– Spring/Summer 2005

Two into One

Brian Sholis

The forward thrust of modernist ambition, which despite many counter- and cross-currents, birthed a more-or-less linear progression of artistic movements during much of the twentieth century - cubism, Dada, surrealism, abstract expressionism, pop and minimalism, conceptual art, post-minimalism, to name a few - that finally began to give way in the 1990s. (The simultaneity of pop and minimalism may have been the first chink in the armour, so to speak.) It may be too soon to analyse fully the pressures that caused these fissures, but at least two will figure in any detailed analysis. For lack of better terms, let's call them awareness and omnivorousness.

'Awareness' is tied to the art world's slightly belated acknowledgement of the rise of cultural studies that swept through university humanities departments in the late 1970s and 80s. As increasing numbers of non-Western voices were accorded legitimacy, uniform History became multifaceted 'histories'. By the mid-1990s, when this near-seismic shift hit the art world, its cosmopolitan centres - New York, London, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin - began looking farther afield for artistic talent, resulting in major exhibitions of young artists from China, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. By 1999 the all-inclusive 'Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s' toured major museums across the United States. Some observers, wary of exoticism for its own sake, interpret this interest in 'the periphery' as, at best, a condescending token gesture, and, at worst, a kind of cultural neo-colonialism. But regardless of one's opinion of the phenomena, the trend continues: witness 'Inverted Utopias' on view last summer at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the inclusion of some of that show's Latin-American artists in the inaugural

  1. Peter Schjedahl, 'That Eighties Show', The New Yorker, 24 January 2005

  2. Saul Anton, 'Shelf Life', Artforum, November, 2002, p.164

  3. Rachel Harrison quoted in Bill Arning, 'The Harrison Effect', Trans, no.7, 2000, p.168

  4. Rachel Harrison, 'Empire State', Artforum, October 2004, p.146

  5. Elizabeth Thomas, 'Rachel Harrison', 54th Carnegie International, Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art, 2004

  6. R. Harrison, op. cit., p.146

  7. Julie Salamon, 'MoMA Helps Visitors To Use Ears To See', The New York Times, 11 January 2005