Art, argues the distinguished theoretician Boris Groys, is hardly a powerless commodity subject to the art market’s fiats of inclusion and exclusion. In Art Power . Art power / Boris Groys. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN (hardcover: alk. paper) 1. Art — Political aspects. 2. Art and state. Art power / Boris Groys. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN (hardcover: alk. paper). 1. Art—Political aspects. 2. Art and state. 3.

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MIT Press books may be purchased at special quantity discounts for business or sales promotional use. Art vroys Political aspects. Art, Modern — 20th century — Philosophy. Socialist Realist Art Beyond Diversity: This fact seems to preclude once and for all the possibility of writing on modern art as a specific phenomenon, as a result of the collective work of several generations of artists, curators, and theoreticians — for example, in the same manner in which one would write on Renaissance or Baroque art.

At the same time it also precludes the grroys of any particular modern artwork and here by modern art I also mean contemporary art as exemplary of the whole of modern art. Every such attempt can be immediately confronted with a counterexample. So the art theoretician seems to be condemned from the beginning to narrow his or her field of interest and to concentrate on specific art movements, schools, and trends, or, even better, on the work of individual artists.

The assertion that modern art borid any generalization is the only generalization that is still allowed. There are nothing but differences as far as the eye can see.

So one must bboris a choice, take sides, be committed — and accept the inevi- tability of being accused of one-sidedness, of merely advertising for one’s favorite artists at the expense of others with the goal of advancing their com- mercial success on the art market.

The alleged pluralism of modern and contemporary art makes any discourse on it ultimately futile and frustrating. This fact alone is reason enough to put the dogma of pluralism in question. Of course, it is true that every modern art movement has provoked a countermovement, every attempt to formulate a theoretical definition of art has provoked an powwr by the artists to produce an artwork that would escape this definition, and so on. Powre some artists and art critics found the true source of art in the subjective self-expression of an individual artist, other artists and art critics required that art thematize the objective, material condi- ppower of its production and distribution.

When some artists insisted on the autonomy of art, others practiced political engagement. And on a more trivial Introduction level: When some artists started to make abstract art, other artists began to be ultra-realistic.

So one can say that every modern artwork was conceived with the goal of contradicting all other modern artworks in one way or another.

But this, of course, does not mean that modern art thereby became pluralistic, for those artworks that did not contradict others were not recog- nized as relevant or truly modern. Modern art operated not only as a machine of inclusion of everything that was not regarded as art before its emergence but also as a machine of exclusion of everything that imitated already existing art patterns in a naive, unreflective, unsophisticated — nonpolemical — manner, and also of everything that was not somehow controversial, provocative, chal- lenging.

The field of modern art is not a pluralistic field but a field strictly structured according to the logic of contradiction. It is a field where every thesis is supposed to be confronted with its antithesis.

In the ideal case the representation of griys and antithesis should be perfectly balanced so that they sum to zero. Modern art is a product of the Enlightenment, and of enlightened atheism and humanism.

The death of God means that there is no power in the world that could be perceived as being infinitely more power- ful than any other. Thus the atheistic, humanistic, enlightened, modern world believes in the balance of power — and modern art is an expression of this belief.

The belief in the balance of power has a regulatory character — and hence modern art has its own power, its own stance: It favors anything that establishes or maintains the balance of power and tends to exclude or try to outweigh anything that distorts this balance. In fact, art always attempted to represent the greatest possible power, the power that ruled the world in its totality — be it divine or natural power.

Thus, as its representation, art traditionally drew its vroys authority from this power. In this sense art has always been directly or indirectly critical because it confronts finite, political power with images of the infinite — God, nature, fate, life, death. Now the modern state also proclaims the balance of power to be its ultimate goal — but, of course, never truly achieves it.


So gdoys can say that modern art in its totality tries to offer an image of the Utopian balance of power that exceeds the imperfect balancing power of the state. Hegel, who was the first to celebrate grlys force of the balance of power embodied by the modern state, believed that in modernity art had become a thing of the past.

That is, he couldn’t imagine that the balance of power could be shown, could be presented as an image. He believed that the true balance of power, having Introduction zero as its sum, could only be thought, not seen. But modern art has shown that is also possible to visualize the zero, the perfect balance of power. If there is no image that could function as a representation of an infinite bpris, then all images are equal.

And, indeed, contemporary art has the equality of all the images as its telos.

“Art Power – Introduction” by Boris Groys – A summary

But the equality of all images exceeds the pluralistic, democratic equality of aesthetic taste. There is always an infi- nite surplus of possible images that do not correspond to any specific taste, be it an individual taste, “high” taste, marginal taste, or the taste of the masses.

Therefore, it is also always possible to refer to this surplus of unwanted, unliked images — and that is what contemporary art continually does. Already Malevich said that powe was struggling against the sincerity of the artist. And Broodthaers said — when he poaer to do art — that he wanted to do some- thing insincere.

To be insincere means grlys this context to make art beyond all taste — even beyond one’s own taste. Contemporary art is an excess of taste, including the pluralistic taste.

In this sense it is an excess of pluralistic democ- racy, an excess of democratic equality. This excess both stabilizes and desta- bilizes the democratic balance of taste and power adt the same time. This paradox is, actually, what characterizes contemporary art in its totality. And it is not only the field of art in its totality that can be seen as an embodiment of paradox.

Already in the framework of classical modernity, but especially in the context of contemporary art, individual artworks began to be paradox-objects that embody simultaneously thesis and antithesis.

