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From: Katie Price
Date: 21 Sep 2010
Time: 11:48:57 -0500
When Benjamin Buchloh arrived in North America over twenty years ago, he had come with the intention of being critically engaged in the discourses and activities surrounding the Conceptual art movement. He had been invited to the Nova Scotia College of Art in 1977 to serve as editor to a continuing series of art publications of a decidedly Conceptual focus. Unfortunately, at that particular moment Conceptualism was already on its last legs. Fast emerging was an era of 'mythological', reactionary art whose mock avant-garde label paid lip-service to the art market (and thus to growing right-wing political oppression) in the wake of Conceptualism's slow dissolution from incisive institutional critique to a hollow administrative signifier (or so Buchloh would have it). It so happens that just following his departure from Germany there had also occurred a political swing to the right in Germany that Buchloh saw as being signaled by the Berufsverbote and the death of the Baader-Meinhof group 12 . Buchloh found himself as if shipwrecked amidst the last surviving and fast dwindling messages of resistance to "the administrative enclosure of modern art by the culture industry" 13 . It was as if the international tendencies of Conceptualism had unwittingly paved the way for an international counter-movement based on a return to the heroic posturings of painting. The tautological strategies of Conceptualism, in its emptying of art of materiality and traditional 'content', had reached the cul-de-sac of its ahistorical destiny. The opportunistic and non-critical reenchantment of mythological content came gushing back into art. This overshadowing of neo-avant-garde interventions by figurative painting at the end of the seventies was a pivotal moment for Buchloh, for it was this very moment of regression, this "return to order" in art, that affirmed his resolve to stake out and promote a post-Conceptual art practice that was historically conscious and functionalist in intent. He sought out artists who wished "to rematerialize critical thought in real social life" 14 . I would go so far as to say that this 'mission' was conceived in Buchloh's mind as somehow rescuing the anti-positivism of Adorno's Critical Theory and of Benjamin's socio-politically engaged artist as producer, especially in light of their "melancholic adjustment to the new historical necessity of living within the silence of Communism" beginning in the 1930s" 15 . In terms of Buchloh's own historical position, he had come to America from a Germany where the left culture of the East was an official state culture while in the West the reconstruction of an elite bourgeois culture had been strongly guided by American intervention with the Marshall Plan. In terms of artistic innovation and authority, from a European perspective, America appeared as a land of infinite possibilities where the space for a possible freedom from the barbarism of capitalist exploitation was still being mapped out. One must also assume that the defeat of the New Left perspective, culminating with the student radicalism of 1968, had resounded gravely in Buchloh's mind. The repetition of the failure of the Left to effect socio-political change and then the failure of avant-garde artists to resist the effects of the culture industry (figured through the logic of capitalist market practices in art), seems to have triggered a melancholic revision of Adornian and Benjaminian cultural criticism. Through the late seventies, eighties and early nineties, Buchloh produced an art criticism that served to promote the production of works that struggled toward a functional relationship with reality in the sense of New Left activism and a desire for a resolution to the dilemma of a reductivist immobilization of art (as a dematerialization of the work into critical language as put forward by Conceptualism.) Therefore, Buchloh's art criticism begins where Conceptualism ends off.