Research Area Art Critique

In art criticism, the basic tension in critique between reflexive distance and passionate involvement, between the inside and outside of critique, becomes apparent in a very special way; namely in various forms of participation in the object of critique. These will not be understood as the infiltration of an objectifying critical distance, but, on the contrary, as a productive factor that brings the phenomenon of art criticism—which is always entangled in its object—into being in the first place. From a sociological point of view, participation in art criticism can be considered within the reference frame of theories on the (relative) autonomy of the field or system of art criticism. The question as to how forms of participation have changed in a period of 250 years encompasses the transformation of forms of representation, media, criteria and claims to validity, the criticality of art, a modified concept of publicity, new network cultures, as well as processes of globalization and economization in an expanding art market.


At the same time, for all the critique of this self-concept, many artistic practices understand themselves as a critical and/or intervening form of articulation. For this reason, the research area art critique develops three points of emphasis: participation, value and art's claim to critique, which are interrelated.


Linguistic and affective forms of participation in art criticism

Since the beginning of the 18th century art criticism tries to transmit esthetic experience by means of language. In so doing it can enter into a parergonal relationship to its object, render largely invisible the discrepancy between image and language through mimetic procedures, or use the friction between language and image self-reflexively, so as to point to the split and open-endedness of this medial discrepancy (Boehm/Pfotenhauer 1995, Bader/Didi-Huberman/Grave 2014). A confrontation with literary criticism can be especially enlightening, since it indeed does not display this medial split (Albrecht 2001, Anz/Baasner 2004, Worthmann 2004): namely precisely there where critique, for its part, makes use of a pictorial language, as in the case of Walter Benjamin. Art criticism reacts in terms of language and text to each new form of art. Therefore dialogic forms such as discussions, letters, diaries, interviews and fictional dialogs respond to the reception-theoretical strategies of art (Kemp 1989, Marin 1997, Söntgen/Grave 2012, Grave 2014, Söntgen 2014a). As a poetological practice along the lines of Romanticism, art critique participates in the production of its object (Weber 1990, Garloff 2003, Fetscher 2006, Grant 2013), whereby here again a confrontation with the programmatics of literary criticism can be enlightening. Around 1900 there appeared the specifically germanophone phenomenon of Kunstschriftstellerei (Hermann Bahr, Julius Meier-Graefe, et al), which directly tried to envision the visual experiences of Impressionism (Lamer 2009, Pias/Schnödl 2007-2013 and 2014, Schnödl 2012, Marchal 2014 and 2015). Not least, gender-specific dimensions should also be looked for in the writing styles (Fend/Lafont 2012) of such barely researched critics as Berta Zuckerkandl, Louise Straus or Lucy Lippard. Furthermore there is also the question of the relationship of art history and art critique to their programmatically divergent styles of representation.

A further important aspect that has always been stressed since the founding of modern art criticism concerns emotional or affective involvement. Art criticism is based on the tension between distanced reflexivity and the affective potential of the specific object "art" (Kirchner 1991), which would let itself be grasped concisely in a study of the reversal from ekphrasis to art critique in the middle of the 18th century. We would analyze particularly the relationship between rhetoric, affect and corporeality in the new genre, also in comparison with critiques of physiologically conceived forms of transmission in art around 1900 or performative art practices involving the public since the 1960s. Art criticism is neither the mere expression of the effect of a work of art on a passively receptive subject, nor can it be understood as the masterful articulation of a subjective position (Campe 1990, Rebentisch 2003, Menke 2008). The mutual referentiality of art and critique, which begins in esthetic experiences in the sense of a broad definition of aesthesis that includes different sensory-corporeal forms of perception and affective reactions, should be developed in the continuity of the outlined research. The main question is to what extent does art criticism—qua reflection on affective involvement—become a (gender-differentiated) instrument of self-observation, of analysis of one's own perception, powers of judgment and modes of articulation. The concrete formulations of such affective participation and its study range from sentiment as a bourgeois category (Barker 2005), to sensation as an affective-intensive dimension of art (Deleuze 1994), to the "bureaucratization of the senses" (Jones 2005), and all the way to the production of a "new sensibility“ with Susan Sontag and Lucy Lippard, who demonstratively emphasize passion and subjectivity in their own writing.


