“Today’s art world is troubled, yet resilient, something like the society it reflects. We have moved into a situation where wealth is the only agreed upon arbiter of value. Capitalism has overtaken contemporary art, quantifying and reducing it to the status of commodity. Ours is a system adrift in mortgaged goods and obsessed with accumulation, where the spectacle of art consumption has been played out in a public forum geared to journalistic hyperbole. Museums of contemporary art, whose self-definition has joined preservation with innovation, now risk being turned away from both activities by economic conditions and attitudes that nullify their power to acquire, display and evaluate art.” [Richard Armstrong, Richard Marshall and Lisa Phillips – Whitney Biennial 1989]
The other day while looking through the catalogue from the 1989 Whitney Biennial it became apparent that a great many of the abstract artists and the ideas of that time are still ruling the roost 31 years later. It seems that the ’89 WhiBi was in actuality a Postmodern time bomb that’s still happily ticking away. It’s kind of like a Cold War stand off – nothing happens with mutually assured destruction. What’s also interesting about that catalogue was the “Introduction” (written by Armstrong, Marshall and Phillips) which introduced us to the emerging Neo-Liberal Economic Art World. With hindsight it’s not difficult to see that this art – especially this kind of abstract painting – was going to be a ready and willing partner in the aesthetics emerging out of the new art market economy.
“I looked at some of Van Gogh’s self-portraits. I thought of somehow updating that into some sort of perverse Information Age equation – that would somehow be able to locate the individual – as a sort of object in my time in relationship to how he did it in relationship to his time. And so I thought of utilizing the consumables, you know, that we choose. Each one of us is defined by a series of choices prescribed by the culture, and we just select out of the myriad possibilities. So for instance, I picked the glamour toothpaste, but then again this is rotgut mezcal – which you can essentially run a motorcycle on. Of course we go upscale to channel 13 and down to Fruit of the Loom. So somehow in the matrix of all this we isolate the individual. So it [this portrait] became… as accurate as the Van Gogh one was for its time. Maybe not, but maybe…” [Ashley Bickerton on his work in the 1989 WhiBi]
“Against the market-driven backdrop of the late eighties, artists are faced with great challenges: to find the time and space for reflection and the testing of ideas in the face of relentless pressure to produce; to persist despite the spurious authority of a collectors’ consensus; to resist the temptation of becoming cynical; to seek and discover a sense of purpose and value that overrides the greed and impotent theorizing that has choked so much contemporary art.” [Richard Armstrong, Richard Marshall and Lisa Phillips – Whitney Biennial 1989]
“Modernism’s staunch belief in historical inevitability has been replaced by hybrid combinations of various visual languages. It is a polyglot world. Fluidity and ambiguity are guiding principles today. These are works that seem to evolve before us, revealing a sense of vulnerability, delicacy and instability. The works’ mutable reality is apparent in their full mix of abstract and representational values. The project of abstraction, at least geometric abstraction with its appeal to utopianism, attracts few adherents among the artists here. Abstraction is no longer perceived as the antithesis of representation or as a next step in a prescribed linear progression.” [Richard Armstrong, Richard Marshall and Lisa Phillips – Whitney Biennial 1989]