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Sunday, November 29, 2009

ART N[E]W


Art N(e)w
1-15 December 2009
NCCA Gallery
Intramuros, Manila

Art: N(e)w, Art New, Art Now


What is art is a question oftentimes asked and to answer that question now is difficult, if not impossible.

Art in the 21st century is a loose canon.

In his essay “Artists: Modern and Postmodernism”, Prof. Christopher Witcombe describes the impossibility of a single definition: “Art in the latter half of the 20th century has deliberately placed itself beyond the limits of control. Today, art historians and critics – we might call them the art police – throw up their hands in dismay in the face of contemporary art.”

Almost anything could be considered art says Arthur Danto, professor of philosophy at the Columbia University and art critic of The Nation, in his book “Art After the End of Art.” He, nonetheless, provides a clue to what postmodern art is.

But first the distinction between the terms contemporary and postmodern: “Contemporary art would for a long time continue to be ‘modern art produced by our contemporaries.’ At some point this clearly stopped being a satisfactory way of thinking, as evidenced by the need to invent the term ‘postmodern.’ That term by itself showed the relative weakness of the term ‘contemporary’ as conveying a style. It seemed too much a mere temporal term. But perhaps ‘postmodern’ was too strong a term, too closely identified with a certain sector of contemporary art. In truth, the term ‘postmodern’ really does seem to me to designate a certain style we can learn to recognize, the way we learn to recognize instances of baroque or the rococo.”

Danto then proceeds to provide parameters in identifying postmodern art:

“There is a valuable formula in Robert Venturi’s 1966 book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture: ‘elements which are hybrid rather than ‘pure’, compromising rather than ‘clean’, ‘ambiguous’ rather than ‘articulated,’ ‘perverse as well as interesting.”

Visual arts after modernism therefore, Danto writes, is “defined by the lack of stylistic unity, or at least the kind of stylistic unity, which can be elevated into a criterion and used as a basis for developing a recognitional capacity, and there is in consequence no possibility of a narrative direction.”

The ambiguity of postmodern art is the ambiguity that the exhibit entitled “Art:N(e)W, Art New, Now” finds itself in.

Taking a cue from Danto, this exhibition illustrates the definition of “postmodern” to denote a style, a rebellion against the tenets of modernism such as unity and grand narratives and ‘contemporary’ as merely being a function of time, as in any art made in the present times.

The exhibit finds itself, quite fittingly in the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Gallery for Contemporary Arts. A venue, that according to its own mission opens itself up to explorations of young artists with new tendencies “on the edge of current art making.”

This exhibition provides a survey, a cursory glance if you may, of postmodern art in a contemporary world.

The works appear almost dissonant even disconnected with varying styles from figurative to abstract paintings and in some a combination of both. But this incoherence is exactly is its coherence.

Young and emerging artists are participating in this exhibition. They pick up from various styles and modes of production of the past, as scavengers if you will, but equipped with an entirely different objective from their predecessors.

This dynamics was what Las Vegas Art Museum James Mann referred to in his essay “Art After Postmodernism”: “The fundamental premise of art after Post-Modernism is that since the various art forms of high culture have been analytically dismantled, fully picked apart and broken down – the important, unavoidable, inevitable work now confronting serious visual artists, writers, and composers, is to pick up the junked pieces and put that culture back together again in limitless new ways.”

The operative words in this description of the task of a contemporary artist are “limitless” and “new” because artists now must not merely repeat or rehash the past.

Mann further explains: “The logic of art after Post-Modernism is that if artist are to avoid merely perpetuating the late-dismantlement esthetic, which has now reductively dead-ended, then the only valid direction available to them is to reclaim innovatively the lost and abandoned resources of technique and content in their different artistic disciplines. Yet they must do this while further observing the lessons of the 20th century's analytic dismantlement, so as not to simply rehash or recycle the cultural and artistic past.”

He thus envisions an artist working in the 21st century as one having the tools that have roots in the past but with an entirely different perspective; the tools being used for an entirely different objective.

“…art after Post-Modernism includes some painting which looks fairly traditional in a representative sense, yet which grasps, assimilates, and employs more diverse cultural sources and resources than art has done heretofore, in previous ages. Only a shallow perception of this particular sort of painting would inspire the adjective "retrograde" in a critic's hasty judgment.”

We have touched on techniques but what of content?

Stephen Hicks in his essay “Why Art Became Ugly” offers these explanations. Postmodernism, he says, “reintroduced content – but only self-referential and ironic content.” Postmodernism also is about a more ruthless deconstruction of traditional categories and mixing styles is its strategy.

“It will be an internal commentary on the social history of art, but a subversive one. Postmodernism allows one to make content statements as long as they are about social reality and not about an alleged natural or objective reality and—here is the variation—as long as they are narrower race/class/sex statements rather than pretentious, universalist claims about something called The Human Condition. Postmodernism rejects a universal human nature and substitutes the claim that we are all constructed into competing groups by our racial, economic, ethnic, and sexual circumstances.” Mann writes.

“Art:N(e)W, Now” supposes a period of contemplation, a collective pause before a detour. Detour to what? No one knows, for sure, but the artist is a creature of his/her surroundings, a function of his/her (personal) history and the road is wide open for exploration.

Participating artists include: Camille Asuncion, Ralph Barrientos,Dodge Carpio, Fidel Castrence, Dianne Concepcion, Dawani Deleon, Kat Fallara, Jasmin Gabagat, Jazz Gabriel, Alee Garibay, Cara Gonzalez, Clara Herrera, Mylene Lising, Ana Mata, Joseph Morong, Maridann Pedro, Paulo Pascual, Isaac Sion, Isay Rodriguez, Jo Tanierla, Katrina Taule, Tanya Umali, and Jocel Yabes. The exhibition is curated by CCP 13 Artists Awardee and UP Professor Jonathan Olazo. Exhibition is on view from 1 – 15 December 2009 at the NCCA Gallery.

For enquiries please contact Ethel Buluran at (632) 527-2192 or email us at ncca_gallery@yahoo.com or visit our website at www.ncca.gov.ph . The NCCA Gallery is open Tuesday to Friday at 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. (JT)

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