9/11 as art


THE GAMBIT OF THIS EXHIBITION about 9/11, which includes sixty-nine works by forty-two artists, is deceptively simple: to eschew any images of the attacks and any made in response to them. (As if to prove the rule, there is one exception, a 2003 proposal by Ellsworth Kelly to reconfigure Ground Zero as a giant trapezoidal park of bright green grass.) Instead, MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey writes in his brochure, “this exhibition considers the ways in which 9/11 has altered how we see and experience the world in its wake.” This is a strong thesis—one that asks to be taken seriously. As for the ban on images of 9/11, Eleey regards the attacks as an intervention in spectacle that was a spectacle in its own right: 9/11 “was made to be used,” he argues, with the Bush administration no less than Al Qaeda in mind. “Why would I want to repeat such transgression?” His catalogue essay begins with an epigraph from Wittgenstein—“A picture held us captive”—and his purported aim is to release us from this captivity, to despectacularize 9/11, a little. To this end, Eleey exhibited only work, created independently of the attacks, that, as stated in the brochure, “transcend[s] the specificities of its epoch, form, or content to uncannily address the present.” That art can resonate across time and place is a familiar notion, but often it concerns the retroactive effect of present practices on past ones, as in accounts of literary revision offered by T. S. Eliot in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) and Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence (1973). Here the question is pitched differently: Might historical works foreshadow contemporary events and be changed by this unexpected connection?

more from Hal Foster at Artforum here.