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MC: Nicholas Brown: Art as Object, Art as Commodity

When Apr 28, 2016
from 02:00 to 06:00
Where Phil I, GCSC, R. 001
Contact Name
Contact Phone 0641 9930046
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In 1984, Fredric Jameson — already, by his own reckoning, a decade or so into the postmodern era — proclaimed that "aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally.” What are we, more than three decades later, to make of this statement? Is it true? Is it even plausible? What other propositions does it presume or entail, and are those true (or plausible)? If Jameson presents us with a world in which the artwork has collapsed into the commodity, Michael Fried had, nearly two decades earlier, opposed the collapse of then-contemporary art into “objecthood”: mere, non-signifying “primary structures.” Fried and Jameson have little in common methodologically. Nonetheless, this master class explores the possibility of an analytical overlap between standpoints that can, shorn of their temporal and normative markers, be telegraphed as two distinct propositions: “art is a commodity without excess,” and “art is an object without excess.” The master class especially traces these overlaps in the context of Fried’s and Jameson’s different standpoints on temporality and history. Jamesonian postmodernism would not seem to bear an “after.” If art's “integration into commodity production” is of a piece with capitalism’s “general tendency to drive beyond every barrier" (Marx, Grundrisse), it is hard to imagine its disarticulation from the latter except under conditions of revolutionary change whose immanence is far from obvious. Art and capitalism appear as perpetual continuations of each other. Friedian literalism, on the other hand, does indeed seem to be followed by a complicated “after,” one in which the rhetorical terms of literalism’s ascendancy are widely accepted even as the older structures they displaced — structures that derive ultimately from the early Romantic mobilization of Kant — are quietly reasserting themselves in contemporary criticism and, more importantly, in ambitious contemporary art. Is this “after” a false appearance, yet another alibi for the art-commodity? Or is the Jamesonian narrative the problem, its totalizing form occluding other possibilities and potentialities? Or finally, despite appearances, is it possible to think “Jameson with Fried,” to produce an account of artwork under contemporary capitalism that would preserve the central insights of both? This master class will interrogate the relations between art and capitalism, and discuss Jameson and Fried as crucial moments in the theorization of these issues.


Readings: Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood” (Artforum 5 [June 1967]: 12-23); Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (NLR I/146 [July-August 1984] 53-92).

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