Baudrillard’s Art Conspiracy


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about the role of art in both opposition and in compatibility with contemporary forms of economics and control (transnational post-Fordism), and I came across this article by Sylvere Lotringer about Jean Baudrillard and his jittery relationship with the art world. Thought I’d share a few quotes:

The Piracy of Art

“When Jean Baudrillard first published “The Conspiracy of Art” in 1996, he scandalized the international artistic community by declaring that contemporary art had no more reason to exist. Baudrillard was no art aficionado, but he was no stranger to art either. In 1983, after the publication in English of his ground-breaking essay, Simulations, he was adopted by the New York art world and put on the mast of Artforum, the influential international art magazine. The book instantly became a must-read for any self-respecting artist – they suddenly were becoming legions – and it was quoted everywhere, even included in several artist installations… The prestigious lecture he gave on Andy Warhol at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1987 was booked months in advance. For a while artists fought around his name, jockeying for recognition. So it isn’t surprising that his sudden outburst against the art would have raised such an uproar. There was a widespread sense of betrayal among art practitioners, as if he had broken an implicit contract. “The denunciation came as a slap in the face,” a Canadian critic wrote, adding that it was “a radical delegitimization of his own position as a cultural critic.”

“Two years later, in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, he went even further, asserting that contemporary art had an ambiguous status, half-way between a terrorist critique and a de facto cultural integration. Art, he concluded, was “the art of collusion.” By now this collusion is affecting society at large and there is no more reason to consider art apart from the rest. Obstacles and oppositions, in reality, are used by the system everywhere in order to bounce ahead. Art in the process has lost most of its singularity and unpredictability. There is no place anymore for accidents or unforeseen surprises, writes Chris Kraus in Videogreen.“The life of the artist matters very little. What life?” Art now offers career benefits, rewarding investments, glorified consumer products, just like any other corporation.And everything else is becoming art. Roland Barthes used to say that in America sex was everywhere, except in sex. Now art is everywhere, even in art.”

“Gilles Deleuze once superbly said that he wanted to exit philosophy to engage art, literature, film, but as a philosopher. Unlike him, Baudrillard never had to make a huge effort to get out of philosophy. He never belonged there in the first place, or anywhere for that matter. And he entered art not as a philosopher, but as a traitor, in Deleuze’s sense, inventing his own itinerary. He just went to the other side, becoming a practicing artist of sorts, imperturbably showing in galleries photographs that he didn’t really believe in. And then becoming a traitor to art again by refusing to own up to it…”

“Proclaiming that art is null was not an aesthetic judgment on his part, but an anthropological problem. It was a polemic gesture towards culture as a whole, which now is simultaneously nothing and everything, being at once elitist and crassly materialistic, repetitive, ingenious, pretentious and inflated beyond human recognition. For Baudrillard art has nothing to do with art as it is usually understood. It remains a yet unresolved issue for post-humans to deal with – if anyone in the far-away future still cares organizing another exciting panel on the future of art.”

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14 Responses to Baudrillard’s Art Conspiracy

  1. And every now and then, we suddenly realize how “artistic” philosophy really is.

    • edmundberger says:

      Indeed! At certain levels, can we even find the dividing lines between the two?

      I’ve always enjoyed Baudrillard for his ability to generate a provacative counter-point to just about everything, but sometimes his sweeping generalizations get in the way of his critique. In this case, his attack on art is really an attack on the art market… I think the same could be carried over to philosophy, as its multiplicitous folds get commodified via institutionalization.

  2. noir-realism says:

    What’s even funnier is this is not what he said: “When Jean Baudrillard first published “The Conspiracy of Art” in 1996, he scandalized the international artistic community by declaring that contemporary art had no more reason to exist.”

    What he really said is that art had become pornography, but “there is no longer any pornography, since it is virtually everywhere. The essence of pornography permeates all visual and televisual techniques.” (Conspiracy of Art 1996)

    If they misconstrued his intent it was from this statement in that same essay that he says “Modern art managed to be a part of the accursed share (Bataille), a kind of dramatic alternative to reality, by translating the rush of unreality in reality. But what could art possibly mean in a world that has already become hyperrealist, cool, transparent, marketable? What can art mean in a world mad pornographic beforehand? All it can do is make a final, paradoxical wink – the wink of reality laughing at itself in it most hyperrealist form…”

    I think the key here was simple economics: Art had prostituted itself at the temple of Capital, had become a commodity just like other commodities, reproducible, transaesthetic, transobscene, nullified even as it mirrored its exhaustion…

    The Art world was pissed because the truth came out, not because Baudrillard betrayed them… he knew the game was up, art had already prostituted itself beyond redemption; all he did was state the obvious… with a little cynical smile.

    • edmundberger says:

      The game may be up for the formal art world, but the gig isn’t up for art itself. The micro-joke might be that the art market inflated itself when capital moved into its hyper-acceleration phase following neoliberal deregulation (the market was fueled by the newly wealthy from the real estate and finance markets), but the macro-joke is that its confirming what needed to be said all along – that the hierarchical and elitist trappings that were part and parcel of the art world long before the 80s have to be removed.

