Artforum’s actual readership—mainstream gallerists, parents of art students who never changed their mailing address, and coffee table owners—has pretty much been silent. They’re not a crowd, by nature, that sets itself to long internet arguments about the state of art today. But we shouldn’t forget that they are for whom Bishop was writing: a great analog horde who can hear the digital apocalypse coming but don’t know which way to run. Rather than reading Bishop’s article as ignorant navel-gazing from art’s ruling class, we should read it for what it is: a proposal for change, the beginnings of a pivot, and a way for mainstream art to claim it’s moving forward without either making everything free (because of digital reproducibility) or lolcats (because lol).
Take the growing ubiquity of selection as a creative act. We know it’s valuable, because we like Tumblrs. We know it’s creative, because some Tumblrs are better than others. But if you want to make the case that it’s contemporary art, you’re better off making Bishop’s roundabout half-argument about Rashid Johnson’s shelf art—in short, that it’s new because the connections matter more than the objects—rather than pointing to one of net art’s many surf clubs, where the difference between creation and curation has been eroding for years. Our new value system must be emerging and exciting and occasionally unprecedented, but we should be able to see it in the art we already own, and we’d prefer that it didn’t drive anyone out of business. After the requisite decades of outright exclusion, the assimilation of new-media art will be slow and spotty, like the rehabilitation of a rebel militia. The establishment will pick out a few grassroots stars who aren’t too dangerous, artists like Arcangel or Ryan Trecartin who work in bankable media, while pushing out a few trusted souls like Bishop’s artists to scout the new frontier. As with video art, we will endure decades of necromancy, as gradually more confident gallerists unearth one more very influential new media artist every six months. There will be no parade, but a few people will eventually be able to pay their bills.
So what has happened? I think it’s pretty simple. What pop culture giveth pop culture also taketh away. Having insinuated herself into the museums by dressing herself in a shopping mall’s worth of middlebrow iconography—she’s the whore, the housewife, the waif, the clown, the porn star, the prom queen, the wallflower, the romance-novel princess—Cindy Sherman has become a victim of the very clichés she embraced. Pop culture fast-forwards as usual, and Sherman is left on the trash heap with the rest of yesterday’s sensations.”
A really great article on the perception of Cindy’s work in current times.
Could it be that we are so used to seeing camp, kitsch, and trash on TV and the Internet that there is nothing Sherman does that doesn’t seem anticlimactic? What do Sherman’s self-portraits in the guise of various desiccated society matrons tell you that you don’t know after turning on “Real Housewives” for fifteen minutes? What is an artist to do when the uncanny has become the latest banality?
Jules Olitski, Tin Lizzie Green, 1964. Alkyd and oil/wax crayon on canvas.
“Visual Muzak” (Lucy Lippard)