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Productivity

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It can be intriguing (and confronting) to get a sense of how others perceive you and your work. Reviews have that effect; so do introductions for lectures and other appearances, and sometimes just comments in passing. Once I was introduced with a surprised comment on how I “self-identify as an art historian” (which I do, but I never realized this was in any way noteworthy). Another time I was told that my writings “are tinged with wryness in the best possible sense” (that one I really liked), and recently I heard that “I think of him as the conscience of the Dutch art world” (which horrified me for a variety of reasons).

Aside from having my writing characterized as “dense,” the thing I hear the most is that I’m “so productive.” This goes back to my PhD days, when my professor ironically compared me to a novelist of whom it was said that “he writes faster than God can read.” Though there often is good-natured envy in those words, it has never struck me as an entirely positive comment. In my own subjective perception, of course, I never have been all that productive.

It’s also clear that production has been slowing down as I’ve become more entangled in a variety of academic obligations. This is not all bad: teaching, which is mostly a very satisfying endeavour, takes up a lot of time, but it also encourages you to take your time by developing research projects in the context of seminars, enriching and deepening your understanding of the problem at hand in dialogue with students and their own agendas. This takes the pedagogic process beyond teaching as it is currently conceived, with its enumerated “learning goals,” but such protocols have colonized Dutch universities to an extent that is truly unimaginable to, for instance, my German colleagues. A wide variety of ever more molecular and invasive bureaucratico-neoliberal control mechanisms has bred sujectivities to match, perennially afraid of the next visitation or evaluation.

Furthermore, the Dutch academic year is marked by short breaks between semesters. For years, my only periods for really sustained writing been from Christmas to late January and July through mid-August. Sabbaticals don’t exist. As luck would have it, I will have an unoffocial quasi-sabbatical in the second half of this year, since I don’t have any courses scheduled then. That’s the first time in almost fifteen years.

That being said, my low output in the first half of this year is due to the sometimes very drawn-out editorial and production process of various publications. Some texts that I wrote two or three years ago, and some newer ones, will probably finally see the light of day in late summer or autumn, as will hopefully two edited volumes. It looks like the autumn of 2018 just might confirm the dreaded prejudice about my productivity.

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Neolithic Childhood

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Artist Matthijs de Bruijne once paid the Van Abbemuseum the highest compliment when he characterized it as one of the few museums that are worthy of being critiqued; with most institutions and their projects, it seems pointless to even engage in a critical exchange. Looking not only at the Netherlands but at Europe overall, the group of institutions that truly matter, that can be engaged with critically and worked with productively, is not exactly enormous. The Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin is perhaps foremost among those. I’ve spoken at HKW symposia and conferences a number of times over the years, and it’s a serious annoyance when I miss one of their exhibitions because my commitments don’t allow me to visit Berlin at the right time.

The upcoming exhbition Neolithische Kindheit, which is on view from April 13, focuses on the time around the year 1930 as a period of crisis when, “[for] the artistic avantgardes in Europe, the contemporary condition also became problematic; the impositions of the present led artists to break out into an imaginary realm of the archaic and the exotic— seeking out alternative origins and points of departure for humanity. […] Taking its cue from texts by the extraacademic art historian Carl Einstein, an exhibition and conference will thematize the upheavals, openings, and contradictions that became manifest in art and the humanities from the 1920s into the 1940s. The ‘Neolithic Childhood’—a concept used by Carl Einstein to characterize his understanding of Hans Arp—seemed to be a helpful fiction through which to critique the present.”

The show has been curated by Anselm Franke and Tom Holert, with an advisory board composed of Irene Albers, Susanne Leeb, Jenny Nachtigall and Kerstin Stakemeier. I contributed two short texts on the subjects of autonomy and myth(ology) to the publication, and I will participate in the conference that takes place on May 26-27.

On a somewhat related note, I’ve posted my 2016 Texte zur Kunst piece “Returns of the Stone Age” on the “Articles” page, which I will try to update more generally in the near future.

Image: Brassaï, from Graffiti de la Série VIII: La Magie (1955).

Texte zur Kunst no. 109: Stanley Brouwn

Texte zur Kunst no. 109 (March 2018) starts with a thematic section that “considers art’s relation to rules — or rather, the exceptions to them that art and its agents seem to claim. How can we speak of rules in the context of art, where transgressions are lauded even while traditional hierarchies (class, gender, race, sexuality) continue to assert their influence? And would we demand anything less of art than the promise of disobedience, rule breaking both in terms of formal restrictions and normative regulations? Therefore, in this issue we ask: by what rules does the art world play, and how are transgressions made visible/invisible therein?”

