art 2002/2

Reflections on the Forum of Contemporary Art
What Determines the Loss of Ingenuity in Art

by Valdas JaskŻnas

The obvious crisis of ingenious artistic language seems to be largely driven by the art market, which is focused on mass culture and seeks to please a snobbish taste. Yet local conceptual artists are the ones expected to protest such a presumption particularly, as their art is primarily after shock value.
Based upon this initial hypothesis, we should assume that contemporary conceptual art performs a function of social criticism, while an individual artists’ are impacted by their analysis of social processes. Yet the exhibitions of the past years seem to offer very little in the social theme, leaving the question of contemporary artist ‘s identity open.
Paradoxically, artistic reflection on social, cultural and other themes is mostly imported into Lithuania.
Attempts to generate social reflection in art have been made by young curators, who initiated a new genre of exhibition focusing on a particular problem. The efforts to create any “points of attraction” in contemporary art failed to generate a positive cultural reflection. The failure was caused largely by the curators who arrogantly took the brunt of articulating the problem in the focus of a particular exhibition and leaving the artists in the shadow.
The leveling of artistic sensibility and idiom, as perceived by numerous art critics, indicates that artists tend to surrender to the conditions imposed by mass culture. The process of post-Soviet transformation of artistic culture was conducive for the manifestation of such tendencies. Yet pursuing goals of popularity, the artists fail to perform social function of art to reflect on cultural problems of the epoch.
Works exhibited at contemporary art venues seem to manifest a deepening hole in critical thinking. Neither art strategy builders nor artistic organizations have so far deemed fixing it important.
Naturally, it is the artists who started the career in the 1990s that are most active on contemporary art stage. They were most receptive to novelties in art. However, shortly novelty has became a measure for value. It has not taken long for the young artists to realize that they might as well show their sketches, provided they offer a conceptual foundation for their unarticulated insights. Hand in hand has arrived also a tendency to ignore the culture of exhibiting.
It seems that the mutinous generation has failed to inherit the best parts from the stock of their teachers, but did borrow a primitive concept of social anonymity.
It is doubtful that the most creative section of society has lost its ability to think creatively. It must be an instance of social anonymity shared on a wider scale. The common cultural policy vision, which has stuck forever at the design stage, is another manifestation of the anonymity tendency.
Since governmental cultural policy is obviously driven by its representational needs (illustrated by the vision of rebuilding of the Rulers’ Palace), it seems time to start a discussion on establishing in Lithuania a forum of contemporary art. The strategy of such a center would be defined through projects, designated the function of modeling the future of culture. The latter, besides market-oriented trends, should reflect the results of scientific investigation into culture and arts.
The absence of such a forum presently causes numerous problems, for one, miscommunication between representatives of different arts. The on-going discussion on the functions of the future national gallery of contemporary Lithuanian art focuses on representational function. It is doubtful whether this institution can be expected to shape the culture of the 21st century art, instead of becoming just another isolated gallery.
How does this relate to the problem of the artistic potential and leveling of artistic thinking? It is obvious, that no new institution, especially one of a representational nature, will be able to contribute to the development of contemporary art. So far not a single solid project (except ones by the nongovernmental Soros Foundation of Contemporary Art) attempted a serious reflection on art and artistic culture. Yet, if art has got any social function, it does include social criticism, even though non-committing experiments, simulating solving of social problems, might be more welcome in this pluralistic world.