art
 and 
context
Well, Speak of the Devil!
Art World Spectacle from Dubai to Dublin

When this article was published in Circa 120 (Summer 2007) it was at the height of the Irish property boom, just before the economic crash that had such major consequences for Ireland’s government and citizens. The article was intended to highlight globalization and the effects of a new global context on Irish art.

Also at the height of their notoriety were several of the artists who participated in all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reggae, the group show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) from late 2006 to early 2007. The article suggests that an Irish audience may not be all that familiar with the artworld ‘knowingness’ that marked the show. This was prompted by some of the newspaper reportage. I focus on two of the artists: Liam Gillick and Douglas Gordon who were locally the best known of the non-Irish artists and who, like other artists associated with ‘Relational Aesthetics,’ have since settled into comfortable careers as solo artists.

Artworld Chic

Lauren Weisberger may not have made the most notable contribution to theories of the disappearance of the distinction between the real and the aesthetic (simulacrum) with her novel more recently turned Hollywood movie, The Devil Wears Prada, but she certainly added colour of an expensive variety. It is something of a platitude that the fashion industry is not for the fainthearted. But what of the art industry? Back in 1982 Ingrid Sischy and Germano Celant caused an outcry when they splashed a fashion model in an Issey Miyake ensemble across the front cover of an issue of Artforum. Incredibly by today’s standards, Sischy and Celant, predicting the reaction, took the trouble to back up their decision with an Editorial in which they challenged what they saw as the elitism of art: “In part, this issue seeks to confront artmaking that retains its autonomy as it enters mass culture at the blurred boundary of art and commerce, and partakes of the wandering multiplicities of the body of popular art.”1 Sischy and Celant interestingly locate what they see as elitism as immanent within the process of art production; with the conscious and perhaps unconscious decisions of the artist. Twenty-five years on, the art industry impinges to an incredibly greater extent on how we figure ‘art.’ The proliferation of biennales, art fairs (over 100 according to one count), and media hype, not to mention gallerists, curators, curator-dealers, curator-writers, and celebrity collectors predominate in a way that was inconceivable twenty-five years ago. Many of the ‘leading’ international art magazines take it for granted that their advertising revenue arrives as much from fashion houses as from art galleries: Prada and Paula Cooper happily co-exist in glossy colour advertisements alongside reports on art world gatherings. Sischy’s and Celant’s comments are indeed from a different era. Is it possible then to turn around their critique and ask, what, at this juncture, is at the heart of art world chic?


The art world, Pamela M. Lee writes, is in identity crisis.2 The crisis as she describes it is bound up with the art world’s relation to globalization because, on the one hand, the great expansion of art in the last decade through art fairs, biennales, mega-exhibitions and the art-dealing that emanates from these events opens possibility for non-North American and non-European artists in particular, while on the other, these very processes homogenize the art produced and are neo-colonialist in their global thrust. She goes further by arguing that the art world’s views of itself are being radically transformed by these processes yet the art world’s representations of globalization and of itself in relation to it are at best, ‘fuzzy.’ As Lee says, the art world “ still sees itself as distinct from the ‘real’ world ‘outside’ it, analogous, say, to the way that a figure is positioned in relation to its ground.” She continues, “the activities constitutive of the art world’s horizon are indivisible from the activities of globalization itself. What we treat as a given to our métier is, in fact, immanent to the processes we usually associate with the emerging transnational order.” By this account we have swapped the desire for autonomy which we have characterized as modernist for another form of insularity which Lee would now see as post-postmodernist, as, in effect, ideological “globalism”.

