Is Free provides a
shockingly rich archive of projects dominated by the logic of the gift, but
here is a rather famous example: in Francis Alyss When Faith Moves Moun-

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309

19. Ted Purves, ed, What We


Want Is Free: Generosity
and Exchange in Recent
Art, SUNY, Albany,
New York, 2005
20. Francis Alys and
Cuauhtemoc Medina, eds,
When Faith Moves
Mountains, Turner,
Madrid 2005, p 96
21. http://www.guggenheim.
org/new-york, accessed 16
November 2009
22. See Marion von Osten,
Irene ist Viele! Or What
We Call Productive
Forces, e-flux journal 8
(2009), at http://www.eflux.com/journal/irene-istviele-or-what-we-callproductive-forces/
23. The event description
opened thus: The taboo of
immigration has now
collapsed. The saturation
of the Greek (and
European) economy means
immigration is almost
inevitable, a
monodrome for parts of
Greek society, particularly
its youth. This description
appeared on the list of
events in Week 4 of the
Athens Biennial in 2011
that was emailed to the list
of the Biennial Newsletter
subscribers, including me,
on 14 November 2011.
24. Quote from http://
kavecsprojects.com/home/
index.php/projects/athens_
biennale_2011_
monodrome_/bay_o_bam_
agency/, accessed 26
February 2012. I am
grateful to Panos
Kompatsiaris who brought
the matter to my attention.

tains (2002) a collaborative action became possible as part of an art biennial


during which nearly 500 volunteers laboured to move a massive sand dune
outside Lima, Peru by just a few centimetres.19 The organisers of this art
project stressed that by engaging volunteers, who donated their labour
time, their wish was to place co-operative work and possibly art outside
capitalist relations.20 Yet in global capitalism, more than ever, capitalist
relations cannot be attached, let alone limited, to a specific territory:
rather, capitalist relations tend to be what connects territories as sites of production. Capitalist relations are what connects South America and North
America, a biennial and a museum, the gift of the participants (mostly
students) acting in solidarity with the local poor and a video piece eventually
acquired by the Guggenheim with funds contributed by the International
Directors Council and [several] Executive Committee Members.21 An
acquisition by a museum is normally meant to enhance the value of the collection. But the artwork worthy of belonging to a collection must be seen to
carry value other than economic, which is obvious in this indicative case
study: the gift of voluntary labour, valorised as supremely ethical and
self-sacrificial, as the glimpse of an alternative organisation of society, is
an integral component of the artworks non-monetary value, which is
absolutely necessary for the cycle of money to begin.
Voluntary labour is a most important parameter of a contemporary capitalist economy, to the point of shaping subjectivity and convincing us that
we should accept a situation in which our productivity is not tied to wages.22
In any event, and as the case of When Faith Moves Mountains makes clear,
the labour of artist and volunteers ultimately enters the museum, somehow
trapped in a display-friendly artwork. As an institutional space, the contemporary museum competes with the broader entertainment and education industries, affirms property relations (the collection) but also
disassociates property from consumption: visitors will not own the artworks
but will consume the exhibited arts immaterial effects on them. In many
respects, the museum typically relies on the appropriation of what is produced elsewhere but can eventually go on display, and thus be consumed,
across multiple sites: from the museums website to book pages to walls
and floors. But what we see in this case study is that, irrespective of any
intentions, an autonomous exhibition here the Lima biennial came to
function as an outsourced production site for the museum.
That biennials are part of this world and its networks of production was
eminently captured by the 2011 Athens Biennial, entitled Monodrome,
that claimed to host one of the most experienced and specialised travel
and immigration agencies in Greece. Instead of treating immigration as
a necessary evil, one could look at it as radical de-grounding, converging
to the creation of a multitude, one read in the Biennial newsletter where
the agency advertised its commitment to offer Greek people realistic solutions and help them discover living and work opportunities in Australia.23 Although the particular agency constituted an artistic action by
the kavecsprojects collective, the latter admitted that the promotion
avoided any reference to art and the Biennials visitors encountered a
neutral information desk with a Bay-O-Bam [agency] employee an
expert on immigration issues and visa requirements.24 Kavecsprojects
appear to have over-invested in over-identification, a strategy strongly
associated with dissident art in the totalitarian Eastern bloc of times
past. That this strategy is deemed appropriate for a Western social

