2019-2020 seminar Ghalya Saadawi: Contemporary Art and Discontent II

Participating students in their first year: Csilla Klenyanszki, Kari Rosenfelt, line kramer, Raul Sebastian Silva; and in their second year: Hanna O’Flynn, Harun Morrison, Wilf Speller, Zoi Moutsokou, Iva Kovač, Assem Hendawi

About Ghalya Saadawi

Contemporary Art and Discontent II from Month to Month

Contemporary Art and Discontent II

“Today’s ubiquity of critique, and the inconsistencies of its value commitments in contemporary art, appear as horizon-less norms and crisis conditions at the same time. This status quo is normal because a schism between art’s ethico-functional dimension of value, and its socio-institutional and economic infrastructures, is where the power of the contemporary art paradigm as a mostly unwitting—or disavowing—accomplice to free market economics and global liberalism lies” -- Ivanova, Victoria. Art’s Values: A Détente, A Grande Plié.

“To ask fundamental questions about art without asking about its relation to capitalism is simply not to ask fundamental questions about art.” Martin, Stewart. A Short Treatise On Art. 

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Marx, Karl. Theses on Feuerbach.


Contemporary Art and Discontent I, the previous iteration of How To Do Things with Theory, began with short quotes by Karl Marx, Victoria Ivanova and the novelist Zadie Smith as prompts for our seminar on the category of Contemporary Art. Bearing in mind the proposition for all theory seminars, how to do things with theory, our position and method on Contemporary Art was to undertake it as a set of axioms and relations that allows us to better grasp the lifeworld it both enables and operates within, and to see its inherent contradictions as mirroring those of a world order that in return enables it. This included an investigation of the time “the contemporary,” the disjuncture between CA’s claims and its operations, its relationship to theories of globalization and transnationalism, and the human rights regime, as well as remarks on design and mapping theories. 

A statement presumably founded on the relation between theory and praxis, we want “doing things with theory” to stand not for cherry-picking theory without implication, but to help in understanding the interrelation of theory with practice, wherever possible. In view of critique recuperation by Contemporary Art as we understand it, and the disjuncture between theory and practice, we find ourselves in a quandary. These are some of the problems—how CA’s claims deny or affirm what it, in effect, is co-constituted by and extends—we will continue to explore in Part II. 

In five seminars and to be specified nodes, our work will travel back and forth searching for a dialectical foundation on which to propose, through the theory/praxis relation (in culture and outside it), a critique of Contemporary Art’s implication in said devolution of critique and theory. Through specific seminar themes, we turn to, among other things, critical theory, Pierre Bourdieu, and contemporary post-Marxist critiques of Art as its appears and operates “today,” in this totality. 


Suggested Bibliography:

Adorno, Theodor W. “Critique,” in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. Translated by Henry W. Pickford. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998: 281-288.

Beech, Dave, Christoph Cox, Sami Khatib, John Roberts and Marina Vishmidt. “Realism Today?” Web roundtable edited by Octavian Esanu, Art Margins 7, no. 1 (2018): 58-82.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature.  Edited and introduced by Randal Johnson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993: Selections.

Gasché, Rodolphe. The Honor of Thinking: Critique, Theory, Philosophy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007: selections from Part I and II.

Gielen, Pascal. The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude: Global Art, Politics and Post-Fordism. Amsterdam: Valiz, 2015: Selections. 

Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry Into the Origins of Cultural Change. Cambridge MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 1992: Selections from parts I, III and IV.

Iles, Anthony and Marina Vishmidt. “Make Whichever You Find Work.” Variant 41 (Spring 2011): 54-59. 

Ivanova, Victoria. “Art’s Values: A Détente, A Grande Plié.” Parse Journal 2 (November, 2015). http://parsejournal.com/article/arts-values-a-detente-a-grand-plie/. 

Malik, Suhail. “Civic Virtue in Neoliberalism and Contemporary Art’s Cartelisation.” In Istanbul Biennial 13 Catalogue. Istanbul: IKSV, 2013: 630-652.

Malik, Suhail. “Boom without end? Liquidity, Critique and the Art Market.” Mute 2 #6 (September, 2007): 92-99.

Moreno, Gene. “Introduction.” In In the Mind but Not from There: Real Abstraction and Contemporary Art. Edited by Gene Moreno. London and New York: Verso, 2019: 1-15.

Stewart, Martin. “Short Treatise on Art,” in Aesthetics and Contemporary Art edited by Armen Avanessian and Luke Skrebowski. Berlin: Strernberg Press, 2011: 146-157.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” New Left Review 1, nr. 82 (November-December 1973): 3-16.