In Review: Benjamin Buchloh’s Formalism and Historicity, Part I

In the visual arts, ideology critique remains a common, albeit no longer quite hegemonic, approach to grasping how an artwork is situated politically in a capitalist context. This negative strategy enacts a disenchantment of the world, by revealing the falsity of an artwork’s putative independence – a bourgeois concept – from that broader world. Such critique highlights both how an artwork’s form and content are structured by the economic mode of production; and how an artwork can serve, in turn, to reproduce that mode’s material, political, and ideological foundations

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The condition of art sutured to the condition of politics. A blog by Red Wedge writer Paul Mullan.

Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty, at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

In 2013, thousands of women and their supporters occupied the Texas Capitol building in Austin, attempting to halt onerous, anti-abortion legislation. Proposals included a ban on abortion after twenty weeks of pregnancy; the requirement that physicians performing abortions have hospital-admission privileges within thirty miles of the procedure site; the requirement that those clinics be certified as ambulatory surgical centers, analogous to a hospital; and restrictions on medication-based abortions – via, for example, RU-486.

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The condition of art sutured to the condition of politics. A blog by Red Wedge writer Paul Mullan.

On Joselit’s “Material Witness”

Last year’s racist, police killings of African-Americans Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City has propelled Black Lives Matter in the U.S.

“Material Witness: Visual Evidence and the Case of Eric Garner” (registration required), by art historian David Joselit, was published in Artforum’s February, 2015 issue and is a useful précis of some of the case’s implications for art, politics, and representation. A subsequent interview with Joselit, conducted by David Andrew Tasman in February and March and touching on points raised in Artforum, was recently posted at DIS.

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The condition of art sutured to the condition of politics. A blog by Red Wedge writer Paul Mullan.

Breaking the Silence

Per the Bertolt Brecht quotation with which I begin, different oppressions can be, and historically have been on the left, visually represented in a realist, figural, or imagistic idiom. Feher’s work raises the question of how such oppressions can be represented through abstraction or “formalism.” In what political situations or struggle contexts would the latter, seemingly counter-intuitive, approaches be necessary or even possible in the first place.

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The condition of art sutured to the condition of politics. A blog by Red Wedge writer Paul Mullan.

Wojnarowicz in Houston

More typical of the artworld during that period, Wojnarowicz’s work was deeply political and addressed issues like homophobia and AIDS, from which he would die in 1992. Two shows with which he was involved, “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing” and “Tongues of Flame”, embroiled him in censorship conflicts with the Christian right. (Those forces used so-called “obscene” art – usually addressing sexuality, gender, or religion – as wedge issues to mobilize their base and to attack federal government funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.) Though distanced and not a formal member, Wojnarowicz was still somewhat sympathetic to ACT UP.

 

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Mel Chin: Rematch

Numerous institutions are currently highlighting the work of Mel Chin, who was born and raised in Houston and spent formative years (1975-1983) here, as well. Four decades into his career, Chin is known nationally as a “conceptualist,” one with a political bent. 

Mel Chin: Rematch originated at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and is organized by Miranda Lash, formerly NOMA Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and currently Curator of Contemporary Art at The Speed Art Museum in Louisville. In Houston, the exhibition is presented as major collaboration between the University of Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAMH), the Asia Society Texas Center, and the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. At the latter, “Degrees of Separation” includes an homage to Chin by other artists and collectives. The Art League Houston’s separate show on Chin, “Paper Trail and Unauthorized Collaborations,” just closed. Given this sprawl, I will mostly limit my discussion to the CAMH, where works are installed in the lower-level Zilkha Gallery.

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The condition of art sutured to the condition of politics. A blog by Red Wedge writer Paul Mullan.