INTRODUCTION
Situating Art and Critical Discourse in
Contemporary Political Contexts
This book is a collection of politically grounded critiques about art.
It refuses, however, to fool around in polite meta theoretical terms
with abstract questions surrounding "the politics of aesthetics" or
"the aesthetics of politics." Instead, it subversively reexamines how
cultural mythologies and political power are expressed in the show-
ing of artworks by museums. Hence, these studies relentlessly ask
how particular displays of artwork can be seen as political texts rife
with conflicted rhetoric about the ideologies of the present. Art
exhibitions in the last analysis are elaborate and expensive works of
educational theater with their own special rhetorical agendas and
peculiar political teachings. And, for this reason alone, they merit
thorough investigation.
Plainly, a lot of art writing in the 1980s and 1990S frequently has
alluded to "the power" or "the political" in artworks. But what is
this power? How is it expressed? What are its limits? Why does it
work? Such direct political questions are rarely raised much less
addressed or answered in most of these discourses, because many
art critics almost never thread their way out of the rhetorical
sloughs of more formalist or historical styles of aesthetic criticism.
Trapped in the muck of inappropriate categories, very few art
writers escape with useful insights from the discursive ooze of
genre, style, or school that bogs down their search for the political
dimensions in art. Rather, they tend to chase both real politics and
serious aesthetics farther back into the swamps of formal analysis
until both of these subjects simply slip under the surface of deadly
metatheoretical quicksand. Consequently, we need a new, more
critical approach to understand how power, politics, and ideology
operate in art exhibitions.
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