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310

25. Ibid
26. The campaign was
launched in February 2012.
See http://www.
keepwalkinggreece.gr/,
accessed 26 February 2012.
27. For a description of the
project see the Capital and
Gender site at http://www.
scca.org.mk/capital/public.
htm

reality (Greece in 2011) driven by supranational capitalist terrorism is


telling. Yet a practice of further blur[ring] the boundaries between incarnating a hegemonic identity and subverting it hardly responded to the
urgency of the socio-economic circumstances framing the third edition of
Athens Biennial.25 Rather, it legitimated playful ambiguity (highly reminiscent of postmodernisms fascination with the unfixity of meaning) right
when the ideology of a save-yourself economic migration of educated,
skilled workers was taking root in Greece. Encouraging the fusion of advertising platitudes with an anti-capitalist lexicon (as in Negris and Virnos
multitude), the Athens Biennial took a significant step towards exposing,
perhaps unwittingly, its entrenchment in the global regime of production.
Just note that a couple of months later the Johnnie Walker whisky brand
similarly invested in such a fusion: it launched the highly successful advertising campaign Keep walking Greece that incorporated images of collective action and hinted at an uprising, in an absurd (and outrageous) gesture
of capital offering solidarity to those it was turning into the dispossessed.26
Contemporary artists have also demonstrated that in the age of global
capital the avant-gardes wish for art as life can be realised but often as
a dystopia premised on the fusion of the aesthetic and the economic.
Tanja Ostojics Looking for a Husband with EU Passport (2000
2005) is an apt example. Using the Internet as an exhibition site where
a photographic portrait of herself, naked and fully shaved, appeared as
part of a personal ad, the artist invited applications from a prospective
husband who could acquire the bride-woman-artist if he held a passport
from a European Union state. Realised in a five-year span that included a
publicly performed first meeting, a marriage and a divorce, the artwork
was the transaction, an aesthetic gesture obviously inspired by the real
life of many second-world women and realised in the artists life rather
than just on her body. Notably, in 2001 Ostojic placed her work-in-progress (that is, her call) described then as an interactive internet project
and posters in an exhibition tellingly set up in a Skopje mall as part of
the project Capital and Gender organised by Macedonian curator
Suzana Milevska.27 The point of such biopolitical art is that it refuses
to be rescued from its connection with the economy. It opts to expose
the true measure of capital as a social relation by counter-instrumentalising the economy to produce real effects on peoples lives. Looking for a
Husband with EU Passport engages a politics of geography but places
it into the politics enacted as a result of capitals biopower a form of
power exercised over life, not just geography. Or at least it makes manifest the complex relationship among the mobility of bodies, geographies
and capital, where the circulation of cultural goods that de Duve
complained about is a lesser evil in comparison with acceptable and
less acceptable forms of human trafficking. There is a question therefore
whether the term globalisation captures the variety of socio-economic
sites, rather than geographies, that produce the universe (sic) of capital.
On the other hand, the term globalisation becomes useful in so far as it
challenges the biggest conceptual taboo of the formerly hegemonic cultural
paradigm postmodernism by re-engaging the concept of totality. In
reviving the latter, globalisation establishes its difference from postmodernism. Although typically postmodernism in the visual arts was seen to have a
critical and a bad side, the anti-totality impulse ran through both. The
bad postmodernism that Fredric Jameson implicitly associated with sur-

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311

realism without the unconscious (that is, an artwork based on chance


encounters but without a subject to address), and the critical postmodernism which developed an expanded political consciousness known as
identity politics, converged on the prioritisation of the fragment and the
constant reproduction of micro-political struggles displacing the prospect
of solidarity.28 For different reasons, both bad and critical postmodernism
worked against meta-narratives, as if the very idea of a big picture was
irredeemably the prerogative of modernity in the role of the past. But
strangely, modernity may no longer be the past which is precisely why
universality is again on the agenda (including that of de Duve). Apart
from everything else, the exhibition, as a cultural form rather than site, constitutes a universally recognisable and hegemonic modality of encounter
between art and the public. Biennials, triennials and any kind of recurrent
exhibition associated with an institution, city, region and so on are currently historically privileged realisations of the exhibition form which
appears to be something higher, symbolic of noble aspirations, exceeding
local particularities. A biennial may be criticised but not the exhibition
form, which in recent years has drawn into its orbit elaborate programmes
of events, public forums, websites, publishing projects and anything that
might sustain the ideology that art must, in the last instance, be exhibited.

MODERNITY AFTER POSTMODERNISM AND


THE CRISIS OF REPRESENTATION

28. Fredric Jameson,


Postmodernism, or, The
Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism, Duke
University Press, Durham,
North Carolina, 1991, p 67
29. Altermodern, guide to
exhibition at Tate Britain,
3 February26 April 2009.
See also the exhibition
catalogue, Nicolas
Bourriaud, ed,
Altermodern: Tate
Triennial, Tate Publishing,
London, 2009.
30. Nicolas Bourriaud,
Altermodern Manifesto:
Postmodernism Is Dead,
2009, online at: http://
www.tate.org.uk/britain/
exhibitions/altermodern/
manifesto.shtm, accessed
10 July 2010