Lee bases her analysis of the contemporary art world on that originally put forward by Arthur Danto in the 1960s.3 While Lee updates and extends Danto’s original conception, other critics arrive at much the same conclusion from their observations and understandings of the art market. In a Panel Discussion under the blunt rubric of “Money,”4 Lane Relyea says, “ It’s easier for me to think in terms of an art economy rather than a market. Success isn’t just quantified in terms of how much a work sells for; it also is measured by how often an artist appears on the visiting-artist rosters at art schools, or how often one is commissioned to do site-specific projects at Kunsthallen and contemporary art spaces.” Where once the art market was a given—a small network of dealers, buyers and auction-houses—now that under-theorized notion (which has not featured significantly in the discourse of the art world) has opened itself up to include a much expanded set of negotiations and interactions so that the ‘art market’ looks closer to the (more theorized) concept of the ‘art world.’ In the same Panel Discussion, the sociologist Raymonde Moulin suggests that today roles within the art world are much more interchangeable than they used to be. “The interactions between economic and cultural actors are even more evident because today more than before the international contemporary art world is characterized by the interchangeability and versatility of roles. Every actor is in fact required to act at the intersection of two universes – the artistic and the economic.” Moulin argues that where the dealer previously acted as intermediary, increasingly the state of the art world today is that “new technologies and new methods of production of artworks (an economy of intermediation is being replaced by an economy of production).… It is the artist himself who enters into the circuit of supply and demand.” While more empirically-based sociologists may not agree with the intensity and extent of change over the last two decades that Moulin suggests,5 nevertheless, there is general agreement within the art world that radical transformation is taking place.6

The drift of this Panel Discussion is echoed by Julian Stallabrass, who proposes a variant on Lee’s point about “autonomy” in the performance and ideology of those directly and indirectly involved with art.7 Stallabrass describes contemporary art’s flirtations with the commercial world while at the same time he identifies a trend in which the artwork itself seems to aspire to the condition of the everyday commodity whether as object or as installation. Sylvie Fleury’s supermarket trolleys and Guillaume Bijl’s supermarkets are two such examples, according to Stallabrass. Despite the fact these artworks are close to being actually indistinguishable from the real articles in their appearance, this is not to say that art merges or will merge with commodity culture. There are institutional forces at work which protect art’s “autonomy.” In this, Stallabrass concentrates on three such forces: the market, the university, and the museum. There is a large irony winging its way here, for, in Stallabrass’s view, no matter how much art may want to abandon itself to life, or to the condition of the commodity, the uniqueness of art—that is to say, its luxury status and exchange value—is precisely what the market must sustain and expand. Similarly, the university has vested interest in maintaining the allure of art. The popularity of fine art as a student choice increases while academic jobs are seen to relate to the promotion of theorizing and jargon which have the effect of distinguishing art from other objects in the world. Again, this has the effect of elevating the special status of art.8 And for their part the museum and public galleries, according to Stallabrass, serve to mediate between the market, the university, and the art audience. The museums of contemporary art attempt to popularize some of the obscurities of market and university—try to make contemporary art more accessible—because they are public or private sponsored institutions with the remit to generate as much public appeal as possible. These days their funding depends on such ‘success.’ Stallabrass therefore understands the art market in the extended sense of Relyea and Moulin; it is continuous with the “art world” as defined by Lee. In essence then, Stallabrass believes that the old, core art market deals in luxury commodities produced by the few who manage to sell, and is destined for the few who are rich enough to buy it; art as unique object is produced in conditions which are pre-industrial and distributed in conditions where the usual market forces do not apply. To ‘modernize’ the art market will have the consequence that it will destroy art, but it is obviously not in the interests of the art world to do so. Stallabrass would argue that this contemporary form of commodity fetishism surrounding the artwork ensures an ‘autonomy’ that far exceeds the reflections on this subject of both Greenberg and Adorno in the mid-twentieth century.


