Causing the Present to Pass: Autonomy, Criticality & the Impasse of Contemporary Art

2019-11-15T00:14:03Z (GMT) by Marnie Edmiston
Contemporary art has become the automatic context in which all art made now has to operate. Once an empty temporal signifier, it is now clear that contemporary art—as the dominant configuration of art practice and institutions—imparts presuppositions at all levels of the art world. These presuppositions, while sometimes obvious, are otherwise transmitted implicitly through the operations of gallery networks, art discourse and educational institutions. Any artist practicing today is subject to the principles of contemporary art, and consequently must engage with them.
Drawing on work by art historians and theorists Rex Butler, Suhail Malik, Andrew McNamara and Peter Osborne, this exegesis contends that contemporary art, through its misunderstanding and subsequent rejection of the principle of “autonomy,” and encouragement of non-oppositional forms of “criticality,” renders itself both incapable of critical efficacy, and susceptible to the incorporation of neoliberal ideology.
Approaching this discourse as an artist, I seek to address the gap between historical accounts and practice, specifically asking how artists can retain a sense of autonomy and effective critical function for their artwork, without succumbing to reductive or simplified interpretations. Through a revision of autonomy, I suggest that the critical capacity of art practice can be reinstated, but that this entails artists re-engaging with art discourse, and re-affirming the institutional nature of art practice. Furthermore, I suggest that a re-interpretation of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy—whose dominant interpretations have to some extent abetted contemporary art’s obsession with dissolving boundaries—enables a productive method for thinking the autonomy of the artwork.