A recent attempt to resurrect and, crucially, update modernity as a critical


term for arts histories was the Tate Triennial exhibition of 2009. This
says a lot about the power that exhibitions currently hold, especially if
they bear the tag of signature curators such as Nicolas Bourriaud.
Bearing the suggestive title Altermodern, the 4th Tate Triennial
aspired to offer an in-progress redefinition of modernity in the era of globalisation, exploring a multitude of possibilities, of alternatives to a
single route.29 This effort was underpinned by an explicit rejection of
postmodernism, to the extent that Bourriaud even deployed the modernist manifesto format to do so.30 In this manifesto postmodernism was
not ignored but proclaimed dead, repudiated in its identification with a
loss of connectivity, a fragmented social body and the purported
absence of a big picture, which is precisely what the very concept of globalisation introduces through both back and front doors. Following much
globalisation theory, Bourriauds altermodernity is supposedly centreless
and realised as a network: it can be (in theory) traversed from any point.
Thus the twenty-first centurys first decade opened with an exhibition
attempting to map globalisation, Documenta XI in 2002, and closed
with Altermodern in 2009, an exhibition reiterating this proposition, a
bit more forcefully, if less convincingly. Okwui Enwezor, chief curator
of Documenta XI, sought to establish a distance between postmodernism
and the postcolonial subject at least in his catalogue essay. The tentative
repudiation of postmodernism in Documenta XI, focusing on the rescue of
the postcolonial from a discredited cultural paradigm implicitly bypassed
by history, evolved into a full-blown attack on postmodernism in Bourriauds Altermodern, which sought to rescue something quite different:
what Bourriaud called the journey-form, or more plainly, mobility and

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travel (of humans, signs etc) as formal elements of the artwork in the age of
(capitals) empire.31 Altermodern opted to rethink the journey as part of a
new grand narrative (globalisation) and make it meaningful in this new
context by associating it with translation, transcoding and transcription,
that is, with the communication of ideas and affects as widely as possible.
What both shows made clear is that global capital has raised a problem of
periodisation within contemporary art, which can now be divided into two
phases, overlapping and yet distinct in their approach to the political.32
Postmodernism (the first phase) proposed a politics of representation,
especially evident in feminist and postcolonial work in both practice and
theory. Globalisation (the second phase) proposes a politics of knowledge.
The object to be known is globalisation as such and it is an appropriate,
unknown object because globalisation, as the consolidation of global
capitalist relations, is becoming manifest as a much resisted reorganisation
of labour which partly explains why so many artists and theorists in
recent years address labour in their work.33
This shift from representation to knowledge in contemporary art
occurs as the very concept of representation is in crisis beyond art, and
principally in relation to the polity. In Paul Virilios words:
31. The term journey format
is used by Nicolas
Bourriaud in his
unpaginated catalogue
essay Altermodern, in
Bourriaud, ed,
Altermodern: Tate
Triennial, op cit. The term
exhibition form used
throughout my essay is
inspired by Bourriauds
journey-form used in
Altermodern, the
exhibition guide, op cit,
and Altermodern
Manifesto: Postmodernism
Is Dead, op cit.
32. Bourriaud recognises this
but in reality finds it hard
to cut the ties to
postmodernism, naming
the 1990s second phase the
second postmodern
period. Bourriaud,
Altermodern catalogue
essay, op cit, unpaginated.
33. See Angela Dimitrakaki,
The Spectacle and Its
Others: Labour, Conflict
and Art in the Age of
Global Capital, in
Jonathan Harris, ed,
Globalization and
Contemporary Art, WileyBlackwell, Chichester,
2011, p 192.
34. Paul Virilio, Art as Far as
the Eye Can See, Julie
Rose, trans, Berg, Oxford
2005, pp 119 120

. . . even while the acceleration of art history, at the beginning of the 20th
century, merely prefaced the imminent ousting of the figure, meaning of all
figuration, the acceleration of reality contemporary with our 21st century. . . undermines all representation, not only pictorial or architectural
but especially theatrical, to the detriment of the political stage of representative democracy.34

The DIY logic of the blog, the reluctance of first world voters to vote, the
experiment of a European Union where millions have been persuaded to
exchange their right to full citizenship for better work in another EU
country all these are expressions of the crisis of representative democracy, which seems particularly obvious following the emergence of Direct
Democracy protest movements in Europe and elsewhere throughout the
2000s. An essential difference between postmodernism and globalisation
is that whereas in the former case identity politics suggested a belief in the
possibility of expanding representation, in the latter it is widely acknowledged that the circle of non-representable subjects, individual or collective (if these terms are appropriate), is instead expanding. Indeed, we
can see in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negris figure of the multitude
an attempt to resolve the problem of the non-representability of social
beings who are otherwise found to play a key role in both producing
and resisting the empire of capital.
This crisis of representation informs and shapes my inquiry into the
role of the art exhibition. For the exhibition logic is intimately connected
to representation. Representation is an ontological feature of the exhibition, which acquires sharper contours in cases of multicultural and multiethnic shows. But as authentic art today tends to be biopolitical, affective and about knowing rather than representing the social, we are also
forced to ask: is the exhibition the optimal mode of our encounter
with art? And why do we have so many exhibitions exactly when art
questions its commitment to representation? What I am asking here is
whether, even when a specific exhibition aims to render visible art as
resistance, the exhibition form is inherently predisposed to undermine

