metropolis m

Dear Domeniek,

Do you ever read the Artforum website? I sometimes take the plunge, usually in an over courageous mood, because I know what the result will be: a deep sense of despondency. Each time, the question forces itself on me of how believable art still is, when it functions in a context of everything we can imagine as the epitome of Western decadence. Glamour events, parties, narcissistic exhibitionism and apocalyptic morality – these seem to have become as inseparable a part of art as the awe-inspiring flow of capital, speculative art investments and open conflicts of interest. I know, here in the Netherlands we do not like to talk about this side of the art world. It does not fit with our image of the free artist, the unselfish gallery owner, the rightious collector and the Thorbeckian autonomy of the subsidizing foundations that we so cherish. As a result, we have to go to the websites of Artforum and frieze in order to read that the director of Art Rotterdam has declared that ‘art fairs have become more like exhibitions and biennials have become more commercial’, which is true, but nobody here is ringing any alarm bells.

Nonetheless, we have every reason to do so, because if it no longer matters whether, for example Manifesta is organized by independently operating curators or evolves from a direct collaboration between major collectors and galleries, then art has become the definitive plaything of all kinds of special interests, and we have to fundamentally rethink the idea of the freedom of art and the independat development of art. To be honest, I feel there is more urgency here, then in the question you proposed in the ‘Urgent’ issue of METROPOLIS M a few months ago: ‘In art, is it inappropriate and naïve still to dream of a better world?’

Of course, the question is naïve. It presumes a kind of outside position on the part of art, from which utopian balloons can be let loose. You know as well as I that such an outside position does not exist at all, at least not beyond the studio. Art has always been bound to certain interests, whether those of a social class, a political movement, or an economic system. The structure of our subsidy system is no exception. In this context, I would like to refer to the interesting pamphlet by Jonas Staal, Post-Propaganda, which has received little attention (METROPOLIS M included). Staal writes that the autonomy of art and the artist is simply appearance, ‘a myth to which politics give the desired face, because isn’t it precisely the visual arts, when they are self-critical, questioning, open, tolerant, continually developing and full of interest for others, that give the desired face to democratic politics?’

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Anna Tilroe

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