The Sixties, Still Breathing

Once more for emphasis: Contemporary art, properly defined, is simply the art of our contemporaries. The rest is marketing. The trademark product sold under the term contemporary artpromotes an ethos—a posture and set of mental habits— fueled by academia. Contemporary art is the academic art of our time.

Its reach is as global as the market that distributes it. And political to the core. Here in my inbox is a press release from CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux. A tabernacle for contemporary art, the museum houses six-to-seven hundred works from the 1960s onward. Philip Larkin had it half right: Sex was not the only thing that began in 1963. Art did, too.

CAPC’s broadcast is a jargon-soaked reminder that contemporary art mimics the ideological contests begun decades before the Sixties counter-culture thought it had invented them. They point past the Thirties back to the 1910s and ’20s. Now, as in the heady years that spawned avant-gardepronunciamentos on the reconstruction of everything, the art that merits official attention and subsidy is polemical.

Though it originates from a French institution, the release arrived in English and the tendered sample of critical discourse is by a New York artist. As mentioned, the stuff and the stance are global:



Jonathan Horowitz, Official Portrait of George W. Bush Available for Free From the White House Hung Upside Down (2001); Courtesy Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York
Jonathan Horowitz, Official Portrait of George W. Bush Available for Free From the White House Hung Upside Down (2001); Courtesy Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York

You might think that in the fifth year of Barack Obama’s reign, the French could shill for right thinking with something more timely than recycled Bush-bashing. But the progressive conscience is nothing if not nostalgic. It echoes Leonid Ilychev, Krushev’s principal spokesman on the arts and head of the Central Committee’s Department of Agitation and Propaganda. Ilychev summed up the Soviet discourse on beaux arts: “Art belongs to the sphere of ideology.” That was also in 1963 when art, like heavy industry and the Red Army, existed to serve the struggle for the people’s happiness. Art still does:

The CAPC is hosting a one-year symposium titled Think . . . And See . Conceived by French philosopher, writer and scholar Francois Cusset, this time-capsule symposium will deal with the themes of intensity, 21st-century memory, brain and plasticity, gender and sex, the infinity of debt, and vulnerability, notably in the post-internet era.

This seminar is the first step in the CAPC’s endeavor to establish a study site where a radical acceptance of the terms and conditions of the production of critique does not undermine them, but feeds their articulation. The second step will be a publication featuring every contribution.

What follows is a list of cub bolsheviks addressing the symposium. They are tenured in all the best places. Herewith:

February 28
Tristan Garcia (writer and philosopher)

March 21
Enzo Traverso (philosopher and historian)
Memory and utopia at the turn of the 21st century

April 17
Francois Noudelmann (philosopher and radio producer)
Family likenesses: a philosophical and aesthetic secession

May 22
Catherine Malabou (philosopher) 
Emotional brain and plasticity

June 5
Beatriz Preciado (philosopher and activist)
Seeing gender/seeing sex

October 16
Maurizio Lazzarato (independent researcher, philosopher and sociologist)
The economy of infinite debt

November 20
Judith Butler (leading figure in political philosophy and pioneer in gender studies) 
Vulnerability and resistance: towards a new political corpus

December 4
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (specialist in feminism, post-colonial issues and North-South relations)
Our world, our time?

Francois Cusset, scholar and philosopher, is best known for—among other delicacies— Queer Critic, translated for anglophone readers as The Inverted Gaze: Queering the French Literary Classics in America ($14 from Amazon Prime).

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Let me come back to this later. There is a chicken in the oven that needs attention. The further one digs into the ambitions of contemporary art—the category valorized by Cardinal Ravasi—the more one’s own dinner beckons. So much depends on a roast chicken.