      Though I don’t have a large knowledge of the current art scene(s), it seems that the major innovations in the field are coming from outside the market – net art, outsider art, activist art, etc; art that is easily fixed with a price tag and is more often than not ephemeral. This isn’t to say that the art market isn’t still powerful, because if anything its shown itself to be THE stable system for its ability to weather financial recessions. But the counterjoke is that these divergences are always somehow ‘mainstreamed,’ but we can count on the divergences to eek out openings and exploit them for their own ends.

      • noir-realism says:

        Haha… true! Yea, I think art is becoming in our time more performative and political. Action art rather than a commodity to be fetishized and hoarded in some collectors dark tomb.

  3. What I like about Baudrillard, is how he allows me to think an understand Plato in modern terms, better than Deleuze and Badiou.

    In my book I try to link the practice of appropriation with acceleration. In appropriation (or piracy or parasitism) we find a moral, legal, epistemological, and economic knot to untie. Politically speaking, only by appropriating Capital-itself is it possible to “abduct the Outside”, as Reza Negarestani would frase it. Like Inigo Wilkins and Ray Brassier, I consider “noise” as the horizon on which to operate, both as an aesthetic limit and as an ontological/epistemological plane of escape.

    Contemporary, or post-Conceptual art has lost the concept and its trajectory. As Brassier writes, experience itself is commodified, as the arts persist in their empty gestures, based on tactics of subversion against a system – Capital – that has become impossible to subvert, Mark Fisher mounts a critique of the phenomenon quite well in his book. While some artists are slowly tapping into the power of “speculative realism” it is easy to misinterpret an object-oriented ontology theory and to fetishize objects-themsleves as already-artworks, without undergoing a complete and radical process of deterritorialization, tapping into the creative process of reality itself. The only way out of this impasse for the arts is to plunge further towards a molecularization of reality.

    In music (or noise), which for Attali is the one and only source and practice in which novelty is produced, the trajectory is the following Messiaen-Xenakis-Hecker (in his later collaborations with Reza Negarestani); from birds, beyond sinewaves and towards a science of vibration of matter (Steve Goodman) through contemporary mathematics, which in the last thirty years has leaped forward like never before throughout its own historical evolution.

    Art, and philosophy without keeping up with such advances in knowledge gets sucked up in noise itself. Both have territorialized (institutionalized) for fat too long. It’s time to go back to a radical form of the question, the problem (as perhaps the work of Laruelle suggests). Reality has become so layered in complexity that prior to attack it and structure it politically, it is crucial to differentiate, synthetize its noise into meaning. Here philosophy, as in the last work of D&G acts as a bridge between the sciences and the arts, the latter remaining necessary to explain such complexities in a plurality of forms, for all to understand and take part in, to never allowing the noise to become totalitarian but appropriating it (as meaning, as value) and redestributing it in a constant exchange, like Negarestani’s epistemic pendulum for acceleration.

    Questioning the existence and necessity of an object (man/art/philosophy) is always the first, unavoidable step.

    • noir-realism says:

      Yea, just downloaded your book A Sanctuary of Sounds (had no idea you had it out!)… found this entry: “The posthuman avant-garde (nonhuman and inhuman) does not imply the elimination of man from art. It calls for a renewed question of art itself and its necessity.”

      If anything, I do agree with Levi on this score: it’s not about eliminating man, it’s more about letting everything else that man has eliminated back inside: art being one of those objects.

      Anyway looking forward to reading your book, Andreas!

    • edmundberger says:

      Like Steven, I had no idea you had a book, but I aim to check it out right away!

      I’m very intrigued by the way accelerationism walks hand-in-hand with speculative realism/object-oriented-ontology, and it seems to be building-up to be one of the key politico-philosophical questions our moment. And like all questions, it is open to interpretation and reinterpretation, questioning, proliferation… you write of “appropriating capital itself.” With respect to the noise on the horizon, what would this look like? Are we looking at the abstract entity of capital itself, a hyperstitional and pataphysical proposition, or is this the reappropriation of the things, the flows, that this proposition has staked out as its own? Or, better yet, is it possible to divide these two things?

      The Autonomists spoke of the “margins at the center”; the margins, correspondingly, would be the locus of the noise, the limit. But every “center” already has its own margins, every territorialized zone has its slippages, its deterritorializing movements. Whats best about these movements is that their spirals are beyond the center’s capacity for understanding. For this reason, I’ve yet to break with Deleuze-Guattarian micropolitics of desire,but at this stage one needs to augment them with their antagonists (like Baudrillard, who shows what the “schizophrenia” they attribute to capital really looks like) to move their ideas forward. But I digress…

      The marginal/molecular movements in music serve, to me, as a perfect space to reflect on these matters. In these zones of experimentation, noise itself, as well as the post-cultural sonic stew brought to us through the intertwined forces of globalization and technological change, as its palettes, resulting in a kind of harmonious dissensus rife with chance and unexpected encounters – chaos music. And it is from this chaos that forms of order arise, be it own hybridized forms or the meshworked social structures that follow in the sonic trajectory’s wake. If we can find somewhere that celebrates noise (of any type) and complexity while questioning the necessity of things, it is here.

