apexart :: Conference Program :: Boris Moshkovits


Conference 1, Wroclaw, Poland (June 1999)

Berlin-New York
art is entertainment is art is entertainment is art...........

by Boris Moshkovits

David Lachapelle, Couture Consumption, 1999, C Print, 20 x 24 inches
Noritoshi Hirakawa, The Reason of Life, 1998 C Print, 14 3/4 x 22 1/2 inches
Daniel Pflumm, Untitled (Kraft), 1998, lightbox, edition of 3, 22 x 55 x 6 inches
Ugo Rondinone, Dogdays are over, 1996, Videostill

art and popular culture
Levi's, Altoids, Gucci, Virgin, Armani, British Airways, Prada and art. What's the connection? Advertisement and Sponsorship seem to be the simple answer, but what goes beyond these two parameters. Commercial illustrators, ad professionals, and marketing executives are seeking inspiration in the art world, which leads to campaigns such as the Levi's billboard's copying Gillian Wearing's photo's of people holding up signs with their deepest thoughts. At the same time, other companies ask artists to create their campaigns and designs, or sponsor exhibitions, art-dinners, Biennale pavilions, and art awards. Is Commerce utilizing the arts for a banal cause or are the arts infiltrating commerce inserting content? This question opens new room for creative outlet and work. Seeing all creative fields merge, and strategies in artistic and commercial work becoming alike, I believe we will have to redefine the terminology of art in the near future, leaving traditional boundaries behind.

What differentiates high culture from low culture today? What happens when these boundaries diffuse? Where does the relevance of fine arts lie in a world dictated by entertainment? How do we perceive art and how differently do we perceive commerce and entertainment? To what extent has art become merely entertaining? Which aspects have to been included in our definitions to cover all works of cultural and artistic relevance? These are some of the leading questions involved in the discourse of redefining the terminology of the arts.

In the past, what was called art was seldom popular, and what was popular was seldom called art. Nowadays, in a celebrity-driven society, everyone is aiming at the recognition of the masses. Popularity has become its own entity. Celebrity means being well-known for ones well-knowness. It almost seems as if when the bigger the audience, the more important the message becomes. It is more about the form of presentation, than about the content itself.

Neal Gabler, American writer and cultural critic, wrote in his 1998 book Life: The movie: "...artists treated each viewer as an individual, while entertainment on the other hand dealt with its audience as a mass, in other words art was directed at a person, entertainment was directed at the largest possible number of people." Today, we are confronted with an interesting situation, where many artists are looking for the widest possible audience as well. Employing all means of contemporary media, artists communicate, promote and publicize their work wherever and however they can, to get their "15 minutes of Fame" as Andy Warhol put it. It was in fact Warhol, who introduced the phenomena of celebrity into the art world. Art critic Harold Rosenberg's observation, that "Warhol liquidated the century-old tension between the serious artist and the majority culture", was very accurate. Warhol, was the mastermind behind various projects, including movies, records, and his magazine Interview. Since that moment "15 minutes of fame" has become a goal on its own for anybody ranging from the common person, who is fighting to get into talk shows, to artists who do exactly the same.

Recently, a popular talk show on American cable television, hosted a discussion on contemporary art with several young artists showing with established galleries in New York and elsewhere. Following Warhol's PR strategies these young artists penetrate the media with their appearances. However, even with coverage in New York magazine, the New York Times, Vogue and other popular publications they don't reach Warhol's significance for the times they live in, failing to deliver any kind of relevance in their appearances.

Warhol succeeded to demystify the fine arts for the masses and validate popular culture to the arts scholars. His efforts made a change to the perception of art, whereas the young artists work doesn't have this quality. Another more recent artist to achieve some kind of reconsideration of how to perceive fine arts was Jeff Koons incorporating Kitsch and everyday esthetics in his work, combining art, commerce and entertainment.

