In the most recent issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, I consider the role of the university in the cloistering of the aesthetic avant-garde from political and social action…playing off of the work of the marvelous Gavin Grindon and delving into the recent work of Rikrit Tiravanija and the Serpentine’s Edgware Road project as interesting counter-examples.
In a time of practically no public support for the arts and the rapid privatization of our institutions- public universities, museums, small arts non-profits, and art departments- are fighting a relevance war and losing. For the first time ever, the University of California public university system is getting more revenue from tuition than from the state, subjecting a generation of youth to ever more crippling debt. Except for the very rich, their options are limited, and as a result many visual arts departments fear slashings as debt-ridden students stream to what are perceived as more relevant and lucrative professional programs. Some of this fear is due to the fact that our cultural institutions of art are haunted by the narrative of failure of the revolutionary ambitions of the avant-garde, which seemingly renders them irrelevant as sites for social and political change. This is because we commonly translate this failure as leading to the impasse facing critical didactic art, and the estranged relationship between aesthetics and politics. I perceive that the public feels that art has become cerebral but not visceral, intellectual but not actionable, stuck in a closed system of commodification, and thus indefensible and irrelevant in its disconnection from social and political reality. This disconnect has only widened after the supposed failure of the avant-garde project , and I maintain that this perception infects institutions more drastically than ever in the face of such high stakes – the very survival of our institutions of art depends on systemic shifts of perspective on their own relevance.
Read the rest here.