Bon Dieu. Saltz catches us up on the
techno-climactic imitation-felt confluence-peddling praxus-shuffling symbolically-metaphorical thrice-divorced yet still unimaginably and singly imponderable grammatically-scientific but geographically-sociological and revolution-intolerant latest art show:
The catalogue has words in it that I didn’t know. The show is about the “precariat” and “geontopower.” I looked them up. The first word is about a generation born during a period of the greatest accumulation of wealth in the history of the world but who nevertheless live in unstable economies. It’s worth pointing out that 99 percent of all artists have always lived like this. Needless to say most of the artists included here are relatively well-off —either schooled, degreed, living in more than one city (that’s a nice racket), recipients of important grants and residencies where they do “interventions with the local communities.” This is not to say, of course, that no beneficiary of art-world largesse should feel qualified to make work involving social critique. Quite the opposite. But I want to see them walking the walk, not just posing the pose.
To define the second word, “geontopower,” the catalogue offers a dodge: “a set of discourses.” You can’t win with these people! Words like “undercommons,” “hypercapitalism,” “networked mediascapes,” and “anarcho-syndicalists” are tossed off. There’s lots of usual art-speak about art that “interrogates,” leading us to conclude that in the last 15 years the art world has gone from being undertakers proclaiming mediums dead to becoming lawyers taking depositions. In an old neo-Marxist tip of the hat, the approved word for artists is now “cultural producer.” No artist can rise to these levels of activism. Especially not very very young ones. (And these are the same people who end up writing the histories, curating the shows, teaching the courses, editing out “impurities” from bibliographies, reviewing one another’s shows, hiring colleagues for jobs.) Meanwhile, a claque of critics lauds every show and demonizes all those who don’t. It’s airtight.
There is no joy in attending a gathering of people who [ostensibly] do what you think you do but all urgency is being discussed in a language you do not understand. It could be that the end-product of the eventual combination of art and business schools is to organize an end-of-the-world exhibition where nobody comes.
The late, great Vic Chesnutt once described during a show how [chairman of Eastern Airlines] Frank Lorenzo had destroyed Vic’s dad’s life. Combined with the little of Obama’s address I’ve heard, I was reminded of Vic’s dad and how our institutional failures get neatly organized into smaller issues for which singular persons are to blame – where we are left to ask ourselves how we can fix situation X, when it was caused by something altogether different.
No, the BP oil volcano in the Gulf of Mexico is not your fault, despite what many pundits will tell you. Back in the 1960s when the environmental movement got going, major US corporations responsible for much of the nation’s pollution decided to fight it by paying for television advertising that urged individuals not to litter, thus implying that pollution is produced by anarchic individuals rather than by organized businesses. It was a crock then and it is a crock now.
You did not demand that BP consistently cut safety corners more than any other petroleum company, thus resulting in the Deepwater Horizon calamity, which could end up costing the economy of the Gulf of Mexico literally hundreds of billions of dollars this year.
How much the Gulf oil catastrophe is not your fault can more clearly be seen if we consider the ways in which a BP refinery in Indiana is threatening the Great Lakes with excess pollution.
The BP refinery received permission from the Indiana legislature to increase its ammonia and silt (infested with toxic heavy metals) output into the Lakes. The increased pollution was part of an expansion of the refinery to allow it to process Canadian tar sands. In addition, BP has illegally spewed extra benzene into the lakes (benzene is a known cause of leukemia) and has also repeatedly broken the law with regard to air pollution standards.
You did not ask BP to dump extra benzene illegally into Lake Michigan (the lakes are connected). You did not agitate in Indianapolis to permit the refinery to expand to handle tar sand, which is all by itself an ecological catastrophe. You did not demand that more ammonia and toxic metals be dumped into the lakes. None of these crimes against nature was your individual responsibility.
Rather, the Indiana legislature passed these laws because of ‘legislative capture.’ That phenomenon occurs when an industry that is supposed to be regulated by a legislature instead pays so much for political campaigns that it captures the members and proves able to write the legislation affecting its interests. Legislative capture explains almost everything that is wrong with America today, from the wars to the difficulty in expanding health care, and from inaction on climate change to the high price of prescription drugs.
Legislative capture is not your fault.
That’s the time to scratch it.