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313

35. Gail Day, Steve Edwards


and David Mabb, What
Keeps Mankind Alive?
The Eleventh International
Istanbul Biennial: Once
More on Aesthetics and
Politics, Historical
Materialism 18, 2010, pp
135 171. This quote from
p 159. In this excellent
analysis, the authors partly
examine the contradiction
between arts left turn and
this arts frameworks
(including museums and
biennials), focusing more
on the debates this
contradiction has
generated and the need for
the left to move beyond the
art is a commodity thesis,
rather than on what the
expansion of the exhibition
form serves today.
36. Claire Bishop, The Social
Turn: Collaboration and
Its Discontents, Artforum,
February 2006, pp 179
185
37. Participatory art did not of
course emerge in the 1990s;
rather it became more
prominent in both practice
and theory though much
remains to be said about
any causal relationship of
participatory art to the
production regimes of
global capital. See Anna
Dezeuze, ed, The Do-ItYourself Artwork:
Participation from Fluxus
to New Media, Manchester
University Press,
Manchester, 2010.

and tame or else manage radical forms of art under capitals global
rule. Seen in this light, the proliferation of biennials, as the pinnacle of a pervasive exhibition culture, becomes a mere symptom of a more general
problem. For example, does it really matter that Magiciens de la terre
was not a biennial? Taking place in 1989, precisely when the seismic collapse of Soviet culture propelled us into capitals global empire, Magiciens
de la terre effectively declared the representability of cultures, offering a
proper spectacle of otherness. Representation and spectacle are intimately
connected. By invoking a familiar cultural otherness, Magiciens de la
terre asserted the value of continuing with a representation paradigm in
the institutions of art at the very moment when a totality populated by displaced, unrepresentable subjects was emerging. What I want to suggest is
then twofold: first, that there are good reasons for art criticism on the left
to identify an art paradigm that departs from the impulse to represent;
second, that the identification of such a paradigm might necessitate a
break from the hegemonic exhibition form intimately connected with the
market which ultimately it serves. To say this is not to crave the good old
days or to cite the easy target (the market) but to ask whether privileged
capitalist forms place limits on our imagination of alternatives imagining
alternatives, for example, to the exhibition form, a merely historical form
rather than an essential framework for art as a historically evolving
terrain of human action and productivity in its own right.35

THE DOUBLE PROBLEMATIC OF ART TODAY:


GLOBALISATION AND ARTS NEW SOCIAL TURN
Art criticisms identification of an art paradigm not geared to representation, or as Claire Bishop puts it, arts new social turn, has so far generated excitement and controversy.36 Since the 1990s, the first decade of a
globally victorious capitalism, we have had two notable developments in
the arts, the implications of which for the history of art are only beginning
to be addressed, although they are rarely discussed together. These two
developments define a double problematic in contemporary art, in the
sense that they identify the same problem (what is arts relevance to the
world after postmodernism?), to which, however, they propose two
apparently different solutions: the rise of the functional artwork
more specifically, the socially functional artwork has occurred in parallel with the rise of a post-documentary practice, such as the video
essay. Although Bishop identified arts new social turn with the first development, now widely known as participatory art, arts interest in providing a social document, exemplified by the video essay, significantly
enhances the remit of this perceived new social turn.37 In thinking
about these two practices as defining a radical art paradigm in the age
of global capital, my main concern is what actually constitutes their radicalness a prerequisite for posing questions about their relationship to
the exhibition form.
Participatory art has generated much debate, not least in the pages of
Third Text. Referring to collaborative practices that engage various
forms of human sociality and communication, participatory art is nevertheless a designation that fails to bring forth the most radical element of
this practice: its intention to be socially useful in ways that are anathema

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314

38. Grant H Kester,


Conversation Pieces:
Community and
Communication in Modern
Art, University of
California Press, Berkeley,
2004, p 190
39. WochenKlausur was
founded in the early 1990s
by Wolfgang Zinggl, at the
time a critic for the
Austrian weekly Falter. In
reviewing a Young Scene
show, Zinggl criticised the
showcasing of socially
engaged art that simply
presented images of, for
example, homeless people.
Interview with
WochenKlausur, Vienna,
19 November 2010.
40. Dan Karlholm, Reality
Art: The Case of Oda
Projesi, Leitmotiv 5,
2005 2006, p 123, online
at: http://www.ledonline.it/
leitmotiv, accessed 6
November 2010
41. Boris Groys, Art in the Age
of Biopolitics: From
Artwork to Art
Documentation, in
Documenta XI - Platform
5: Exhibition Catalogue,
Hatje Kantz, Ostfildern,
2002, p 110