Keith Haring's commercial exploitation of his work through Merchandise sales at the Pop Shop and Mark Kostabi's art factory, leave the question open, how artists can appeal to wide audiences without compromising their work. We see many artists struggling with this issue, aiming to increase their audience and recognition through the media, and yet be approved by art academics and professionals for their theoretical and social validation.

Hip-Hop Hurray
Today Hip-Hop musicians like Sean Combs AKA Puffy and Russell Simmons, head of DefJam records and Godfather of hip-hop have more impact on contemporary America than any other artists. Their music and movie production companies, fashion lines, and other projects form a great deal of youth, music, and urban culture in America. Their popularity lead to unexpected opportunities also in the field of the arts. Sean Combs and Russel Simmons decided to champion their favorite artist Rene Cox, throwing a spectacular party for her in Venice at the Biennale 1999. A party for 5.000 guests, co-hosted by Naomi Campbell and a performance of Grandmaster Flash became a highlight of the events in Venice.

Apparently the influences have changed: In the past we knew art as an important influence on all other creative fields and on society in general, now we look at low culture protagonists like Pop and Hip-Hop musicians, Movie actors and website designers setting the standards by which society develops, including major influences on the world of art. Esthetics created by graphic designers to promote talent and productions become standards for fashion design, advertisement and also a source of inspiration for artists.

One of the most changing, evolving and highly discussed field is photography. Starting with the invention of photography, which originally probably initiated abstract painting, by making representational art at that time seem obsolete, leading to the current competition between photographers exploring their artistic vision and artists exploring photography as a medium, photography remains a challenge. Photographers seek recognition as artists Visual artists seek commercial work for mass recognition, like Andreas Serrano, who earns money as a portrait photographer while looking for a campaign to shoot, and Noritoshi Hirakawa, recognized in the art world, but not getting accepted by Art+Commerce, the photo agency that reps photographers like Inez van Laamswerde and Wolfgang Tilmanns.
Fashion photography everywhere
Fashion fatale - not all fashion is art

Something is off....
The entire entertainment industry has become the most significant influence on contemporary American culture, changing pure news and everyday life coverage into a movie. Popular culture is gaining more significance than ever before. If in former times society matters were only discussed by high culture figures, today we are looking at a completely different situation, where common people have access to all information via traditional and new media at any given time. Information is accessible at all kinds of educational levels.

Today art is also utilizing the same communication tools struggling to reach a wide audience. And in times where mass media dictates our reality and internet makes all information available to everybody at anytime, artists feel either drawn to the traditional camp reinforcing the formal discourse to escape this cultural development, or another group starts to explore their creative outlets beyond traditional definitions utilizing mechanisms outside of the art world. If contemporary artistic production is by tradition an exercise in democracy, a mode of presence and contribution to civic life, following the academic art historical path brings this task to an end. The redefinition of the terminology and above all the artistic production will allow to continue contributing culturally relevant works to society.

I don't know what I see, but I feel what I know
Cultural reception is moving from a pre-known to a known perception. Emotional authority is taking over from intellectual authority and determining perception. Here art is not important as a genre, what counts is the social relevance of the cultural statement. Creative people in the United States in their twenties nowadays direct their concepts, which are very polished in terms of content, at social interest as the supreme creative principle. Answering not logical approaches but emotional driven questions, young creative minds develop concepts and bodies of work, that speak to the general public. Traditional art concepts no longer apply exclusively to the artists work, because too many other fields are blurring into artists work. Thus art becomes accessible for art non-educated audiences.

System breakdowns and inevitable Changes
Next to the United States, which in fact means New York, as the world's art capitol, Germany, and especially Berlin, is one of the ideal places for progressively defining concepts for the most-up-to-date art phenomena. Why Berlin? A decay in the values of the capitalist system went hand in hand with the collapse of the Warsaw pact and the associated failure of the Socialist system of values. At the same moment, the West's cultural theoretical description patterns, which supported the capitalist system, had become outdated because the concepts that used to be set against them had fallen away. There can be no other city in the world right now where this had as great an effect as it did in Berlin, where two sections of the population, shaped by different value systems, have been learning to deal with each other on a daily basis ever since. Where else could culture be a greater force for integration than in Berlin.

