A professor of mine recently encouraged me to read a section from the e-flux journal double issue about the nature of contemporary art.
Some very interesting questions are raised, and answers are sought out (if not always directly found). The term itself, “contemporary”, is a slippery one. The introduction, written by Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle raises some interesting (and some scathing) points.
“When there are no longer any artistic movements, it seems that we are all working under the auspices of this singular ‘-ism’ that is deliberately (and literally) not one at all.” For them, contemporary is “…a term we know well enough through its use as a de facto standard by museums, which denote their currency through an apparently modest temporal signifier.” The seeming meaninglessness of the term contemporary becomes evident. “With this shift,” they continue, “out go the grand narratives and ideals of modernism, replaced by a soft consensus on the immanence of the present, the empiricism of now.” The entirety of the introduction is not so bleak, however. They finish by saying that even though it is a meaningless signifier, its use in everyday art vocabulary means it must have some kind of significance.
There is also an article in this book, written by Cuauhtemoc Medina, that expounds eleven theses on the subject of “contemporary art.” Some noteworthy points include the idea that the contemporary exists to mark the end of the modernist movement. The term itself, contemporary, is an absolutely oxymoronic term that signifies a point in time, when time continues to move. “The hunger to be part of the global art calendar has more to do with the hope of keeping up with the frenzy of time than with any actual aesthetic pursuit or interest.” The arts are no longer separate disciplines, but rather “a single multifarious and nomadic kind of practice that forbids any attempt at specification.” And, finally, that the goal of contemporary art is to protect cultural critique and social radicalism from the “banality of the present.”