to traditional notions of aesthetics. An equally radical by-product of this


practice, noted by Grant H Kester, is the possible redundancy of the
critic, formerly responsible for deciphering the enigmatic artwork to the
public.38 Indeed, what is the role of the art critic when the artwork takes
the form of medical care for the homeless, as is the case in the practice
of Austrian collective WochenKlausur, founded by an art critic fed up
with art that merely represented existing social ills?39 The solution
offered by this and other collectives was to make the public the direct beneficiaries of artistic creativity. In over-identifying with the Romantic ideal
of artistic freedom, such collectives interpret the artistic licence to do anything as the right to realise social interventions in unorthodox ways. The
question then is, what is the role of the critic in the face of arts new
social pragmatism? We may as well extend this question: what is the
role of the exhibition when the artwork is the provision of medical care
for the homeless?
To add to the complexity of this question, Dan Karlholm has
suggested that beyond a first, primary public as the direct beneficiaries
of an art intervening in the field of socio-economic relations, there is a
secondary public that such art continues to address, compris[ing] the
artists peers, the critics, the professional as well as non-professional art
lovers, that crop up at the biennales, or, at least, after the fact, or with
a chosen distance towards the activities on grass root level.40 But art
framed in the exhibition form reproduces this secondary public (as the
more familiar art audience, or de Duves art community plus tourists).
This is the normally socially privileged constituency who exert their
right to have access to art, even by means of documentation of an art
that first does its work elsewhere, often outside the institutions that privilege the exhibition form. The document is the means by which even
project art ends up as an exhibit, re-establishing the links to representation and, arguably, reinstating the role of the critic-mediator who
must now explain to the art community in what ways this is art. The
current celebration of art documentation by the art establishment
(evident for example in Documenta XI, the catalogue of which included
a paper by Boris Groys arguing that art documentation is the art of
making living things out of artificial ones) is not therefore a transparent
ideological operation: on the one hand, the document is essential for an
art striving to articulate a politics of knowledge (of the social) and on
the other hand, the document permits the continuation of the exhibition
form, thus reproducing representation.41
A cynical view might have it that the document and the exhibition
form are the means by which this socially engaged paradigm becomes
art in the first place. Yet I would question this view as it presupposes
that art must necessarily be encountered in ways that lock the aesthetic
into a largely visual modality. Possibly, experimental art today is about
a social act that reconfigures the aesthetic (visual or other) as an experiential form of knowledge of the social, or even as a poetics that entails
a whole new regime of rewards and failures. This experiential form of
knowledge of course implies a radically different apprehension of knowledge one that does not assume the possibility of representing the social
as its elusive, distant and yet real object. As such, this knowledge would
be incompatible with a capitalist knowledge economy that organises pedagogies at various stages of privatisation and with the aim of suppressing

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42. The emergence of a student


movement against the
privatisation of education
incorporates questions
about art education and
labour more broadly. See
the An-academy issue of
online journal Transversal,
December 2010, at: http://
eipcp.net/transversal/1210,
accessed 6 December 2010.
43. See for example T J Demos,
Sahara Chronicle: Videos
Migrant Geography, in
Ursula Biemann and JanErik Lundstrom, eds,
Ursula Biemann, Mission
Reports: Artistic Practice in
the Field: Video Works
1998 2008, Bildmuseet
Umea/Arnolfini, Bristol,
2008, p 186.
44. Biemann quoted in Angela
Dimitrakaki, Materialist
Feminism for the TwentyFirst Century: The Video
Essays of Ursula Biemann,
Oxford Art Journal, vol 30,
no 1, 2007, pp 205 232.
Here p 227.

