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e-flux conversations

After the Historiographic Turn: Current Findings

Some weeks ago I was asked by the German quarterly journal Texte zur Kunst to contribute to their upcoming summer issue, loosely organized under the grandiose rubric of “theses on contemporary art,” whose aim would be not so much to define art, but to allow for the staking out of certain positions, which seemed especially important given the confusion resulting from the current “crisis” in the global economy. (The question as to what may happen “after the crisis” had been addressed in the journal’s most recent issue.) After all, the editors of Texte zur Kunst rightfully suggest, “the financial crisis brought the hitherto conjured boom of ‘contemporary art’ to a preliminary halt; one can often hear these days that content (finally?) will once again become more important than market success. But what are those contents?”

My response to their invitation was hurriedly written down—not carelessly, mind you, but simply out of a sense of urgency: this was an important question! The piece for Texte zur Kunst followed up on some thoughts first articulated in a previous essay written for e-flux journal, “The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art,” which ended with a lament concerning contemporary art’s inability “to grasp or even look at the present, much less to excavate the future.” This prompted the invitation, on the part of the editors of e-flux journal, to further speculate on the possible outcome of such an “excavation of the future,” something I had already started doing in the text for TZK, which in turn became the point of departure for the current reflection, an expanded version of an essay titled, tellingly, “On the Impossibility of Theses, And Why That Is A Bad Thing.” Dig, Lazarus, Dig.

Just over a hundred years ago, on February 20, 1909, the Futurist Manifesto was published in Le Figaro. In addition to making many rather more dubious claims, it declares that “we are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible?” The author of these glowing, muscular lines, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, also infamously likened museums to cemeteries:

Museums, cemeteries! Truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other. Public dormitories where you sleep side by side for ever with beings you hate or do not know. Reciprocal ferocity of the painters and sculptors who murder each other in the same museum with blows of line and color. To make a visit once a year, as one goes to see the graves of our dead once a year, that we could allow! We can even imagine placing flowers once a year at the feet of the Gioconda! But to take our sadness, our fragile courage and our anxiety to the museum every day, that we cannot admit! . . . Indeed daily visits to museums, libraries and academies (those cemeteries of wasted effort, calvaries of crucified dreams, registers of false starts!) is for artists what prolonged supervision by the parents is for intelligent young men, drunk with their own talent and ambition.

Read the full article here.