In the mid-1980s a major discussion took place across the spectrum of cultural studies in the English-speaking world over Centre versus Periphery. In this discussion, the world was seen in spatial terms with power and influence emanating from political and economic centres. Within this worldview, art accumulated around the centres of capital, predominantly within the First World. While the debate was focused around the ethics of this and the worldview it represented, it was also recognition of the interface between the cultural and economic spheres. It was a debate of particular interest in Ireland which was in an identity deficit: between a colonial legacy, near insurrection in the North, and a State in the South which aspired towards neo-liberal capitalism. It was a time when the Eastern Bloc was still a presence in the world and with NATO on one side and the USSR on the other, Ireland floated on the margins between Europe and America as something of an anomaly. Northern Ireland was a bitterly divided province within the UK, while Southern Ireland was officially neutral but in reality a closet supporter of NATO. Economically, a Belfast joke of the time pointed to the city’s lowly position in the pecking order with a double-entendre that Moscow was to get a McDonald’s restaurant before Belfast. In today’s context, it is fair to say that Dubai has had an art fair before Dublin, such are the changes of the last decade.9 The so-called New World Order, or New World Disorder as some would have it, has served to inflate globalization and, as with the Cold War World Order, art has not only followed the money but has expanded exponentially in the process. The oil and gas of the Middle East allow many super-wealthy members of Arab States friendly to the West to extend their enjoyment of commodities to the purchase of Western and western-styled contemporary art. After the Gulf Art Fair which took place in Dubai earlier this year, plans are forging ahead to create the new cultural district of Saadiyat (Arabic for “isle of happiness,” according to the press releases) on an island just off Abu Dhabi. The city hasn’t hit the tourist trail in the same way as its neighbour Dubai and it is hoped that the new centre will change that. The main attraction will be a new addition to the Guggenheim chain which is to be the largest Guggenheim museum yet, designed again by ‘starchitect,’ Frank Gehry.10 Also planned are a Performance Arts Centre designed by Zaha Hadid along with a branch of the Louvre though it appears the French media response is one of dismay at the prospect of leasing out the family silver from its home in Paris for the new building in the Middle East. While this new cultural district turns out to be just part of a larger financial district for Abu Dhabi, what is more remarkable is the way in which the new Guggenheim is being compared to its predecessor at Bilbao. Prior to the Guggenheim, Bilbao was another just another, small, out of the way city. After the Guggenheim it became a tourist destination. The same is planned for Abu Dhabi where undoubtedly tourism and business will work hand-in-hand.

devil3

The Guggenheim franchise is therefore symptomatic of globalization in literally consuming peripheries. While the new museum buildings are fixed to their location, there is a category of artist who regularly attends the leading biennales and fairs and who are extremely mobile. This year sees the grandest of Grand Tours for the art world entourage: the Venice Biennale, Art Basel, Documenta at Kassel, and the Münster Sculpture Project. Even back in the 1970s the critic Peter Fuller had a word for it: BICCA, or Biennale International Club Class Art. However there is a slightly different category of artist who not only shows at leading biennales and fairs where the media glare is at a premium, but these artists also seek destinations beyond the established art centres. Since 1998 Rikrit Tiravanija has held two rice fields in a rural locality in Thailand where he and various artist and designer friends have developed projects in which the proportion of water to land mass is maintained at the same level as the human body. Another example is Philippe Parreno who has travelled to a locality in Patagonia to deliver a four-hour lecture to the inhabitants—a group of penguins. If these projects seem reminiscent of Earthworks of the late 1960s and early ‘70s where the principle intention was to get away from and attempt to defy the commodification of art as epitomized by the expansion of the commercial gallery system, this is definitively not the case. Since the mid-1990s Tiravanija and Parreno are part of a loose grouping of artists (and designers) who have worked collaboratively as well as individually with the gallery as their focal point.11 Not only do these artists collaborate in their art but several of them have helped to spearhead a tendency where artists curate other artists. It is a case of poacher turned gamekeeper.

What then are we to make of the arrival in Dublin of Parreno and Co. for all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reggae, the group show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) between November and February last? The show was curated by Parreno (along with IMMA’s Rachael Thomas), and included Parreno, Tiravanija, Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon, and several other artists in and at the margins of the main grouping of artists brought to art world prominence by curator Nicolas Bourriaud with his “relational aesthetics” thesis.12 The exhibition was an extravaganza of an installation featuring flashing lights, signage, and coloured tape. The fact that another circus, Fossett’s Circus that is, had also decamped at Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the same Grounds as IMMA, for the Christmas holiday period was probably not lost on the visual artist participants. The show, including the catalogue/book accompanying it pursued well established forms of engagement by these artists/curators. In the installation itself it was often unclear who authored what while the accompanying book of the same title rendered postmodern issues of authorship literal by the blurring of all the contents so that everything therein was nearly illegible which, at Euro 39, could be hardly regarded as value for money. It must be presumed that these decisions were a result of dialogue but it seems it was internal dialogue only because there was little attempt at standard lines of explanation via exhibition literature, etc. By the standards of the art world circuit, Dublin is a slightly off-centre location for an event such as all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reGGae, (with all due respect to the efforts of IMMA staff to bring this exhibition to Ireland). While it is possible to read these acts as a symbolic sabotage of the art market as a market based on authenticity and uniqueness, the gestures served rather to bemuse in the context of a public museum in Dublin.

