Installation Art and the Drama of Austerity

My MA research is finally done. I was awarded a Cum Laude in January 2012. Tracking the consumption of crisis art genres in contemporary international art between the turn of the C20th and prior to the financial crisis, I considered this consumption novelly, as a symptom itself of neoliberal transition:

Contemporary aesthetic theory more often tends to persist in positing art experience as a kind of spectatorial access to exemplary instances of artistic subjectivization or philosophy that are able to stand apart from, while being in some purposeful way related to (or indeed disinvested in), actually existing social and political conditions. The liberal position that manages and orders this notion of art spectatorship at a professional distance, tends to officiate while being non-aligned with avant-garde concepts of art as imminently political or culturally agential. Accordingly, the coupling of autonomous art (whether ‘subversive’ or neo-Kantian) and neoliberal infrastructures has served the contemporary period of global art-industrial expansion well; you could say that the success of neoliberal museums such as the one in which I worked is precisely their capacity to do their business in immanence, as was Krauss’ early argument about the role of minimalism in setting up the aesthetic encounters of the late capitalist museological transition.

Using fine art industry analyses and criticism, artist and curator interviews and quotes, and my own curatorial industry experience, together with affect theory, film and media philosophy, political and aesthetic theory, the project tracks the neoliberal spectator on art and culture as a kind of spectre during this period, and as a tactical concern within the work especially of Aernout Mik, Jonas Staal, and Chto de Lat. Such artists present conceptual challenges to the affective legacies of liberal democratic organizations of the political, inherited from post-war aesthetic conventions, which persist in processing political and juridicial crises as exceptional and shocking to the sensorium. I argue, drawing on the work of Lauren Berlant, that such modernist philosophical and affective heritages of aesthetic encounter are being presented as dated conventions in these artist’s works. Aernout Mik attends to crisis as itself a kind of common sensationalized exchange value in contemporary international art markets in which the desire for politics “over there” (but not domestically situated or figured) has been rife; Jonas Staal unpacks the resentimental and appropriative use of crisis genres by right wing populist movements in the Netherlands, which bring crisis’ affect scripts in to the domestic national sphere to rationalize xenophobic and protectionist policies, and Chto Delat dramatize how the crisis of neoliberalism itself is impacting upon modern art’s programming infrastructures. In their work, the contradictions that have lain latent within museological liberalism become much more pointed when radical art is showcased upon increasingly neoliberal programming platforms, battling populist intervention and austerity thinking and feeling. This kind of ‘neoliberal spectator’ of course figures prominently in the drastic 2011 funding cuts to art and culture in the Netherlands, and in the crisis impacting upon museological liberalism more broadly, especially as resentimentalist decisions about arts funding continue to be inspired by international austerity projects.

I am currently developing this work into a larger argument about contemporary installation art’s relationships to governmentality and cultural change.

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