After Art

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Princeton University Press, 2013 - Architecture - 116 pages

Art as we know it is dramatically changing, but popular and critical responses lag behind. In this trenchant illustrated essay, David Joselit describes how art and architecture are being transformed in the age of Google. Under the dual pressures of digital technology, which allows images to be reformatted and disseminated effortlessly, and the exponential acceleration of cultural exchange enabled by globalization, artists and architects are emphasizing networks as never before. Some of the most interesting contemporary work in both fields is now based on visualizing patterns of dissemination after objects and structures are produced, and after they enter into, and even establish, diverse networks. Behaving like human search engines, artists and architects sort, capture, and reformat existing content. Works of art crystallize out of populations of images, and buildings emerge out of the dynamics of the circulation patterns they will house.

Examining the work of architectural firms such as OMA, Reiser + Umemoto, and Foreign Office, as well as the art of Matthew Barney, Ai Weiwei, Sherrie Levine, and many others, After Art provides a compelling and original theory of art and architecture in the age of global networks.


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Joselit’s joyful science certainly irons out any remaining contradictions among avant-garde projects – the art world is corrupt and it is also ineffective – but it does so at the expense of making its effectiveness identical with its corruption. Putting aside the one-dimensional account of artworks as ‘reifications’ – ‘mediums lead to objects, and thus reification’ – it would take only a little reflection to see that the end of the distribution of wealth in the ‘era of art’, at precisely the moment Joselit’s ‘reframing, capturing, reiterating, and documenting’ paradigm first emerged (a set of procedures exemplified for him by the work of Sherrie Levine), was also the moment at which the US economy began its most aggressive turn away from equality. In the period between 1932 and 1979, during what many economists call the ‘Great Compression’, the top 1 per cent’s income share dropped from 24 per cent in 1928 to 9 per cent in 1970. The ‘Great Divergence’ first emerged in 1979 – in artistic terms we’ll call it the ‘era of formatting’ – when the richest 1 per cent’s income share began its exponential rise. Thus Joselit's reiterated call for a ‘currency of exchange that is not cash, but rather a nonmonetized form of transaction’, which he defines as ‘the power of connectivity’, has a way of simply being the form art takes not under neoliberalism but as it. If art is, as Joselit says, ‘the paradigmatic object of globalization’ based on the nonmonetized exchange of ‘cultural difference’, then it is paradigmatic for neoliberalism as well, which, as ideology, can be defined by its capacity to turn every (monetary) exchange into culture (exchange), actively obscuring the former with the latter. And to call that mode of transformation the model of power today is certainly right, but it is wrong to celebrate it. The newly liberated ‘users as shareholders’ own stock in a company that makes them feel better about themselves, and when they feel better about themselves they tend to work harder for lower wages. Or maybe we should see things from Joselit’s perspective and recognize the form of power hidden in the idea that the ‘quantitative density of connections … ultimately leads … to qualitative differences’. If those qualitative differences mean greater inequality but also ‘greater political openness’, then Joselit has described a real achievement. --Todd Cronan, Radical Philosophy 180 (July/August 2013): 50-53. 


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About the author (2013)

David Joselit is the Carnegie Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. His books include American Art Since 1945 (Thames & Hudson) and Feedback: Television against Democracy.

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