The middleman as muse

bbagCatherine Spaeth writes…

For a while now, there has been a degree of discomfort with the notion of an ideal viewer. At its extremes, the dangers of such an ideal are the failure of one’s poorly aimed presumptions as to what an audience is, or the presumptuousness of constructing a subject, of producing a consumer.inflatable water slides

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s recent contribution to “Cinema Liberte/Bar Lounge,” in collaboration with Douglas Gordon at the Guggenheim’s “theanyspacewhatever,” was – despite its generosity – a coldly sceptical response to this situation. Served Illy coffee by Illy baristas, the failure to mean was offered as a gift, and this gift in turn was a lifestyle brand. As though wishing to correct this situation of art, Michael Fried in ‘Why Photography Matters” describes work so saturated by artistic intent that the audience is shunned from the space of it.

In a July 11th discussion on “Art and Power” at The Drawing Center in New York, the artist Alexis Knowlton shifted the terms away from the ideal viewer and back towards artistic intent. She invoked a term coined by Jerrold Levinson, “hypothetical intentionalism.” Already standard jargon in the philosophy of aesthetics, these words, for better or worse, have not yet found their way into artworld discourse. In October-driven art history and criticism (inaugurated by Rosalind Krauss’s 1976 essay in Vol. 1 on Vito Acconci, “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissicism”), the artworld has been more at home with the problem of the viewing subject.

For Knowlton, the very worst symptom of ceding artistic intent is what she refers to as SLAT: Super Lame Art Thematicization. The current Venice Bienniale, “Making Worlds” and the New Museum’s recent “Unmonumental” are, in her opinion, cases in point. For Knowlton, artists, in their own strategic professionalism, have yielded too much to the Middleman’s power. ”The evil Middleman is responsible for this. He makes the SLAT like a detour around the artist, because it makes him a more interesting person and interest is the most valuable commodity. The middleman comes riding around the artist with centrifugal force on his literary stallion, his long hair swept by the winds of careerism.”

Knowlton believes artists should get rid of the Middleman in favor of the “Middleman as muse.” Strategy does not disappear, but is involved in tightening the reins upon art. As with the death of the author, hypothetical intentionalism arose in a literary context. Says Knowlton, “Most writers think about audience very specifically. Following the example of the writer, artists could think more about the education level of their language, who edits the work, and in what way the work is disseminated.”

It’s fair to say that anyone who shows up to ArtworldSalon has run into some serious SLAT, and has either said so or is the villain in this story. An awareness of SLAT and complaints about it are nothing new. But the force of Knowlton’s address, where it comes from and to whom it is speaking, might be. What, then, is at stake in placing emphasis on the hypothetical intentionality of the artist, an intentionality that is generated by the Middleman as muse?

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