In-situ classroom shot (with guest lecturer)

For one of our last lectures this summer, I was lucky to have the artist and creative consultant Carson Salter Skype in a guest lecture for the section called "Artist as Entrepreneur? Post-Critical Art and The (Ironic) Embrace of Finance and Consumer Culture." Here's an action shot of us setting up the projector, with Carson and his slide show pictured in the top corner, me in the foreground consuming the drink of champions, Diet Coke, and a few of my students behind me.


Teaching Contemporary Art to Undergraduates

design by Camille Ten Horn
I have wrapped up teaching "Art, Money and Labor in Art and Art Criticism from 1830 to Today” (ARTH 290-02/ ECON 390-02 Special Topics) for summer session 1 at Duke. The aim of the course was to explore how the contradiction between artistic ethics and monetary value has been expressed in art criticism and studio practice from the nineteenth century onwards, integrated as it was into polemical writings and the theoretical percepts of artistic production. Topics covered in this course included debates over art and craft, representations of artistic and non-artistic labor, avant-garde critiques of the art object, institutional critique, the “art market critique,” relational aesthetics and affective labor, conceptual and non-commercial art works, and 'net art.' Readings were culled from historical as well as contemporary sources, including the writings of Karl Marx, Immanuel Kant, John Ruskin, Guy de Bord, Lucy Lippard, Boris Groys, Claire Bishop, and Claire Fontaine.

Though every teaching experience is a learning experience, during this course I learned two important things.

1. The first is to trust your students. Though I had originally conceived of this course as an advanced-level seminar, I had to lessen the reading load when I saw that few of my enrolled students had taken an art history class before. To do this while still providing a rigorous course load was hard, l but I decided to give my students the credit they deserved and kept the tough stuff in to see how they would deal with it. It sounds intuitive, but this was made easier by devoting the beginning of the course and to a very select group of theorists and key concepts: Kant, Marx, Benjamin, and historical narratives of art history given by Peter Bürger. Spending a generous amount of class time on crucial themes and key terms helped pave the way for understanding, and by the end of the course students felt comfortable with terms like "autonomy" and "labor theory of value" which, we all know, are ubiquitous in contemporary art readings.

2. My course was originally intended to be a  "special topics" course focused on critiques of commodity capitalism in the arts, but I quickly discovered that the class functioned just as well as an introduction to the history of modern and contemporary art, that is, that one can provide a very compelling narrative of modern and contemporary art through this single thread of inquiry. 


Divine reads Cahiers du cinéma in Polyester (1981)

Divine reads Cahiers du cinéma in Polyester (1981)


"The rest of the book is too mediocre to occupy us."

Exam reading. The cracking wit of an otherwise bone-dry study of French aesthetic theory – Histoire de l'Esthétique Française 1700-1900 (1920).

... The rest of the book is too mediocre to occupy us....:
... His aesthetic is grounded on absolutely nothing; therefore all the criticisms we can heap on Cousin, we can repeat with even more severity when judging the aesthetic of Lamennais... :
 .... We could not cite the passages in which this [ aftorementioned] idea is developed, because one would have to copy the entire book....

This scholar Théodore M. Mustoxidi was author of only one other book – Qu'est-ce que la mode? also of 1920. 


Cynicism and Culturepreneurship

 Aleksandra Mir being interviewed here on how the 'prophecies' of her book, Corporate Mentality (2003, pdf) are being fulfilled ten years later through cultural entrepreneurship courses, much like the one being created at my own university, and the one she mentions here:

"...I recently learned that the art school Central Saint Martins is offering a graduate degree in 'Innovation Management,' with the purpose to 'synthesize opportunities.' This is perhaps the closest to the Ford and Davies 1998 Art Futures prediction of the Culturepreneur. I find it hilarious that we have arrived at this. It is a symptom of an ever growing culture industry with lots of room for middle managers in it of course. Yet, I believe that no matter what forces or structures are in place, the art itself still always stems from a sensitive and delicate source, willing to take risks and thrive, not thanks to, but despite the odds." 

Whereas contemporary artist collectives like K-HOLE or DIS magazine follow after collectives like the NE Thing Co, General Idea or Bernadette Corporation in their parody of corporate structures and jingoism (what writer Huw Lemmey calls the "language of dickheads") what distinguishes them is their apparent willingness to enter fully into the world they parody and profit from it – staking out a position of critique and at the same time profiting from that position when ostensibly selling their cultural savvy back to clients.  In light of what critics have called the 'capitalist realism' of today's contemporary art, and its negative image – the well-intentioned "girl meets oil" cases of the corporate world – the point past which all differences between sincerity and cynicism can no longer be restored is both poetic and horrific territory.


