Responding to Lou's post on Mike Alewitz

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Mon Sep 16 15:42:49 MDT 2002

Lou's post on Mike Alewitz was interesting for a number of issues.  It came 
as I was delivering a lecture on the New Documentary Film.  My argument 
here is that the new doco has to be understood as the postmodernist 
documentary. To make my point I began the lecture with the notorious Lynda 
Benglis photograph of her self naked and sporting a huge dildo.  (I have to 
say that that got the class's attention.) This split the editorial board of 
the journal (Art Today?).  In my own library the relevant copy has the page 
torn out.

What Benglis did was to move modernism forward by appropriating the 
iconography of pornography.  A higher discourse became fertilised as it 
were by a discourse from the low arts.  This was a move that was to be 
repeated ad nauseam over the next 30 years.

Having wakened the class up I then turned to modernity in the form of 
Jackson Pollack and his partnership with Greenberg.  This pairing gave us 
the artist as god (Pollack) with the high priest (Greenberg) to explain his 
work to the faithful. My next move was to look at Jeff Koons.  I showed 
some slides of his "work" - the kitsch couple and also the statue Dirty 
1991 of him mounted on Ilona. Koons is somewhat passé so we have a brief 
look at Damien Hirst's sliced pigs. Hirst's is a much darker practice than 
Koons.  But they both represent a wet fart in the face of the pretensions 
of modernity to present the artist as inspired, special and somehow at odds 
with the values of capital.
Modern art called into being its dialectical opposite the Philistine who 
above all resented the elitism of modern art that Green berg did so much to 
cultivate. With Koons and Hirst the philistine's have taken over.

Here Lou's post on Mike Alewitz helped me to understand where modernity 
went wrong.  Greenberg cuts the ties of art to the popular. Here the 
socialist realist art was dismissed as "kitsch". But without that tie to 
the masses modern art atrophied and was ripe for plucking by the 
postmodernists.  The latter restored the popular, but it was a popular 
which bore no relationship to any notion of a transcendence of the here and 
now of late capitalism. Koons and Hirst say "This is as good as it 
gets.  This is the 'end of history'".

The tricky point here is that High Modernism had found its own "end of 
history" - where an elite ruled. What Koons and other have done is to 
reverse the dialectic of the king (artist) and the clown (Philistine) and 
to put the clown on the throne.  What they have not done of course is to 
abolish the throne. The people are still locked out.  It may be that the 
enjoy the gestures of the clown on the throne more, but he is still up 
there providing a different spectacle.

In my own field documentary film has degenerated into reality television. 
Big Brother represents above all the celebration of the cut throat nature 
of neo-liberalism.  Everything that is bad about the present world is 
endlessly thrust in our faces.  The central message is that humanity is a 
piece of shit that will always betray and plot and scheme against other humans.

It is only through a return to a link with the people in struggle that we 
can get out of the present impasse. At such times I have no doubt that 
Alewitz' work will provide the artists of the future with inspiration.



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