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ADNAN’S COSMPOLITAN LIFE AT THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL 2014 CURATED BY STUART COMER

One of the issues that this blog has been discussing is the prevailing belief that art (according to top curators) should come with a hand book or extensive wall texts. This usually comes with works of art that passive-aggressively refer to ‘experiences’ in the artists’ lives or avoid any real engagement by ironising aesthetic pleasure in toto.

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Making the artistic work as hermetic as possibly might be a way for curators to justify their place. Homages to the past and more specifically to old artists past ‘experiences’ are key variables that seem to give value to a work art. Take as an example, curator Stuart Comer at the Whitney Biennial 2014 and his inclusion of artist Etel Adnan’s doodled books. The artist is 89 which, in the contemporary art work seems to be enough to justify anything as ‘high art’ (another case is oddly industrious Lisson’s Carmen Herrera). As Peter Schjeldahl said in his review of the Biennial: ‘(Adnan’s work), seems to be valued more for her cosmopolitan biography -in locales from war-torn Beirut to Paris and Sausalito- than for her artistic achievement’. A life lived or an event that are pointed at become ‘practices’. So what is it with this word?

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In his article, Schjeldahl has decided to call this era (which includes the art at the Whitney Biennial 2014 and I would say, 80% of the way conceptual and post-minimalist  today) of ’curated hermeticism’ as ‘THE AGE OF PRACTICES’.

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In his own words: ‘The world PRACTICE pops up as a leitmotif throughout the show’s densely texted catalogue. We used to speak of what artists do as their art or their work or, tangentially, their style, vocation, discipline, allegiance or passion. But now all is practice, with a sense of discrete, professional enterprise. In a way, the fashionable usage recalls the rage for academic critical theory that dominated highbrow art and art talk during the nineteen eighties and nineties. A subsequent, general rejection of that brainy orientation remains tied to it as a shift of emphasis in the formula ‘theory and practice’. A practice presumably speaks for itself, in a community of practitioners, like those with nameplates in an office complex of doctors or lawyers. The connotation is both absurd and sort of touching. It tenderly dissembles the Darwinian contest for precedence that has always been endemic, and exciting, to the art world’. This takes the pressure from comparison or from truly assessment because anything that we can think of is the result of ‘artistic practice’.

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The London art scene is infested by the word ‘practice’ which has transformed exhibitions into a succession of self-justified object after another. It is as if the art world has become a cyclical apparatus of production of ‘practices’ which the public must accept as ‘civilization’. We shouldn’t be surprised with the obsession that curators have with old people and ‘life time achievement awards’, it looks like the only place where true art happens is when ‘practice’ stops and that is death. Just a thought.

WATCH ‘THE PILL’