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My own contribution to this issue is a review, “The Distance Between Stanley Brouwn and Yourself,” which discusses three Stanley Brouwn exhibitions that were put on in the months following his death. On the basis of these shows, I reflect on the artist’s legacy and on the critical and scholarly perspectives that strike me as valid and productive.

Meanwhile, TzK has put my essay on Günther Förg from the previous issue online. As this essay also discusses the role played by Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in the reception of his work, as well as the current crisis of this institution, it deserves an update now that a farcical chapter has been added with a petition clamoring for Beatrix Ruf’s reinstatement as director. I will have a few things to say about this petition, which had been in the making since december and failed to get any real traction, in the updated Dutch translation of the text that will be published this spring.

By then, the Stedelijk’s Günther Förg retrospective will also be on view. As the original version of the essay was written for the catalogue of that exhibtion, only to be withdrawn in the face of populist ineptness and paranoid censorship masquerading as editing, things wil have come full circle.

Photo: Installation view of the Stanley Brouwn exhibition mens loopt op planeet aarde at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. The caption of another installation view that accompanies my review in TzK erroneously says “Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Amsterdam.” Obviously this museum is in Schiedam, not Amsterdam; it is not to be confused with the more famous Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. “Stedelijk Museum” simply means municipal museum, and there’s a bunch of those in the Netherlands, even though many (including the Stedelijk in Amsterdam) are no longer truly municipal.

Texte zur Kunst no. 108: The Idiom and Contemporaneity of Günther Förg

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Texte zur Kunst no. 108 (December 2017), which has been guest-edited by Susanne Leeb and Miriam Thomas, is out and looks very promising. It is decidated to the idiom(s) of art:

In art historical and art critical texts, the concept of “idiom” – an expression or mode of speaking that cannot be translated – is frequently used, even if it is rarely spoken of as such. TZK issue 108 explores how the idea of “idiom” might allow us to coherently engage with art’s disparate materialist and iconographic connections at a time when the vitality of historical Western-centric cannons are fading (see: Documenta 14) and the traditional relations within and among artistic systems are ever less self-evident. The “Idiom” issue of TZK asks: What languages does art speak?

My essay “Modernist Memories: On the Contemporaneity of Günther Förg” discusses the ambiguous and often contradictory reception of Förg’s reuse of forms associated with modernist idioms, in his paintings, photographs and wall paintings and installations of the 1980s and 1990s. Analysing curatorial and critical responses to his work in the Netherlands during this period, the text also discusses the current state of an institution strongly associated with Förg’s career, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, to ask the question what kind of contemporaneity Förg’s work stood and stands for, and what “contemporary art” has become in the course of the past couple of decades.

Image: photo from Förg’s 1988 Barcelona Pavillion series. Unfortunately, in the print issue a different image has recieved the wrong caption: the 1981 “Wandmalerei mit 2 Fotografien“ is incorrectly ascribed to Galerie Barbara Grässlin in Frankfurt, whereas the correct location is Galerie Rudiger Schöttle, Munich. This will be corrected in the online version.

Aesthetic Cinemarxism

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After a lengthy gestation process, Samir Gandesha and Johan Hartle’s volume Aesthetic Marx finally sees the light of day this month, courtesy of Bloomsbury (of Harry Potter fame). The book sees aesthetic questions—in the fundamental sense of issues pertaining to the body and perception, appearance and abstraction—as inherent in Marx’s work and indeed as central to it. I contributed the essay “Filming Capital: On Cinemarxism in the Twenty-first Century,” in which I discuss projects by filmmakers and artists including Sekula/Burch, Alexander Kluge, Farocki/Ehmann, Hito Steyerl and Zachary Formwalt.

Volksbühne

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In late September, the Volkbühne in Berlin was briefly occupied. For the web site of Texte zur Kunst, I wrote a short piece analysing some of the media discourse surrounding the occupation, and sounding out the implications of the action itself and its reception.

New Left Review no. 106: The Juridical Economy

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Issue no. 106 of New Left Review (July-August 2017) not only contains an exchange between Nancy Fraser and Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre on value in contemporary capitalism, but also my article “The Juridical Economy,” which is a significantly extended and developed version of my essay “Legal Forms, Value-Forms, Forms of Resistance,” which was commissioned by Contour Biennale.

Image: Forensic Architecture’s reconstruction of the murder of Halit Yozgat in Kassel (2006), commissioned by the tribunal NSU-Komplex aufklösen/HKW/Documenta 14.