opposition by creating a rift between learning about and doing. This


would be the (self-)knowledge produced co-operatively through a
student occupation or a student demo rather than in an art history class
based on PowerPoint.42 Generated in the collaborative spaces of social
praxis, when the artist finds a place therein, at present this experiential
knowledge of the social can be appropriated retrospectively by the capitalist knowledge economy (where we also find the institutions of art).
Which brings me to the second important development in recent art
practice: the post-documentary turn exemplified by the video essay. Promising a finished object, the video essay appears perfectly to fit the broader
exhibition logic of arts institution. There is no shortage of video essays in
biennials, to be sure. I will offer no more than a short and informal description of this hybrid form. Video essays can be described as narrative
moving-image pieces that resemble poetic or ironic or weirdest still
biased documentaries, and in many cases the production of a video
essay requires extensive travelling by the artist who gains first-hand experience of social sites of discontent and conflict at her own risk. A video essay
normally focuses on a particular issue, but this issue is likely to be an
exploratory question (how does a national border occupied by multinational capital construct, and how is it constructed by, gendered subjectivities?), rather than a statement that would license the representation of
social subjects (the female workforce in the industrial units at the border
of Mexico and the US), which is why a concept such as Jamesons cognitive mapping now frequently guest-stars in approaches to such work.43 In
the words of video essayist Ursula Biemann, the process from the imaginary to representation is not a smooth, linear one. How can you document
this process? You cannot. All you can do is perform it.44 Indeed, the video
essay is a performative process towards the representation of social sites,
which, precisely because of the authors intense self-involvement, is not
achieved. Renzo Martenss Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2008) does not
represent Africa but records and narrates the male Western artists crossing of Africa as a socio-economic site in a tactical, performative overidentification with Post-Fordisms solution to poverty: sell embodied
poverty as an image in the global market of affect. Allan Sekulas The
Lottery of the Sea (2006) does not represent the operations of capitalism
in the sea. Rather it examines and narrates, to the extent possible, the
artists eclectic crossing through various sites of flow and conflict where
the relationship of contemporary humans to the oceans is established as
their relationship to capital.
Let us then look at the shared elements of the two developments in art
associated with globalisation. Both the socially functional artwork and
the post-documentary video essay favour direct experience over representation. Both displace art as the site of critique yet another difference
between postmodern art (which was a realised critique of modernism)
and the paradigms of globalisation. Neither practice is uninterested in critique, but the responsibility for critique now lies with the social body
whereas the artwork intends to incite and facilitate critique as an
outcome of the knowledge generated. When an art collective such as
Oda Projesi defines as art the offering of a room where people can meet
to discuss their problems, the gesture is unmistakable: the art is the
enabling of critique rather than the incarnation of critique as such. The
same applies to the video essay, and when Carles Guerra argues that

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316

45. Carles Guerra, Negatives


of Europe: Video Essays
and Collective Pedagogies,
in Maria Lind and Hito
Steyerl, eds, The
Greenroom: Reconsidering
the Documentary and
Contemporary Art # 1,
Sternberg, Berlin, 2008,
p 146
46. Brian Holmes, Marcelo
Expositos Entre Suenos:
Towards A New Body,
Open: Cahier on Art and
the Public Domain 17,
2009, pp 100 114, here
p 101
47. See Claire Bishop,
Antagonism and
Relational Aesthetics,
October 110, autumn
2004, pp 51 79.
48. Hal Foster, The Return of
the Real, MIT Press,
Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1996,
p 173
49. Michael Hardt,
Production and
Distribution of the
Common: A Few
Questions for the Artist,
Open: Cahier on Art and
the Public Domain 16,
2008, online at: http://
www.skor.nl/article-4111en.html, accessed 28
November 2010. On
artistic labour and
twentieth-century art see
John Roberts, The
Intangibilities of Form:
Skill and Deskilling in Art
after the Readymade,
Verso, London 2007.

video essayists generate critical knowledge, we note that critique has lost
its status as a noun and has been transformed into an adjective (critical).45
When Biemann makes a video essay called Black Sea Files (2005), image,
text and voiceover construct a panorama of data and commentary that
intends to incite critique. The same happens when Marcelo Exposito
and Nuria Vila make a series of video essays entitled Entre Suenos
(2004 2007) offering, in the words of Brian Holmes, a multi-part evocation of the new social struggles by attending to history in the streets.46
In all these cases, the artists work consists of entering and acting in the
terrain of socio-economic relations. Very often the video essay and the
socially functional artwork implicate spaces of social unrest (with the
notable and interesting exception of many socially functional artworks
championed by Bourriaud, for which he was reprimanded by Bishop).47
Both paradigms prioritise a physical, material setting as the habitus of
the social what we might call globalisation on the ground. This is
important because globalisation in the 1990s, at least in cultural discourse, was often perceived in terms of a virtual global village congregating in cyberspace. The turn to material spaces via the video essay and the
socially functional artwork occurs as the global cyber-village mutates into
Facebook, a technological platform for recontextualising self-representation within the collective policing ethos appropriate to a society of
control. Instead, technology in the video essay is explicitly instrumentalised as a tool for creating and interrogating social documents including
the possibility of producing such documents on behalf of others.
What the above suggests is that these two radical art paradigms claim
globalisation, as a series of interlocked socio-economic spaces, in terms of
a production site. This is their radical gesture and, arguably, the one
undone by the exhibition form.

