Ends of Art

kunstlicht impact

The new issue of the journal Kunstlicht, which is edited by graduate students of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, is dedicated to “Cultural Policies: Agendas of Impact.” From the official announcement:

“This issue, guest-edited by Lara Garcia Diaz and Cristina Marques, delves into the historical grounds and present implications of arts and culture funding policies and programmes in the Netherlands and beyond. It features authors including: Sven Lütticken, Steven ten Thije, Josephine Berry, Bram Ieven and Market for Immaterial Value.

At the end of 2014, the Dutch Ministry of Culture (OCW) announced a new Art and Culture public fund, The Art of Impact, designating seven million euro to support art projects that have a distinct impact on society. With this programme, the policy of austerity initiated by minister of culture Halbe Zijlstra enters a new phase. Ideologically, it shifts away from discrediting the arts as a left-wing hobby towards rendering the arts as a tool of intervention and engagement with society.

In light of these events, Kunstlicht feels the necessity to initiate a debate about The Art of Impact to question the agenda of Cultural Policies that ultimately uses creativity and innovation to fuel neoliberal agendas and discourses. This topic already surfaced earlier this summer at our event in relation to the closing of the SMBA. We would like to use the launch event of our next issue to continue the debate and present you with different perspectives on the topic.

What does it mean to attribute to the artists, designers and art institutions the social, economical and political responsibility of changing and improving the world? The evening will consist of a moderated debate with guest speakers, a performance and a public discussion on the topic.”


My contribution, which is based on my work on the forthcoming Art and Autonomy reader, is an essay titled “Ends of Art: From Nul to Bijl.” In this text I analyse various proposoals (with various degrees of seriousness) to close art spaces or top making art in favour of more useful activities. One such case is Guillaume Bijl’s “Art Liquidation Project” text from 1979. Artist Wok the Rock refences this “fake manifesto” and Bijl’s Driving School Z installation in the comic he has drawn for this issue, which is wrapped around the cover in the form of a riso print.

Cultural Revolution in Progress


My book Cultural Revolution: Aesthetic Practice after Autonomy (to be published by Sternberg this fall) is now being proofread. What you’re seeing here is not so much a typo as a consequence of the fact that I’m using fancy ten-dollar words that don’t fit the current design grid. Perhaps I should have listened to advice and gone for the catchy youthspeak title “CULT REV”!

Meanwhile in Gwangju


New Left Review: The Coming Exception

New Left Review no. 99 (May-June 2016) contains my essay “The Coming Exception: Art and the Crisis of Value.” In a critical reading of recent theory as well as recent artistic practice, I argue that rather than focusing on the question whether or not art can be integrated into the Marxian labour theory of value, we should focus on the challenge posed by art to the theorization of value, and examine the increasing economic normativity of the putatively exceptional commodity that is the work of contemporary art in today’s economy.

Metropolis M: The Long 1980s

photo 2-1

Metropolis M no 3 (June/July 2016) features my essay “The Long 1980s: Between No Future and the End of History.” For the time being, this text is only available in the print issue, and in Dutch. It is a response of sorts to a flurry of recent and current exhibitions on the art of that decade, and an extension of sorts of parts of my “Cultural Revolution” essay.

Image: Never judge an article by its glamour factor. This one is actually fairly substantial, in addition to being dead cool.

Texte zur Kunst no. 102: Returns of the Stone Age


The thematic section of issue no. 102 of Texte zur Kunst is dedicated to the topic of fashion. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to nobody that I did not contribute to this section. I did, however, write a kind of review-essay on two recent publications. These books Kunst der Vorzeit and Allegory of the Cave Painting, were published on the occasion of eponymous exhibitions. These exhibitions and publications deal with modern and contemporary artistic and scientific rediscoveries of prehistoric art. In my text “Returns of the Stone Age” I discuss some iterations and aspects of the anachronistic returns of cave and rock art—largely drawing on the publications in questions, but throwing Raymond Queneau and Trevor Paglen into the mix for good measure.

Image: Georges Bataille in Lascaux (source).

Books in Progress

Lucy (2014)

Two books that have been in the making for quite some time are beginning to feel rather real. Once intangible potential, they are now well and truly in the process of being actualized. One in particular, the critical reader Art and Autonomy, has had a prolonged gestation period. The book which will be published by Afterall as part of their critical reader series; I served as the main editor, working with an editorial team and a number of research assistants. While there were other causes, in part the prolonged process was due to my insistence on rethinking the “critical reader” format in ways that made everything so much more complicated than it needed to be. However, it looks as though it’s going to pay off in the end. For the time being Art and Autonomy is now semi-out-of-my-hands, thanks to other capable hands.

A smaller project, also scheduled for this autumn, is my “solo” book Cultural Revolution: Aesthetic Practice after Autonomy (Sternberg). The book is a collection of five reworked essays from recent years, including one text on autonomy that is based on the autonomy reader’s introduction, but goes beyond it. In turn, to a greater or lesser extent all these essays have been reworked from their previous incarnations. At the end of the Gutenberg age, book production is frantic and the results are often obsolete before they hit the shelves; and yet, making a book still feels more definitive than publishing an article. Even if previous (online) versions may continue to circulate more freely than those published in book form, the latter matter. Things seem to be progressing very smoothly, apart from Luc Besson’s production company,  EuropaCorp, categorically refusing us permission to reproduce a still from Besson’s film Lucy. It was probably unwise to ask in the first place, but high-res images are otherwise hard to come by. As a negative image of our regime of intellectual property, this would almost deserve to be one of those empty “permission withheld”  non-illustrations that you see from time to time.

Image: Lucy (2014). Source.