In this respect I want to follow two contributions, one by Liam Gillick and the other by Douglas Gordon, for all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reGGae, (Gillick acknowledges authorship of this particular contribution, while Gordon’s piece is a reworking of an earlier, attributed installation!), who are perhaps the best known of these artists in this part of the world, and whose work has signature features that, in another context, might be described as branding. The contributions in question are not specific to the IMMA exhibition, but are on-going aspects of the work of these two artists respectively. The issues are this. Raymonde Moulin believes that where previously artists did not taint their image with the commerce of art this has changed. In this, Gillick and Gordon do not deny the nature of their careers in the art world.13 Secondly, Julian Stallabrass believes that the high-powered contemporary art museums are now commercialized to the point where the buildings are brands or logos, and the art installed in these museums is merely an accessory to the branding (installation means taking account of the location).14 These are issues which have beset contemporary art for a long time; it is over the past decade that they have intensified. Modern art does not perform the same function as architecture; as Stallabrass says elsewhere, art is useless, or, its non-functional function is its appeal outside function. Most crucially, Gillick and Gordon emerge from an avant-garde tradition where one of the main aims is the critique of artistic and social institutions and resistance to commodity culture. Admittedly this is a redundant appeal to history if we accept the Baudrillardian argument of the simulacrum, i.e. society is already aestheticized and therefore the aims of the avant-garde, as carried over to a neo- or post- avant-garde, are illusory. The issues may be clear, but the answers are not.

For the catalogue/book accompanying the IMMA show Gillick, in typically obtuse mode, has included a condensed version of an essay on methods of managing production in industry. Gillick introduces the essay in a few short paragraphs entitled “Construction of Nothing” (the short text is clear enough to be legible).15 This is the provisional title of an ongoing project of which he says, “A primary motivation remains focused on the potential of the disordered or spontaneous group once it has been abandoned or disbanded by the society. It attempts to look again at the tensions between agency and critical passivity in the face of a return to simple imperialism on the one hand and the disordered response to the contradictions inherent in trying to identify with the focus of that imperial drive.” Gillick later repeats himself in slightly different language with reference to his interest in what happens in post-industrial societies if social collapse occurs. The reprinted essay is so difficult to comprehend (blurred and recalibrated) that recourse to the original is necessary.16 The author of the essay, Hans Pruijt, presents an analysis based on empirical enquiry into models of management on the shop floor after Taylorism. The issue believe it or not is the delegation and level of decision-making allowed where team-working is introduced with the sole intention of increasing production.17 The inclusion of such a text in the context of this exhibition could be read in a number of ways. One is that it is a metaphor for decision-making processes in an exhibition where there are curators who must collaborate with artists and several artists who have already collaborated with one another both as artists and as curators. Another, more abstract reading, is that it is a metaphor for the potential utopia of artist collaboration versus the dystopia of modernization and globalization. However, Gillick situates his work more specifically than this. He poses his work as an investigation into post-industrial society. The question as to how seriously one takes the role of art in this respect is the moot question. Gillick’s work has played on concepts of the “relational” and of “equivalences”18 and as such his thinking seems to follow more closely the writings of the likes of Laclau and Mouffe than classical Marxist thought: for “versus” Gillick is likely to substitute “and.” While Gillick, like many artists and critics, is coy on his theoretical sources, he seems to seek accommodations with traditional oppositions and contradictions as his comment that Hans Pruijt, who to all intents and purposes operates in a different world, offers possibility for “exchange” would suggest. Like all such collaborations one wonders, on whose terms? Pamela M. Lee’s comments on the “autonomy” of the art world looms large here, and serves as a reminder that Gillick’s work is more utopian than he would have us believe—while at the same time acknowledging the more explicitly commercial dealings entailed with his work.