GLOBALISATION AS PRODUCTION SITE:


LABOUR AND THE EXHIBITION FORM
Production requires a producer. Walter Benjamins essay The Author as
Producer (1934) is an unavoidable association. Hal Foster described
postmodern art as premised on the very displacement of Benjamins
author/artist as producer, associated with modernitys avant-garde, by
the author/artist as ethnographer.48 Whereas modernitys artist-producer sided with the industrial working class (the exploited proletariat),
postmodernisms artist as ethnographer sided with the cultural and/or
ethnic other. If Marxists in the past, as Foster noted in the mid-1990s,
lamented the turn away from the productivist model, whereas poststructuralists found this turn problematic for the opposite reason because it
did not displace the productivist model enough the situation today is
markedly different. Even if some Marxists dispute that immaterial
labour underpins the totality of relations of production, they no longer
think that the artist as producer needs to be associated with material production.49 The rise of affective labour, of a knowledge and service
economy, makes it hard to suggest that the artist as ethnographer
makes a more discursive, intellectual contribution to some form of
super-structure called culture. Had the implications of a turn to a
service and knowledge economy been fully revealed when Foster was

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317

50. Maurizio Lazzarato,


Immaterial Labor, in
Michael Hardt and Paolo
Virno, eds, Radical
Thought in Italy: A
Potential Politics, Maurizia
Boscagli et al, trans,
University of Minnesota,
Minneapolis 1996, p 136

writing his Artist as Ethnographer, the ethnographer might have been


unmasked as the contemporary producer par excellence. In hindsight,
then, poststructuralists were right to complain, even as they misrecognised the reasons why the producer would continue to be of relevance
to contemporary art.
The recognition of globalisation as the primary production site for art
compels critical attendance to the hegemony of immaterial labour in the
current phase of global capital. At the same time, though, it raises important questions about how specific forms of materiality are immanent in
immaterial labour, both in art and in the productive activity of capitals
empire overall. Maurizio Lazzarato has argued that the immaterial
labour sustaining post-industrial economy requires different types of
work skill: intellectual skills. . . manual skills [technology. . .] entrepreneurial skills [management of social co-operation].50 These types of
work skill hardly exhaust the forms of material engagement present in
the production process of art, even if a conceptual apparatus that might
describe the dialectic between materiality and immateriality in the
socially functional artwork and post-documentary work is at its genesis
at present. The issue, however, is whether or not the exhibition form
plays a key role in concealing this dialectic.
The exhibition form can be seen as a dissemination mechanism for
radical work executed first in the wider field of socio-economic
relations that can broaden the publics exposure to this works intentions and outcomes. Yet this dissemination mechanism also facilitates
the collapse of pedagogy into the consumption of outputs, which is of
course a ubiquitous feature of the post-Fordist knowledge economy. In
some sense, the video essay tries to outsmart the exhibition by incorporating, narrating and questioning the social document in its own terms. But
in doing so it becomes complicit in making peripheral the complex cooperative production of the experiential knowledge it stands for. The
artists crossing of socio-economic territories, the actual site of artistic
labour, is relegated to the status of fieldwork that partly authorises the
exhibition forms appropriation of co-operative productivity. Fieldwork
stands for mere preparation for the actual art that is deferred to the
moment of institutional display. The exhibition form guarantees that
the artists work will register as a form of affective labour that specifically
brings forth the spectator. But, arguably, the spectator is not what he used
to be. The spectator may become engaged in a form of distant learning,
and learning is hardly ever passive. A crucial parameter of what might
qualify as spectacle is therefore challenged: passivity. But at the same
time, to do away with passivity does not annul the spectacle, just as the
interaction of a buyer with a commodity (as on the Internet where one
looks at, possibly talks to and chooses a mail-order bride) does not
annul a commercial transaction.
The socially functional artwork begins to face this problem only in its
transcription as a document that permits the works delivery to the exhibition site. But the institutions of art found a clever solution to this problem.
They said to the artist: come and actualise your intervention here, we will
become the social sites for the intervention you crave. Which is how we
came to have 133 fake blond immigrants as an embodied spectacle at the
Venice Biennale and critics complaining about the boring displays left
by Oda Projesis participants after a days participatory work and

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51. On Oda Projesi see


Karlholm, op cit.
Incorporating six
exhibitions and parallel
events, the 2nd Athens
Biennial, Heaven, took
place from 15 June to 4
October 2009 away from
Athens city centre and
along the citys disused
(before and after the
Olympics in 2004)
southern coastline.
52. Bourriaud, Altermodern
Manifesto: Postmodernism
Is Dead, op cit
53. Ben Lewis in Evening
Standard, 6 February 2009,
online at: http://www.
thisislondon.co.uk/arts/
review-23636018-newage-of-the-ism-inaltermodern.do