      • Yes I completely agree with the Deleuze/Guattari trajectory followed by Land, then Brassier, and currently, (personally) Negarestani. I think that Negarestani will have much to offer with his upcoming publications, I was at his last talks in NYC and Boston at MIT. MIT???? Talk about the limit, the vanguard of art and deterritorialization/imperceptibility/minor science, “that’s where it’s at” for now in art. Which makes sense. If it wants to stay relevant and react to it, it needs to offer a “faithful” picture of reality, which has simply become increasingly complex.

        I remain a bit skeptical about the current algorithm-discourse that is currently unfolding at Goldmisths (Toscano/Wilkins), after all a faith in technology without the knowledge of its background is what has led both the arts (new media) and the multitude into a deadlock and subjugation. But I do think that a turn towards the sciences is mandatory, especially biology and mathematics for a “new” image of thought. A further turn towards the molecular (and back thereafter). Here I think that Negarestani does it best by following Zalamea (Grothendieck), after all how could Deleuze ever come up with his own without Lautman? Zalamea briefly discusses Badiou’s ontology but I still think that Deleuze remains unparalleled in his trajectory.

        The talk at MIT felt like a new D&G alliance, but this time between philosophy (Negarestani) and noise (Florian Hecker), rather than psychoanalysis, with one more added value: mathematics (Guerino Mazzola). Negarestani’s essay “Nature, its man and his goat” in Hecker’s recently released book “Chimerizations” seems to me to be the best explanation to date regarding accelerationsim and his “asymptotic” thought (I shall post it asap on A-G). Which means to synthetize (“update”, transform” epistemologically, to form alliances with the best operators and expand the process to it’s horizon, by switching back and forth between two spectrums (local/universal, molecular/molar, etc). That is what both Zalamea and Negarestani refer to as the “pendular” momement, it’s circularity, of thought and creativity. In the essay, Negarestani sketches different ways of forming such chimeras, which are interesting politically.

        His vectors create the center through these movements, from left to right, right to left etc. A center that would not otherwise exist. Here I think that Land is doing just this, albeit in a different way. Just as Anti-Oedipus could be seen as deterritorial and ATP (slightly more) territorial, Land’s earlier escapades were completely deterritorializing and now he seems to be radically territorializing. Ho else could that be, a move to the right if capital has no margins at all? I like the autonomists and situationists (Wark, but I agree with him that there are different methods available to accelarate) tactics but I think they miss the point that has been established since Land: capitalism has no opposition (Fisher). In that I think they remain, like much of the arts, an empty gesture. I think that in that Capitalism mirrors the expansion/contraction of the universe, noise has no locus, no topos, it is immanent and universal.

        The task, it seems to me will be for each discipline to carry out this process of deterritorialization further and once it will reach its renewed logical impasse, it will need to reterritorialize once again (new forms, new structures: creative, political,…) back and forth. I am excited to see what turns this trajectory will take. Much of the questions you raise would require a PHD-time investment but for now I will enjoy my recent publication, which comes from an undergraduate at a minor university who, for time being, has rejected the limits of formal academic studies. We will persevere.

  4. edmundberger says:

    @Andreas… ah, another refugee from the academy? I too followed the path of ‘higher learning,’ first trying out at psychology before switching to English before bowing out, hoping to find my own models and methods for thinking. Being separated from the formalization of disciplines allows, for me at least, makes it easier to conduct a interdisciplinary ‘drift’, to borrow a Situationists phrase – the exact thing that is necessary if we are to visualize, let alone understand, the world and the situation we’re in. Its like what Sloterdijk says, that we need to allow ourselves to be “kidnapped by the hyper-complexities” of our historic moment. Dangerous thinking for dangerous times.

    You’ve definitely got my attention regarding to philosophical fusion of Negarestani, Hecker and Mazzola, and I’ll be exploring these avenues more… thanks!

    One last thing about capitalism’s incomprehensible expansion: while Fisher certainly makes it seem that the system’s psychic stranglehold is totalizing (much like the Situationists; Debord and his friends were a lot more pessimistic than the later interpretations of their work made it seem), he does indicate that counter-capitalism action could arise from the tendency to desire the Strange or the Weird (I think he goes more in depth on this at the K-Punk blog). I dunno exactly what this would entail, but it is striking to me that huge swaths of counter-philosophy, running from Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis, Baudrillard’s simulacra, the stuff Nick Land and the CCRU cranked out, the current stuff coalescing through speculative realism and OOO – not to mention the various forms that subcultures and anti-capitalist/alter-globalization are taking on – could only be looked at from the perspective of the mass media as “weird.” They may not be operating in the “Outside,” but all these things seem to be haunted by the specter of it, just as Marx saw the specter of communism haunting Europe.

  5. Pingback: J.G. Ballard: The Calculus of Desire | noir realism

  6. dmfant says:

    just found this interesting blog:

  7. Pingback: Art Under Capital (Part I of II) | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

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