“Artistic Ruins”?

John Stezaker, 2005, Cinema 1 II (Collage)

Jerry Saltz writes an accurate indictment of the visual art world in this week’s New York Magazine. His argument—contemporary art “contains safe rehashing of received ideas about received ideas”—just might apply to the theater: are we muddled in “a melancholic romance with artistic ruins, homesick for a bygone era”?

The full article can be found here; read on to check out excerpts…

I went to Venice, and I came back worried. Every two years, the central attraction of the Biennale is a kind of State of the Art World show. This year’s, called “Illuminations,” has its share of high points and artistic intensity… Yet many times over—too many times for comfort—I saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar… It’s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress, where everyone is deconstructing the same elements.

There’s always conformity in art—fashions come in and out—but such obsessive devotion to a previous generation’s ideals and ideas is very wrong. It suggests these artists are too much in thrall to their elders, excessively satisfied with an insider’s game of art, not really making their own work. That they are becoming a Lost Generation.

Our culture now wonderfully, alchemically transforms images and history into artistic material. The possibilities seem endless and wide open. Yet these artists draw their histories and images only from a super-attenuated gene pool. It’s all-parsing, all the time. Their art turns in on itself, becoming nothing more than coded language. It empties their work of content, becoming a way to avoid interior chaos. It’s also a kind of addiction and, by now, a new orthodoxy, one supported by institutions and loved by curators who also can’t let go of the same glory days.

… A feedback loop has formed; art is turned into a fixed shell game, moving the same pieces around a limited board. All this work is highly competent, extremely informed, and supremely cerebral. But it ends up part of some mannered International School of Silly Art.

… This generation of artists is the first to have been so widely credentialed, and its young members so fetishize the work beloved by their teachers that their work ceases to talk about anything else. Instead of enlarging our view of being human, it contains safe rehashing of received ideas about received ideas. This is a melancholy romance with artistic ruins, homesickness for a bygone era. This yearning may be earnest, but it stunts their work, and by turn the broader culture.

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