devil2

The Douglas Gordon piece in all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reGGae I want to highlight is the text which was applied to the ceiling of the entrance to the so-called New Buildings which housed one of the two main sections of the exhibition at IMMA. Entitled Above all else the text, in white against silver ground, read “WE ARE EVIL”. The starkness of the phrase evokes the Pentecostal fundamentalism familiar in Northern Ireland, and presumably familiar to Gordon with his upbringing in Scotland. “WE ARE EVIL” is the inverse of the absolutist, pre-modern messages that are crudely and starkly painted on hoardings beside roads and churches for many decades. In these evil is an invisible referent; the iconoclasm works in a way where goodness has the potential to be embodied. “Repent Ye Sinners” is an invocation to the individual to become visible in the eyes of God. Gordon reverses this. The positioning of the piece—just beyond the threshold of the entrance—serves almost like a juvenile joke on the crossing over into the hallowed ground of a church. But then Gordon’s work is enmeshed in mass cultural forms and cinema in particular. For example, Darkness and Light (After William Blake) (1997) is a video-projection which overlaps the films The Song of Bernadette with The Exorcist, thus creating a “third image” which combines the Devil and the Virgin Mary thus employing the imagery of Catholicism. Gordon sees these as co-existing quite comfortably in formal and conceptual terms. Morality tales of possession, good versus evil, are transmogrified onto celluloid and into digital. The body becomes transparent. Even in the feature-length film, Zidane: a 21st century portrait (2006), co-directed by Gordon and Philippe Parreno, where the subject is the soccer player Zinédine Zidane, the concentration is on the aesthetics created through filming with many high definition cameras which at one point is contrasted with the blurred qualities of the TV screen as the football match is broadcast using more modest cameras. Even here the visceral nature of the sport gives way to the aesthetics of perception. There is a brief interlude in Zidane where a voice-over relates incidents from the significant to the insignificant that occurred during the day the football match took place. The sweep is comparable to a Gordon exhibition catalogue for MoMA in New York, photographs which operate as a flick-book. Approximately half is of Gordon’s work, but the other half reads as the iconography of the past half century.19 Individually the photographs record incidents that are seen as momentous; collectively the photographs are mesmerizing—our collective (Western) histories, as defined through our mass media, passing before us.

There is perhaps repetition and memory at play in Gordon’s thinking towards all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reggae. A number of his contributions to the catalogue and to the show refer back to an early residency at IMMA, an interrupted stay in the early 1990s in association with four other Scottish artists. This culminated in a group exhibition in 1992, which, suggestively, was entitled Guilt by Association.20 We can take from this that concepts of good and evil already played a part in Gordon’s practice from the early part of his career. It was in 1991 that the piece, Above all else, was originally installed in the Serpentine Gallery in London. In that installation the text “WE ARE EVIL” was written in black against the white ground of the ceiling. This was almost reversed for the IMMA repeat of 2006-07, bar the silver ground. What is more striking though in regard to this history is the difference as much as the similarities in conception between the two exhibitions. The catalogue for Guilt by Association begins with two overlapping texts, one by the artist-critic invited to write a catalogue essay, Thomas Lawson, and the other, collectively written by the artists. Both are self-reflexive. Later, in discussion with Lawson, Gordon explains how the group had come to IMMA, via a proposal for a project at the Orchard Gallery in Derry. Gordon says, “In the mid/late 80s the issue of ART in relation to PLACE in relation to INTERNATIONAL art practice was an engaging focus for any young artist who wanted to shift his/her practice from a provincial forum to an international dialogue. … Derry was/is an ancient site whose interface with modernism was/is scant: suddenly the Artists, the Armalite, and the Nikon arrived along with a whirlwind of postmodern theory. Absolutely a classic.… Dublin was always going to be difficult in comparison.… What we decided we wanted to do was to realize work in Dublin that we could not make elsewhere and that would change the work we had done elsewhere. I think our strength is to indicate, as opposed to highlight, the presumptions and expectations that are relative to any context.” While the mediations of the mass media are already very present in Gordon’s thinking, “place” is still a concrete thing where concrete relations can be engaged. Yet “place” is the inferior relation to “international.” The centre/periphery opposition goads Gordon, its inequalities are a stark social, cultural, and political issue; but Gordon believes that with the right will art can cross the divide between provincial and international through the media. By the time all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reggae comes along, the nature of the divide has changed. The spatial relations of place envisaged in 1992 have evaporated just as surely as in the intervening years the money markets now operate through digital interactions. In so far as there is no connection with place, except as memory in Gordon’s case, the later exhibition could be anywhere. Gillick’s work is a symptom of this (he would say, also critique); he locates this as the condition of post-industrial society. In so far as all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reggae is an off-centre exhibition in relation to the art circuit, it is as if a group of post-avantgarde artists who have the freedom to make certain choices decide to bring news of the globalized condition to a venue where the audience, generally speaking, may not yet be familiar with the terms of the discussion (patronizing as the suggestion might be).


