Being a Good Critic in a Bad World: Hal Foster and the Avant-Garde


Rachel Wetzler in Art News:

As Foster describes, one of the primary themes of the book [Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency] is an acknowledgment that the preoccupations of postmodernism—whose critical language Foster and his colleagues at October were instrumental in defining—are no longer sufficient for considering contemporary art. In lieu of the critique of representation that was the hallmark of art and criticism of the 1980s, the practices that we might consider avant-garde today—the work of artists like Thomas Hirschhorn, Isa Genzken, Tacita Dean, and Robert Gober—are oriented around a “probing of the real and the historical.”

Another central theme is Foster’s insistence on the value of criticism itself. In his chapter on the post-critical, he cites a number of recent challenges to the idea of criticism and criticality from both the right and the left: its putative irrelevance at a moment when artistic worth and literal market value are treated as one and the same; the neoconservative culture of affirmation that returned with particular force after 9/11; the elitist privilege that gives the critic’s judgment more weight than that of the public.

Most of these objections are swiftly dismissed, but Foster does take up arguments by the philosophers Bruno Latour and Jacques Rancière—both of whom have become popular in art circles in recent years—who reject the critic’s “arrogant posture of demystification” as its own form of fetishism; ultimately, Foster maintains that the two fall back on their own circuitous logic in their condemnation of the critic’s aspiration to defetishize or demystify and that the alternatives they propose are noble but naive. (Foster makes clear that he thinks art is no match for governmental and corporate bodies when it comes to Rancière’s “distribution of the sensible.”) “Critique,” he acknowledges, “is never enough: one must intervene in the given, turn it somehow, and take it somewhere else. But this somewhere else is opened up through critique; without critique alternatives do not become readily manifest, let alone strongly motivated.”

More here.