… the apostles of the new art replaced the inquisitive ardor of the vanguard with the inquisitorial moralizing of academic art.
… The intensely empty mass-media representation which only art could repel turned out to be, for all the belligerent rhetoric, a handful of television cartoons, some old images of soft-core porn, the memory of television sitcoms of the fifties, and some movie stills. In the galleries of the eighties, one sometimes had the sense of seeing the most privileged fine-art culture that human history had ever known arrayed in grandeur to perform an auto-da-fé upon Judy Jetson and Patty Duke.
In any case, to “deconstruct” (the philosopher’s term had sometime early in the eighties lost its original, technical meaning in arguments about the relationship between texts and meanings and become a voguish synonym for “reveal”) the manipulative structures of media imagery required no great originality. “Expose the technology” was the new motto of American advertising: take apart your own story before the consumer does it for you.
[line break added] In the age of Joe Isuzu, a hardened knowingness about the value-emptied amorality of media culture, was, far from being the preserve of a small cadre of vanguard thinkers, the sour, commonplace cynicism of the whole commercial culture.
The vision of mass-media culture that occurred in “media art” was therefore selective: it reflected, as much as it opposed, the popular culture around it — which is to say only that it was like all the previous art that we have looked at. But now there was something disingenuous about the difference between the way the art worked and the way is was presented.
… Popular culture — the world of the “mass-media representation” — was one that modern art had helped to make. Determining in advance, against the open and anxious example of the modern tradition, that the mass image was deadening and poisonous, the apostles of the new art replaced the inquisitive ardor of the vanguard with the inquisitorial moralizing of academic art.
[line break added] The genuinely “fierce recyclings” of the modern tradition, the alchemy by which the structures of ordinary life were reimagined as art, began to be replaced by a set of in-house revivals — recyclings that began and ended within the museum itself. The art of the media image staked its claim to radical newness on its insistence that it had replaced the delusional purity of high modernism with a disillusioned and unsentimental impurity.
[line break added] But the revolt against “purity” (to the degree that purity had ever actually been held up as an ideal by working artists) had taken place in painting almost a quarter century before. As a consequence, the new art could only repeat the strategies and formats of Johns and Rauschenberg and the Pop painters — the assemblage of secondhand images on an epic scale, the deadpan scrutiny of the found thing — and add to them a melodramatic rhetoric of darkened backgrounds and rigid, entropic patterning.
… the art of the media image too often suggested less the jumpy discontinuities of the electronic box than it did the droning, cheerless didacticism of a salon machine.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.