Thus Fountain by Duchamp is artwork and grosy at the same time. Also, Black Square by Malevich is both a mere geometrical figure and a painting at the same time. But the artistic embodiment of self-contradiction, of paradox, began to pwer especially practiced in contemporary art after World War II. We are also confronted with artworks that aim to be both documentary and fictional, and with artistic interventions that want to be political, in the sense of transcending the borders of the art system — while at the same time remaining within powee borders.

The number of such contradictions and of contemporary artworks that represent and actually embody these contradictions seems as if it can be ppwer at will.

These artworks may create the illusion that they invite the 2 3 Introduction spectator to a potentially infinite plurality of interpretations, that they are open in their meaning, that they do not impose on the spectator any specific ideology, or theory, or faith.

But this appearance of infinite plurality is, of course, only an illusion. De facto there is only one correct interpretation that they impose on the spectator: Any nonparadoxical or only partially paradoxical reaction should be regarded in this case as reductive and, in fact, false.

Art Power – Boris Groys – Google Books

The only adequate interpretation of a paradox is a paradoxical interpretation. Thus the deeper difficulty in dealing with modern art consists in our unwillingness to accept paradoxical, self-contradictory interpretations as adequate and true. But this unwillingness should be overcome — so that we can see modern and contemporary art for what it is, namely, a site of revelation troys the paradox governing the balance of power.

In fact, to be a paradox-object is the norma- tive requirement implicitly applied to any contemporary artwork. A contem- porary artwork is as good as it is paradoxical — as it is capable of embodying the poower radical self-contradiction, as it is capable of contributing to establish- ing and maintaining the perfect balance of power between thesis and antith- esis.

In this sense even the most radically one-sided artworks can be regarded as good if they help to redress the distorted balance of power in the field of art as grojs whole. Being one-sided and aggressive is, of course, at least as modern as being moderate and seeking to maintain the balance of power. The modern revolutionary, or, one might say, totalitarian movements and states are also aiming at the balance of power, but they believe that it can be found only in and through permanent struggle, conflict and war.


The art that is put in the service of such a dynamic, revolutionary balance of power takes necessarily the form of political propaganda. Such art does not reduce itself to the representation of power — it participates in the struggle for power that it interprets as the only way in which the true balance groyz power could reveal itself.

Now Vroys must confess that my own essays collected in this book are also motivated by a wish to contribute to a certain balance of power in today’s art world — namely, to find more space in it powfr art functioning as political propaganda.

Under the conditions of modernity an artwork can be produced and brought to the public in two ways: The amounts of art produced under these two regimes can be seen as roughly equal. But under the conditions of the contemporary art scene, much more attention is devoted to the history of art as commodity and much less to art as political propaganda.

The official as well as unofficial art of the Soviet Union and of other former Socialist states remains almost completely out of focus for the contemporary art history and museum system. The same can be said of the state-supported art of Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. The same can also be said of Western European art that was supported and propagated by the Western Communist parties, especially by the French Communist Party.

The only exception is the art of Russian Constructivism that was created under NEP, during the temporary reintroduction of the limited free market in Soviet Russia. Of course, there is a reason for this neglect of the politically motivated art that was produced outside the standard conditions of the art market: After the end of World War II and especially after the change of regime in the former Socialist Eastern European countries, the commercial system of art production and distribution dominated the political system.

The notion of art became almost synonymous with the notion of the art market, so that the art produced under the nonmarket con- ditions was de facto excluded from the field boriz institutionally recognized art. This ongoing exclusion is usually expressed in moral terms: One groyss to be too ethically concerned to deal with the “totalitarian” art of the twentieth century that “perverted” the “genuine” political aspirations of true Utopian art.

This notion of “perverted art” powr distinct from “genuine art” is, of course, highly problematic — in a very curious way this vocabulary is used time and again by authors who are quick to denounce the use of the same notion of perversion in other contexts. It is also interesting that even the most severe judgment on the moral dimensions of the free market never leads anybody to conclude that art that was and is produced under those market conditions should be excluded from critical and historical consideration.

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It is also char- acteristic of this mindset that not only the official but also the unofficial, dissident art of the Socialist countries tends to be neglected by the dominating art theory.

But whatever one may think about the moral dimension of nonmarket, “totalitarian” art is, in fact, of no relevance here. The representation of this politically motivated art inside the art world has nothing to do with the question of whether one finds this art morally or even aesthetically good or 4 5 Introduction bad — just as nobody would ask whether Duchamp’s Fountain is morally or aesthetically good or bad.

As readymade, the commodity gained unlimited access to the art world — but political propaganda did not. In this way the balance of power between economy and politics in art has become distorted.

One cannot, that is, avoid the suspicion that the exclusion of art that was not produced under the standard art market conditions has only one ground: The dominating boriw discourse identifies art with the art market and remains blind to any art that is produced and distributed by any mechanism other than the market. Significantly, this understanding of art is also shared by the majority of those artists and art theoreticians who aim to be critical of the commodifica- tion of art — and who want art itself to be critical of its own commodification.

But to perceive the critique of commodification as the main or even unique goal of contemporary art is just to reaffirm the total power of the art market — even if this reaffirmation takes a form of critique. Art is understood on this perspective as completely groyx, lacking any immanent criteria of choice and immanent logic of development.

According to this type of analysis, the art world is entirely occupied by various commercial interests that “in the last instance” dictate the criteria of inclusion and exclusion that shape the art world.