Zeitgeist IV: Preconceptual
March 3 – April 2, 2017
Sondra N. Arkin
We have been thinking about a subject that initially rose for us in the context of the art world, but which we see reflected and magnified in the broader society around us. We began to notice that many of the art world’s most distinguished exhibitions today see more focused on the artists’ “practice” and what the art is “about” than on the artwork itself. This phenomenon can be illustrated by comparing the lengthy and abstruse wall texts to the art they accompany. The wall plaques describing the work are often more consequential than the work itself. The effect can be to overshadow and even diminish the art.
The assumption that viewers need a lengthy wall plaque education before they can appreciate the work seems demeaning to both the viewers and to the art. Moreover, the third-party interpreter distances the work from the audience and cements the role of curator/mediator as a necessary intermediary and interpreter.
The parallels in the world beyond art are everywhere and can perhaps best be seen in the rise of the commentariat – people who make a living telling us what we should believe about everything. For example, while the “news” once concerned itself with describing events, a great deal of what now calls itself “news” consists of people offering an interpretation of events through the lens of their own conclusions. It increases the distance from the primary sources. This leads to the atrophy of our human evaluative and creative muscles.
In “Preconceptual”, we take this tendency to its logical conclusion – a purposeful disconnect between the creative and the interpretive functions. The artists selected have been given one of nine categories that span trends in contemporary art: identity, social justice, abstraction, figuration, appropriation, landscape, process, inner landscape, and minimalism. The assignments were made with a view to encouraging the artists outside of their usual patterns. We, the curators, then created the PRECONCEPTs knowing nothing about the work except for the category. Those PRECONCEPTs follow and link to the exhibition pages.
Elsabé Johnson Dixon