The Quest for the New is Getting Old

06/25/2009 12:00 PM |

“I hesitate to take a position that might impede the forward march of the new,” a friend told me last week in a discussion about Fluxus art. He was responding to my apathy about the movement and its place in art history. Known for making no distinction between life and practice, Fluxus artists expanded art’s definition, helping to open up a myriad of new avenues for artistic exploration. Still, I can count the number of people I know on one hand interested in seeing another headstand Fluxus performance, and I’m fairly certain pushing the “What is art?” boundary in the age of “Whatever I tell you it is” has reached a few inevitable limits.

Beyond there no longer being much point in challenging the various forms art can take, one must also question the once implicit value of “the new.” I don’t think anyone has any concrete answers, but Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker‘s collaborative efforts represent one of a growing number of artists who don’t appear overly concerned with re-inventing the wheel.

This year’s Venice Biennale included a Guyton/Walker room, with their now trademark stock images of oranges and banana peels on paint cans and crates. The brightly colored banana specifically evokes Warhol, its ubiquity underscoring the essential nature of the original silkscreens. Were it not for its edition number, it would be indistinguishable from anything else reproducible. Furthering Warhol’s transformation of appropriated imagery into art, Guyton and Walker’s use of pictorial forms not only functions as the art, but serves to obscure objects either used to make or protect it. As such, the artists successfully recast the popular question “What is art?” to read, “Where is art?”

The question turns out to be a little more problematic than I expect the artists intended, as the awkward spatial arrangement of objects at the Biennale disrupts the message more than it adds to it. Although not a typical problem for Guyton and Walker, the issue feels familiar amongst art makers who aren’t overly concerned with objects. This week at the former DIA building on West 22nd, for example, The X-initiative presents No Soul For Sale, a four-day art fair for non-profits, artist collectives, and independent enterprises in which the primary separation among participants is provided by a bit of tape on the floor. I suppose it’s a cost-effective means of spatial organization, but it also lends an otherwise exciting exhibition the cliche, scrappy look of non-commercial endeavors.

Here too, however, few people seem overly concerned with the new. Take Platform for Pedagogy, a small online public lecture listing service run by artists Xenia Pachikov and Bosko Blagojevic. The weekly mailer offered as a two-dollar printout at the X-initiative, simply compiles preexisting event notices with the stated intention “to advance a culture of cross-disciplinary public lecture attendance and to develop the lecture as form.” Platformed hopes this small performative gesture will develop an entire discipline (though any changes are likely to be invisible). It may be a slightly idealistic approach, but there is quiet nobility to the act. Neither the lecture nor the Guyton/Walker installation is a new form, but perhaps the “forward march of the new” my friend seeks to preserve simply represents the artistic desire to shed a different light on what we already know.

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