Issue #184
Hall of Mirrors February 24, 2012

Yael Bartana
22. The Missing Negatives of the Sonnenfeld Collection2008
Black and white photograph
15 3/8 x 23 inches

From the Editor

We talk a lot about democracy in this country. Much is made of our high-minded ideals of inclusivity, tolerance, choice and the freedom from intrusion into our lives from the government bogeyman. Whether or not our actions line up with the verbiage remains to be seen, though lately the gap between them seems to be steadily widening. Political rhetoric and its hypocrisies are apparent enough, but the important issue is whether or not we choose to let it represent us. Do we simply adopt the talking-points handed out by pundits and ad-jockeys, or do we choose another track? Do we permit intolerance fear-mongering, bigotry and racism to gain a foothold, or do we choose to speak and act differently? Perhaps finally completing our transition from citizen to consumer, the supreme court and U.S law now grant corporations the dubious honor of also speaking as peoplea troubling condition that questions our basic status human beings. Against the faceless flood of monied corporations and super PAC’s, how can individuals speak and act while still feeling as though our concerns are being represented? Artists’, by virtue of their work, are in a distinct position to address some of these fundamental questions of representation and have throughout history.

At the tip of the iceberg artists’ deal directly with how things are represented. This question of ‘how’ is where the power lies. Artists’ speak through their work and their work, in turn, speaks through them. However dynamic and varied the language this idea suggests, the truth is that artists end up being defined by a handful of images and their curriculum vitaes. Pigeon-holing artists isn’t a new phenomena, nor is our desire for stable categories and the illusion of easy understanding that comes with them. The art world, at least here in the U.S., exudes pressure on artists to produce an ever-cohesive body of work. After-all, cohesion makes for grant-worthy projects, easy sales pitches to collectors, graspable exhibitions, and as a result representation within the market, academic and exhibition circuits. Practically this makes a lot of sense. However, its filtering effect on cultural production is less than ideal. Difference and incongruity is shuttled to the side while seamlessness and homogeneity are privileged. It seems that if we are truly interested in art, and the idea of democracy we talk so much about, then we have to embrace different types of representation and the inherent messiness that comes along with them. We should seek to expose differences not gloss them over. Debate and disparities, not the steady assumption of common purpose, is at the core of politics, and most assuredly art.

I won’t pretend to know what instituting these ideas looks like on a practical level, especially in light of the increasingly corporate model arts institutions are adopting, our consuming obsession with economics and the pervasiveness of the market. A question is always a good place to start. How do we problematize the existing modes of representing art objects, artists and ourselves to better address the complexities that exist in the world while moving us closer to attaining some of those lofty ideals we so often traffic in?

Questions of representation are at the center of a number of the outstanding texts in this issue. Writer and curator Sarah Demeuse thinks about the recent exhibition, Object Fictions, at James Cohan Gallery in New York and finds a need to rethink the paradigms we use to think about what constitutes ‘reality’ and ‘fiction,’ not only within art objects, but in the world at large. From Dallas, artist and writer Noah Simblist writes thoughtfully on Dutch artist Mark Manders exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. Manders interest in self-conscious systems of representation, and his blurring of multiple art world roles, steers him clear of a static and singular categorization of his work. Writer Jennie Lamensdorf looks into The Bearden Project at the Studio Museum in Harlem and its representation of Romare Bearden’s artistic endeavors through a combination of his work and contributions by a number of significant contemporary artists. Finally, Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies at U.T. Dallas Charissa Terranova engages artist Glenn Ligon in a wide-ranging conversation on identity politics, quotation and the way in which the meaning of images change over time.

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Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.

+ 1 Comment
Celia Eberle
Feb 24, 2012 | 11:49am

Thank you, Eric, for articulating these circumstances so clearly.

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