Art criticism and creation of value

The economic "production of the value" of artistic work in various guises (Moulin 1987, Greenfeld 1988, Bourdieu 1998, et al) has always been one of the functions and effects of art criticism. This phenomenon can be found in the "dealer-critic system“ (White/White 1965) that decided upon the institutional visibility and economic, as well as symbolic value of artists; in the "collector-dealer system“ (Jocks 2011, TzK Nr. 83/2011, Velthuis 2012)—in which "non-economic" parties seemed largely to have fallen out of the circulation of symbolic and economic evaluation; and in the de-differentiation and hybridization of curatorial and art critical areas of competence (Graw 2008 u. 2012, Drabble/Richter 2008, Wuggenig 2013b/c).


The classical gallery system, which is based on lack of transparency and high informational asymmetry, sees itself particularly challenged by data portals, and ranking or rating systems (Pekron 2015, Coslor/Spaenjers 2013, TzK Nr. 96/2014). Systems of evaluation like these come into competition with the figure of the critic, whose position in the art field has to be redefined, as do the forms of legitimization used by systems of evaluation that rely on data portals. The object of the discussion will be whether, as a result of these shifts, art criticism can only bring a posteriori the symbolic legitimization of an artistic position that has already been economically evaluated, or whether it provides evaluations according to its own criteria, or even creates "priceless" values (Derrida 1999). At the same time it should be determined to what extent critique has become a model of artistic success, as a guarantee of value, while no longer being visible as critique as has been remarked about the artist collective Chto Delat (Campbell/Holten 2011). In a globalized capitalistic system since 1989, to what extent has critique itself become a commodity, and how is commodity-critique articulated in the arts today?


Contemporary art as a critical practice and its critique

Since the calling into question of the modernist paradigm in the 1960s, which had Clement Greenberg as its last powerful critical figure, forms of participation in the relationship between art and critique have become virulent in a new way. With Minimal Art, Conceptual Art and the early forms of Institutional Critique, the modernist hierarchy between primary work (which includes a creative author and intention) and secondary contexts, or framings (exhibitions, institutions, catalogs, art scholarship and critique, etc.) no longer hold (Fried 1967, Owens 1992, Bird/Newman 1999, Alberro/Buchmann 2006, Alberro/Stimson 2009). Therein, strategies of art criticism were implemented in art, with a sharp focus on questions of representation. No framing of any kind that conditions the production and reception of artistic work escaped scrutiny, in particular as far as its esthetic, institutional and social effects were concerned. Instead, art needs framing by discourse and art criticism all the more urgently in order to still be addressable as art at all (Duve 2005, Newman 2008).

The postgraduate research group considers critical practice in art not just as a "being directed" against something. For criticality concerns not only argumentative and direct forms, but also implicit and performative forms (Hirschman 2004, Boltanski/Chiapello 2003), such as analytic interventions and exemplary prophecy (Bourdieu 2005), the establishment of irreconcilability through agonistic art (Mouffe 2014), performative critique (Alberro 2005), or discommunicative reactions (Groys 1997). With its emphasis on affective participation in art critique, the research training group studies such notions of artistic critique. Included will be important understandings of critique: the negation of the existent as the incommensurable (Adorno), media-specific self-reflection (Greenberg), production of sensation as an independent area of experience (Deleuze), the disclosure of the invisible and ineffable (Bourdieu), deconstructive suspension (Derrida),distribution of the sensible (Rancière), or analytical intervention into existing structures (Fraser). On the basis of actual art works, the understanding of critique will be deployed in that way and questioned in its particular situatedness, "scene-ability" and means in the sense of cultural techniques. 


Another theme will be the modification of artistic work processes and work formats. As a result of artistic research, for example, the project format replaces the art object; often the process of research will be visibly integrated, even if only in the form of an accompanying documentation. For these reasons one of the doctoral positions will be established for an artist who reflects theoretically on his/her own work. This does justice not only to the critical potential of current artistic work methods, but also ties in with the cooperative projects of the Kunstraum at Leuphana University. The gain for the research group lies in a comparative reflection on the respective procedures, forms, media and effects of their specific criticality.

Another theme will be a second form of current critique: new artist groups, the emergence of which was explained by specific political and economic problems

(Malzacher/Staal/Warsza 2015, Lütticken 2014, Buchmann 2015), using digital media that change the practical forms and artistic self-image. With that, they are situated at the interface between art, media activism and social critique via new means of interpersonal and inter-machine relationship, subjectification (Ott 2015) and production of affect (Brunner 2014). The postgraduate research group's question as to a "critique without a critical subject" (see Research Area Media Critique) eminently touches upon the modern artistic self-concept that was hardly separable from critical subjectivity and now defines itself in a new way. 


Another question is the change in work methods, in which the project format replaces the artistic object. Self-organizing and temporary associations can also be seen as a reaction to the demands of flexibility and a continual need for reformation (Menke/Rebentisch 2010).


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