"Art, Conflict & The Politics of Memory" Part I


Part I of the Art, Art History & Visual Studies Doctoral Student Speaker Series, "Art Conflict and the Politics of Memory," organized by Ivana Bago, Laura Moure Cecchini and I. Link here. Photos below.
Duke Professor Esther Gabara speaking with Dartmouth Professor Mary K. Coffey about her fantastic paper on Meso-American prophecy, José Clementé Orozco (details of his mural above), and Walter Benjamin.

Duke Professor Pedro Lasch Syking with the activist and artist Milica Tomić. Below,
Milica Tomić,  “Container” image from a Forensic Performance –(Re) Construction of the Crime.


Some heartening (?) thoughts c/o Deleuze the night before I leave for the CAA Conference.

       Art is just territorial pissing,
  ....or some other sort of angry display.
and talking is dirty.... But nothing is so shameful as the intellectuals who travel only to do so.


oldest trick in the book

Waking lion from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) 


We are not the ones using obscure language: intellectuals in Godard's La Chinoise

So this means you're leaving the university?
Leaving if you want. I'm breaking with a widespread attitude....

Isn't Vietnam an actor? Yes, Vietnam.
We are not the ones using obscure language! It's our society which hermetic and closed....


Emergency Currency

I get excited about banknotes but more exciting than official banknotes are emergency banknotes. From the days when Germans used wheelbarrows as purses: 
Steinburg, 5 Marks, 1918

"Notgeld (emergency currency) was issued by cities, boroughs, even private companies while there was a shortage of official coins and bills. Nobody would pay in coins while their nominal value was less than the value of the metal. And when inflation went on, the state was just unable to print bills fast enough. Some companies couldn't pay their workers because the Reichsbank just couldn't provide enough bills. So they started to print their own money - they even asked the Reichsbank beforehand. As long as the Notgeld was accepted, no real harm was done and it just was a certificate of debt. Often it was even a more stable currency than real money, as sometimes the denomination was a certain amount of gold, dollars, corn, meat, etc."

These are all from the flickr site of Miguel Oks. 
(Thanks to Michael Shick for sending these my way).


Whole Earth to Whole Foods

My growing collection of tracts and manuals from the yippie and intentional communities movements from the seventies was recently entered into a Rare Book Competition at Duke. My collection, most of which I'd picked up in used book-shops, included Jerry Rubin’s Do it! (1970), Viktoras Kulvinskas’ paranoiac Survival into the 21st Century (1975) Robert de Ropp’s meticulously detailed homesteading manual, Eco-Tech (1975), and of course Stuart Brand’s meta-database The Whole Earth Catalog (1971) which is currently the conceit for a great exhibition curated by Diedrich Diederichsen and Anselm Franke at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

In my statement I wanted to explain my appeal for these books, describing my interest in the "how-to" manual as a genre. As the ancestor of the homesteading manual and the precursor of the DIY zine (or now, more generically, about.com) the "manual" quite radically cuts out the middle-man and the expenses of training.

However, I also wanted to show the other secret attraction of these books, which is that the manual also allows for the formation of an alternative identity, functioning as an aide in self-actualization/ transformation.

Ironically, it is to this very radical movement of intentional communities that we owe the greenwashed environmentalism of today. I stressed that perhaps the manuals were almost too effective, and that eventually, the radical subjectivities associated with the intentional communities movement were commodified, its fonts and design sensibilities were raided. The middle man was brought back into the picture, not as Whole Earth but as "Whole Foods".


Société Anonyme

The art collected from 1920-1940 by the Société Anonyme, Inc. (Duchamp, Man Ray and Katherine Dreier) is on display now at the The Yale University Art Gallery.


The Principle of Mimicry

When held in hand, one barely notices the difference between these two coins minted by successive French political regimes – the July Monarchy (1830-1848) and the Second Republic (1848-1852). In the latter (the coin from 1851)the young Marianne  (allegory of the Republic) cuts a similar profile to that of her monarchic foil, the double-chinned King Louis Philippe, Duc d'Orleans. Likewise, on the tails side, the only difference with the new Republican coin is the slogan: " Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité."


Art Farce, Salon des Independents, 1910.

Et le soleil s'endormait sur l'adriatique by J.R. Boronali (1910)

"J.R. Boronali" and the painting in progress. 
Bottom image and caption from The Art World, May 1917.