several unattended parties featuring youthful bands in the vast de Chiricotype emptiness surrounding the premises of the 2009 Athens Biennale.51 It
is not therefore so easy for the institutions of art to become proper, open
and unpredictable social spaces. What they seem to become instead is laboratories for experimentation with the social, which is quite a different
thing both ethically and politically.
In Biemanns Black Sea Files, in which she examines the oil geography
surrounding the Caspian region, the narrator poses an important question: is knowledge produced in the dangerous zones better than that produced in libraries? The question implies that the production of
knowledge in the sites where globalisations effects acquire concrete
form entails a rather particular experiential and corporeal dimension,
one immanent in the activity of the labouring subject. It also circumscribes contemporary artistic production in the broader processes of
labour geared to the production of information and knowledge, which
means that the formally accepted distinction between artistic labour
and other forms of labour loses its hard contours. The autonomy of art
is not hereby challenged because of arts focus on the social but as a
result of the form that the artists labour takes, that is, the process of producing the work as such. It is this labour, actualised only in the spaces of
the social and not in laboratories, that the exhibition form conceals from
view, treating it at best as fieldwork.
One problem of Bourriauds re-conceptualisation of modernity in
Altermodern is thus the failure to locate the travelling artist as a labouring
body and inscribe the latter within the forms of productivity privileged by
global capital for example, capitals management of migration. This
happens because Bourriaud forgets what is really at stake in the transition
from postmodernism to globalisation, that is, the displacement of a cultural
subject by a new economic subject, and this is also what de Duves argument disregards. For Bourriaud, altermodernity arises out of discussions
between agents from different cultures. Stripped of a centre, it can only
be polyglot. Altermodernity is characterised by translation. . .52 This reiteration of the primacy of the cultural could justify a reviewers re-naming of
the show as mytho-modern.53 Cultural translation is connected with the
exhibition form in a complex way: on the one hand, the art exhibition is the
only place where cultural translation can take place as it provides a democratic space, an artificial and tellingly costly heterotopia, where economic
hierarchies between cultures can be temporarily suspended (if, of course,
these cultures can afford inclusion in the exhibitions representational
heaven). On the other hand, there is not much need for cultural translation
in exhibitions since they all nowadays deploy the glocal idiom, as de Duve
rightly suggests. Mass culture may in fact have a point in ridiculing the
concept of cultural translation which, after its tragic failure in postmodernitys identity politics, returns in the age of neoliberalisms crisis as farce. I
am thinking here of a cultural good, the film Bruno (2009) in which an
Austrian male model tries to resolve the Middle East conflict through diplomatic negotiations but confuses hummus with Hamas. In contrast with
his failure to achieve results in the Middle East by reference to culture,
Bruno fares much better in Africa, where he negotiates in economic
terms and thus manages to communicate perfectly with the locals: he
gets to adopt a black baby through a transaction in which a human
beings exchange value is that of an iPod.

319

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What I am trying to suggest is that a re-thinking of universality is misguided in its prioritisation of communication between cultures or the
possibility of a transcultural aesthetic gesture over encounters between
labouring subjects and/or sites of production. When de Duve says
there is no question that the reasons for the proliferation of art biennials
are mainly if not exclusively economic, a comment based on the
acknowledgement that culture sells, this is only part of the story.54
The dominance and ubiquity of the exhibition form does not just play a
central role in launching art as commodity. Above and beyond this, it
is commensurate with a service and experience economy that reduces
the aesthetic to an outcome of affective labour to which only a privileged
constituency, the art community or Karlholms secondary public, can
afford access. Consequently, the dominance and ubiquity of the exhibition form is entangled with a question of greater resonance about postFordism: where does immaterial labour emerge as hegemonic, if it is
not seen as a random effect of current relations of production? The provisional answer is that capitalist institutions those that privilege, for
example, the exhibition form are also sites where a certain differentiation and hierarchical valuation of labour occurs. The exhibition form
is typically where co-operative labour succumbs to authorship and
where the organising activity of the artist (or artist collectives) amounts
to ownership of the artwork first by the artist. Today it is therefore
not enough merely to assert that art is a commodity or art is more
than a commodity and accept the mediation provided by the exhibition
form as a necessary evil. Instead, attention must shift to the process by
which the organisation and valuation of labour creates the tendency of
art to become a commodity. If Marxist critics can assert that today
Marxist aesthetics must grapple with. . . arts position of both being
and not being incorporated, we should perhaps strive to understand
precisely how, where and why this contradiction (rather than ambivalence) gets perpetuated assuming (as I imagine de Duve would want
it) that we can draw a line between what constitutes, in specific historical
conditions, radical art and what might constitute a radical encounter
with art.55
De Duve makes this interesting statement: We would lose something
essential to the human condition were we to take for granted that the
exhibitions we visit contain art simply because they are announced as
exhibitions of art.56 In paraphrasing this, we would miss something
essential in our understanding of how the human condition exists only
historically, were we to take for granted that the exhibitions we visit
contain merely art. They also contain the operative structures and processes through which art is uprooted from its complex affective and
material context where everything is possible and delivered as the neutralised aftermath of real action in which case, indeed, the only thing left to
do with art is to proffer judgements about whether it is art.
54. De Duve, op cit, p 682
55. Day, Edwards, Mabb,
op cit, p 167
56. De Duve, op cit, p 686

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 5th International Symposium on
Art Criticism in a Global World, Resistances: The Glocal and the Singuniversal
through Biennials, organised by AICA and ACCA and held on 20 21 November
2009 at MACBA, Barcelona.