Where Liam Gillick’s installations look as bland as the social structures they reference, Douglas Gordon’s work most usually uses imagery from mass culture. Where Gillick employs discourse to attempt to generate critique, Gordon aims to use his chosen media to cut through the conventions of the symbolic in order to, in Lacanian terms, allow the play of ‘the real’ and its traumatic effects.21 This discussion has concentrated on the context of the artwork but what of the image itself? Dore Bowen in a discussion of works by several artists who have used appropriation as method writes, “appropriation involves staging a confrontation with memory.”22 According to Bowen, Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (1993) involves “third memory” because the digital manipulation whereby Hitchcock’s Psycho is radically slowed down to extend over approximately 24 hours, is another malleable layer to the original and memories of it, the memories the context of the film evoke, and the new piece which itself evokes. Bowen, developing Jonathan Crary’s writings, sees the development of digital imagery as another stage of the Society of the Spectacle23 which through artists and their audiences has potential for resistance not least because digitalization is so extensive—is part of the endless information flow of globalization—that the image may no longer be separate from the body (separation as the negation of life experience in Debord’s analysis). This optimistic view of the spectacle as the aesthetic seduction of the commodity world can be also appropriated for purposes of exposure of its allure as inauthentic and involves the retrieval of time and history which are lost in the spectacle. This is where Bowen sees the intervention of memory as constructed and reconstructed in a work such as 24 Hour Psycho. Just as she is keen to stress the potential of the digital to exceed the commodity because it is so extensive and available, so she emphasizes the physical scale of Gordon’s piece: “The installation consists of a suspended screen, 20 feet wide, set diagonally in the middle of the gallery.” In other words, these are not normal viewing conditions; it is “a public manifestation” rather than a private experience.

Where Bowen is perhaps too anxious to find a positive line of enquiry in the work she examines, what of other digital work where spectacle is addressed more directly? In 2005 at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York, Thomas Ruff showed three digital images which had been appropriated from the Internet. Ruff has changed these images merely by blowing them up to the extent that the pixelated grids are all that can be seen at close quarters and were printed as such. These are images of the Twin Towers burning before their collapse on September 11. Where Gordon’s appropriations are from mass media fictions, Ruff appropriates from the most spectacular event of recent history but blows up the artificial nature of the medium in the process. Eleanor Heartney offers an account of these appropriations: “ Ruff is engaged in an exploration of how mechanically produced images establish and undermine visual meaning.… Abstracted in this way, the scene takes on an almost romantic beauty, bringing to mind Turner’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament in flames.”24 Heartney believes that the beauty is “incidental” to Ruff’s purpose which is to point to the artifice of the image. This may seem extraordinary in the circumstances, that it is the artifice which excites, not the horrific reality of what the images depict. J.J. Charlesworth25 has referred to “the cold, sceptical empiricism of Thomas Ruff.” Charlesworth’s view can sit alongside Heartney’s “romantic beauty” in so far as the doubleness of spectacle is evoked. On the one hand there is the precision attributed to Ruff’s training in photographic technique under Bernd and Hilla Becher typified in the emotion-less detail of his Portraits series, on the other, images he has pulled from the Internet which are blurred, imprecise whether the soft-porn of the Nudes series or the September 11 event.