90's "work of art" in Berlin is based on everyday experience: influences ranging from political news to latest fashion designs, architecture and club culture. They feel that artists, critics, curators, and other cultural producers are today struggling with the terms of their own practice, in a global context of crisis and change when much of their work seems insignificant. The question they address is, how to navigate the relation between aesthetic and political intervention, especially made all the more accurate during times of war in Europe. What are the terms of our involvement - do we fight at the frontlines, do we devote ourselves to humanitarian efforts, do we make strong interventions in the realm of symbolic production, or do we rather focus on the post-war period, anticipating the reality of the next millenium?

Traditionally artists work in Germany was - at least since Joseph Beuys - of political nature. In the late 60's - in times of the creation of the RAF and Nazis still teaching at German universities - Beuys as an idealist and romantic was always aiming to achieve political significance in his work. It was unthinkable to address anything on a pure aesthetical level. And till the late 80's this attitude didn't change for many artists working in Germany. Interestingly this phenomenon was not only limited to the art world, but a predominant atmosphere in general. One of the most important fashion publicists today, Karla Otto, recalls in the July issue 1999 of American Mirabella, that the atmosphere in Germany was always unique "If you wanted to be in, you had to be political." At that time style wasn't a German quality, even though some German design houses established themselves internationally, like Wolfgang Joop, Jill Sander and Hugo Boss, they remained less appreciated in Germany. Karla Otto learned about Style as an aesthetic matter of cultural significance when she first came to Tokyo, a label conscious country. Working for seventeen years in Milan and Paris, she only now discovers Berlin as a city of flux and style.

The fall of the wall gave space to new developments where artists, designers, and cultural producers can collaborate. Even though Berlin produced many creative initiatives in the last few years, the first Berlin Biennale failed to show a representational survey of what is really happening. Perhaps because the curators were too focused on the term "Crossover' looking for projects that cross the borders of their specific field, not realizing that this is not possible, since with the merging of creative fields the borders are dissolving. The curators failed to recognize this development and forced everything into the limited definition of art, thus alienating a significant number works. As I mentioned in my review in the Nov. issue 1998 of Flash Art, the Berlin Biennale raised a large number of questions and ultimately didn't come up with any socially relevant answers in the context of the socio-cultural landscape of a cultural metropolis that is in the process of re-emerging.

The Inflation of biennales and the clueless curator
Art is thought of as inventional and entertainment as conventional or formulaic: entertainment is constantly searching for a combination of elements that has predictably aroused a given response in the past, on the assumption that the same combination will more than likely arouse the same response again.

Curators producing shows with as many well known artists as possible work with exactly the same mechanism. It almost seems to me that many curators today fail to focus on the essence of their project. Putting a large number of artists together in one exhibition doesn't automatically produce content, it often remains an empty gesture of accumulated art works. The role of the curator has become a very powerful and yet misleading one. By examining the situations in various countries, we discover that it is the travelling curator, working globally on different projects, who defines, what is internationally relevant. Depending on their personal interests, the criteria vary. The Biennials across the world present more or less the same group of artists. This development proves that the global art market is giving too much power to the curator, who in many cases is an art critic as well, championing the artists, he curates into his shows. Responding to the demands of the curators - to be part of the global art circus - many artists fail to create works, which have any relevance outside of the art world. Their production is limited to an elite circle of art professionals, academics and collectors.

Museums as entertainment venues
This brings me to another phenomena in art developments. After explaining the lack of content and history of art work, I want to examine how the mechanisms of entertainment are influencing artistic production and presentation. Are artists, gallerists, and museums catering to the viewer's need to be entertained, to create commercially more viable works and shows? Or do they become part of the entertainment world without even purposely looking for it, as part of an overall change in the development of the arts?

Pseudo Globalism

The sweet-bitter end

The last word

Boris Moshkovits ©1999