Modernism, the young John Maynard Keynes, and the art market

Merve Emre describes how writings on art by Bloomsbury member and patron John Maynard Keynes can be seen as adumbrations of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) at The Modernism Lab


Kanga translations

            More on Kanga at the British Museum website.


Having a Telephone is Boring. Not Having a Telephone is Boring

I applaud all ideas, but nothing else, only the ideas interest me and not what gravitates around them, profiting from ideas disgusts me. "One has to live," you tell me? You know as well as I that our existence is short compared to the profit one can gain from an invention; we're on the earth since the day before yesterday and we'll die tomorrow. Cubism was born one morning only to die that evening, then Dada appeared and was, actually, just as ephemeral. The evolution continues; some person will find the name of a new package for a bygone spirit, and so forth.

The Dada spirit only really existed from 1913 to 1918, an era during which it
never stopped evolving and transforming itself. After that time, it became as
uninteresting as the output of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts or the static elucubrations
offered by the Nouvelle Revue Francaise and certain members of the Institute. In the
attempt to prolong its life, Dada has closed in upon itself. I am sorry if, with these
lines, I'm wounding friends whom I love dearly, or disturbing certain colleagues
who perhaps are counting on a profit from Dadaism!

I couldn't tell you what will happen at this point; all I can assure you is that
our state of mind is not the same as it was from 1913 to 1920 (if you like), and that consequently it will show itself differently. Don't think that I'm standing in my shirtsleeves at midnight in July, contemplating the moon, don't worry, I have my good sense-if there is such a thing as good sense! What I am sure of is that it is impossible to stop movement. Money itself has value-or it doesn't; paper would perhaps be worth more than gold if it were given to me to discover gold mines as large as the coal pits of Cardiff. People class individuals into two categories: "unserious" and "serious."No one until now has been able to explain to me what a serious man is. I will make the attempt here myself. I think that you call a man serious when he is able to provide for his neighbors, his family, his friends, on condition that to these ends he put the interest on his capital to work. An unserious man is one who confuses interest with capital, and doesn't seek to make dollars with his ideas-from an artistic viewpoint, a copyist at the Louvre will always be more serious than I am! Dada, you see, was not serious, and that is why it won over the world like wildfire. If some people take it seriously now, that's because it's dead! Many people will call me a killer, but they're deaf and shortsighted. Anyway, there are no killers; are tuberculosis and typhoid killers? Are we in control of our lives? In my opinion, there is only one killer, the one who created the world. But, since no one created the world, there are no killers, Dada will live forever! And thanks to that, art dealers will make their fortune, publishers will treat themselves to cars, writers will get the Legion of Honor, and I ... will stay Francis Picabia!

One must be a nomad, traveling through ideas as one travels through countries and cities, eating parakeets and hummingbirds, swallowing live marmosets, sucking the blood of giraffes, feeding on the feet of panthers! One must sleep with gulls, dance with a boa constrictor, make love with heliotropes, and wash one's feet in vermilion! One must disguise church interiors as ocean liners and ocean liners as artichokes with cream, make statues come out of the sea and recite verses to passing steamers, go out naked then put on a tuxedo at home; one must hear confessors' confessions, never again see the people one knows, above all, never put the same woman twice in one's bed, unless one has a mistress who cheats on you every day with a new lover! All that is a lot easier than the faith of a copper- smith, who always laughs at what's funny and finds black dark and white light. The coppersmith warms up in the sun because he's cold; don't be cold, and you'll see how much the sun looks like rain!

Existence is tolerable really only on condition that one lives among people who have no ulterior motives, no opportunists, but that would be asking the impossible...Talent doesn't exist, masterpieces are just documents, truth is the pivot on the scale. Everything is boring, no? Falling leaves are boring, new leaves are boring, heat is boring, cold is boring. Grandfather clocks that don't chime are boring, those that do chime are boring. Having a telephone is boring, not having a telephone is boring. People who die are boring, just as are those who don't! Look how badly the world is put together, why doesn't our brain have the force of our desires? But all that matters very little, paintings in museums are masterpiece- fossils. A man is called tasteful because he shares the taste of others; for you, life is a guitar on which one plucks only the same tune forever. 

Translated by Matthew S. Witkovsky.
Francis Picabia, "M. Picabia se sépare des dadas," Comoedia, May 11, 1921, reprinted in Francis Picabia, Ecrits 2, ed. Olivier Revault d'Allonnes (Paris: P. Belfond, 1978), pp. 14-15.