If we were to take into account the enormous amounts spent by museums for building new exhibition spaces, the media visibility of many events, and the number of biennales around the world (already over fifty), then we would be obliged to say that contemporary art is in rude health. The flood of catalogues, interventions, interviews as well as shows, forums, and meetings has never been so abundant as it is today.
Duchamp’s complaint in the 1960s about the six hundred invitations he received every month is now looked on almost with tenderness. And yet, despite this plethora of events, art demonstrates a sudden kind of shyness when the need arises to make value judgments about works, personalities and facts, to the point of discouraging practically any form of “real” theoretical debate by burying it under tons of press releases.
Without a doubt this phenomenon is the result of many factors, but I believe that one of the most crucial is the way in which we approach art today. This is an approach often characterised by great naivety, not just on the part of the wider public but also on that of many insiders. It is embodied and becomes manifest through a kind of schematization that recently has become increasingly radical and is to be found in two aspects which at first sight seem opposed. In fact, on the one hand works of art are considered as art’s essential being; on the other, the making of art is awarded the character of immediate and direct communicability.
The first aspect of this process of simplification identifies art with the work of art itself and is considered as an element with its own autonomy and independence at a cultural, symbolic, and economic level. And so it become the nucleus around which discussions, mediation, and enjoyment revolve. What becomes essential to this vision is the objectivity of the work, whether it is a picture, a film, or a piece of architecture and with respect to which the artist’s ideas, and the interpretations of art historians, critics, curators, and the public become quite secondary elements.
On the other hand there is an interpretative approach that today is making many converts and that tends to immerse art completely in life by establishing a competitive/commingling relationship with the tools of mass communication, information, and fashion. And so in this way art’s messages are confused with those of advertising and tend to acquire values that are no longer those of the world of criticism or the market but are those of communications.
In an increasingly complex world, everything seems simplified and art is either crushed by market values and by the interpretations of the works or else by the efficiency and communicability of the message. But in both cases the problem of art is removed in favour of something more banal. What is illusory in both cases is the claim to appreciate art in its frontal and monolithic dimension by describing it either as a sharply-determined entity or as communicative immediacy. But both the work of art and the act of art, instead, are always accompanied by a type of dark and less well-defined reflection, a kind of forest whose twists and turns are the refuge for all those enigmatic and disturbing aspects which belong to it. What becomes evident is that the more banal is the approach to the experience of art, the vaster do the boundaries of this forest seem to be.
This is a condition that makes difficulties for traditionalistic views based on an aesthetic value, a value whose characteristics no one knows any longer how to pinpoint and where we insist on placing what is worthy of interest above, instead of beside, the work. So this other dimension must not be considered the downside of an antagonistic and opposed relationship with the world of communications. Without works and without communications, in fact, this hidden dimension would also vanish. Even less is it to be considered as something parasitic or servile but, if anything, a kind of womb which constantly nourishes what is in the foreground. All this will seem more clear if we think, for instance, of the return of realism in current art. The loss of all aesthetic and critical certainties leads to the opinion that we can grasp reality without any theoretical or symbolic mediation.
This is an attitude that, on the one hand, can lead to the extreme consequence of disgust and abjection but, at the same time, it can also show us new territories that are paradoxically splendid and are dressed in a kind of magnificence. All this implies a deeper experience of the conflict between what appears to us and what is inevitably hidden. A new vision that avoids models of reconciliation and harmony belonging to ideological constructions. Because of everything that hides beside of a work of art, it is impossible to win, and to think of winning is ingenuous.
Michele Manzini is an italian artist born in Verona, Italy, in 1967.
He has exhibited in various shows in Italy and abroad, among which should be mentioned: the Italian Institute of Culture, Prague, 2009; MAXXI, Rome, 2009; SUPEC, Shanghai, during the 2010 EXPO; the 54th Venice Biennale, 2011 and the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013.
In 2009 he won the Premio Terna award for contemporary art.
Photos: Fondazione Prada, Michele Manzini