The stark nature of Ruff’s so-called “jpegs” tends to close rather than open discussion. For a Western audience the moments of the destruction of the Twin Towers seem as fixed in the memory as the extended shower murder sequence in 24 Hour Psycho, but magnified from the level of a fiction to the level of the nightmare of a real event in its Western version. For all that Ruff is extreme in his return to this event—by the almost unmediated, re-presented image—that will fascinate and perhaps, provoke, in the apparently cold way the most traumatic moments in recent Western history is repeated, there is nothing about these images which counters Stallabrass’s arguments that there is anything intrinsic to fine art that sets it off as superior in terms of its insights about our-selves. In the end, Stallabrass believes, we turn to art because we continue to have an expectation that it is indeed special even if, in reality, our expectations of this are rarely met. Stallabrass, with reference to Benjamin Buchloh, suggests there is still, “ a democratic ideal of culture in which the public defines and comes to see itself. The ghosts of those ideals still cling to the arts…”26 Yet this is too simple. It implies that these ghosts will continue to linger. A recent book analysing September 11 and events since, most particularly the ongoing war in Iraq, gives a much more pessimistic view of spectacle and Western society. The book, written by members of a group calling itself Retort, is entitled Afflicted Powers after a line from John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost.27 “Afflicted Powers” refers to both the perpetrators and the target (the Towers as symbols at the heart of capitalism and its political order) of September 11, and is intended to highlight the afflictions within both sides and how both are involved in the same process of globalization. The authors insist the book is written by materialists who wish to revive Debord’s original conception that the spectacle and everyday life, which have come to be seen separately, indeed need one another. The authors believe commodification to be total. They write, “no-one should leap to the conclusion that ‘materiality’ in this case equals capitalism, whereas ‘spectacle’ is a disembodied image-world, or a realm of internalized (impalpable) representations. Spectacle is an exertion of social power. It does violence to human actors just as much as does the discipline of the production line.”28

Notes and References
  1. Editorial, Artforum, Vol. XX No. 6 (February 1982), p. 34.
  2. Pamela M. Lee, “Boundary issues: the art world under the sign of globalism,” Artforum, Nov. 2003, pp. 164-167. Lee’s synopsis of the art world is as follows: “ the conventional understanding of the term ‘art world’ betrays a set of prejudices under threat by the very global conditions the contemporary art world seeks to represent. In common parlance, the ‘art world’ signifies a society of individuals and institutions—a social, cultural, and economic world organized around museums, galleries, and the art press and the legions of artists, critics, collectors, curators, and audiences who have truck with such sites. The image of this world is typically one of gala openings and social privilege—at once a specialized community and the locations that community would occupy (the New York art world, for example, or the gallery scene in Los Angeles)—and decidedly Eurocentric in its orientation.”
  3. Arthur Danto, “The Artworld,” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 61 No. 19 (1964), pp. 571-584.
  4. “Talk: Rainer Ganahl, Paul Mattrick, Raymonde Moulin, Lane Relyea, Richard Schiff, Katy Siegel” in Katy Siegel and Paul Mattick, eds., Money. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004, pp. 181-193.
  5. See David Hesmondhalgh, 2002, The Cultural Industries, London: Sage.
  6. See for example Panel Discussion moderated by James Meyer, introduced by Tim Griffin, “ Global tendencies: globalism and the large-scale exhibition,” Artforum, Nov. 2003 pp. 153-163, 206.
  7. Julian Stallabrass, Art Incorporated: the story of contemporary art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Like Raymonde Moulin, Stallabrass refers back to Pierre Bourdieu for his structural analysis, rather than to Danto.
  8. This is an underdeveloped aspect of Stallabrass’s thesis. The contemporary university in the UK, Stallabrass’s habitat, but more particularly at present the Irish university, is more subject to the model of the private sector than it is to the traditional university ethos of the development of knowledge for its own sake.
  9. The new art fair in Dublin, Art 07, took place in May as part of Interior Design 07. See Peter FitzGerald’s interview with the organiser, Helen Mason, in Circa No. 119, pp. 38-41.
  10. Gehry has enthused about the unique opportunity offered by the “possible resource to accomplish” such a building: “‘Approaching the design of the museum for Abu Dhabi made it possible to consider options for design of a building that would not be possible in the United States or in Europe,’ said Gehry. ‘It was clear from the beginning that this had to be a new invention. The landscape, the opportunity, the requirement, to build something that people all over the world would come to and the possible resource to accomplish it opened tracks that were not likely to be considered anywhere else.’” Posted at http://www.dezeen.com 31 January, 2007.
  11. These are the artists associated with curator Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept of Relational Aesthetics. The two artists discussed here, Liam Gillick and Douglas Gordon, in the context of a somewhat pretentious piece of correspondence between the two which was originally published in 1997, makes reference to their gallery affiliations. Gillick says of Gordon and his work: “what could be described as an aestheticization of trauma and reassurance has been combined with an on-going desire to acknowledge his position as a self-conscious artist working within the specific power structure of the art world.” (Liam Gillick, “A Correspondence between Douglas Gordon and Liam Gillick: sailing alone around the world,” in Liam Gillick Proxemics: selected writings (1988-2006) , Zurich and Dijon: JRP/Ringier/Les Presses du réel, p. 187.
  12. The exhibition literature lists the artists, Bas Jan Ader, Doug Aitken, Carles Congost, Keren Cytter, Thomas Demand, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Jim Lambie, Sarah Lucas, Jorge Pardo, Phillippe Parreno, Garrett Phelan, Paola Pivi, Eva Rothschild, Anri Sala, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Cerith Wyn Evans. Others, who in one way or another contributed, are also listed. The exhibition title is explained as an anagram in English and Irish for ‘New Galleries,’ the building in which one section was installed. Some of the literature also has a full-stop at the start of the title: “ .all hawaii eNtrées/luNar reggae .
  13. Ibid.
  14. “If the building which houses the works has become an exceptional logo…so the museum’s contents are implicitly branded too, even by the labelling and interpretative material.” Stallabrass, op. cit., pp. 145-46.
  15. All hawaii eNtrées/luNar reGGae, Milano: Charta/Irish Museum of Modern Art, pp. 88-89.
  16. Hans Pruijt, “Teams between Neo-Taylorism and Anti-Taylorism,” Economic and Industrial Democracy, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 77-101.
  17. It should be pointed out that these models of team-working have been adopted in Ireland for the public sector, which of course includes 3 rd level education. The reduction of education to a production line has long served as metaphor with which to criticise the philistinism of successive governments’ attitude to higher education, but increasingly the reality surpasses the metaphor.
  18. While the former can be related to Bourriaud’s “relational aesthetics,” the latter is from Gillick’s recent, on-going series of exhibitions and seminars around the title, “Short Texts on the Possibility of Creating an Economy of Equivalence.”
  19. Douglas Gordon: Timeline, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2006.
  20. Guilt by Association, exhibition catalogue, Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, 1992, unpaginated. The artists in the exhibition were Christine Borland, Roderick Buchanan, Douglas Gordon, Kevin Henderson, and Craig Richardson.
  21. Gordon’s best known work remains 24 Hour Psycho (1993). By stretching Hitchcock’s film, Psycho , to 24 hours, the now familiar sequence of the murder in the shower is changed. We know the original scene but, by rendering it unfamiliar, it becomes possible to experience the shock anew.
  22. Dore Bowen, “Imagine There’s No Image (It’s Easy If You Try): Appropriation in the Age of Digital Reproduction,” in Amelia Jones, ed. A Companion to Contemporary Art since 1945, Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell 2006, pp. 534-556.
  23. Guy Debord’s hugely influential Society of the Spectacle first published in 1967. Bowen explains Debord’s spectacle thus: “For Debord the reified image is part of a larger phenomenon—the spectacle. The spectacle is, while an image, also a symptom of the alienation that it seeks to conceal. …Debord repeatedly warns that the spectacle—those images produced by and for capitalist profit—erodes and feeds on authentic experience. …the spectacle is… ‘ affirmation of appearance and an affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance.’…separation ‘ has become visible.’ This appearance, this visible form is, however, illusory; it is the separation (negation) of life experience,” (Bowen, 2006, pp. 536-537).
  24. Eleanor Heartney, “Thomas Ruff at David Zwirner,” Art in America, June 2005, p. 173.
  25. J.J. Charlesworth, “Reality Check,” Art Monthly, No. 262 (Dec. 2002/Jan. 2003), pp. 7-9.
  26. Stallabrass, op. cit., p. 149.
  27. Retort (Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews, and Matthew Watts), 2005, Afflicted Powers: capital and spectacle in a new age of war, London and New York: Verso.
  28. Ibid, p. 15.