It is a slightly sad, slightly funny, slightly disorienting moment when the best piece of criticism of the MoMA Tillmans show appears in the Financial Times. Wolfgang is cast in the role of Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail or Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) in The Intern: a naïve symptom of the iconic illusions of a bygone era, a historical artifact of a time when the center and its belief in the promises of the end of history was still holding.
But, realizing that the end of the end has come, museums and biennials have already started to spearhead an updated investment program for the aesthetics of recognition. No longer the ephemeral DIY-pluralism of the ’90s and ’00s, this new phase of recognition craft is best witnessed in the recent proliferation of larger-than-life figurations (often human), with artists using either crafty textiles, ceramics and clay (and the nostalgia of pre-modern unalienated labor), or, in a more recent shift, bronze and other epically expensive (often metallic) materials. With scale becoming the single most important parameter to stage recognition (think of this year’s Venice Biennale), sculpture seems to create the blueprint for painting, turning the postmodern hype of the immersive sublime on its head. There is no way that you could ever confuse yourself with a few tons of metal looking down on you, their eternity instead promising neoclassical reveries: You sinned; know your place and be quiet.
The second issue took a long time to produce. When we started this project in 2019, the idea was to capture the conversations when work is done but art is still there, believing in the possibility that art may be more than a vehicle to contain difference. But our optimism didn’t factor in that a call to order could ever accumulate such a quantity of moral righteousness. Similarly, we didn’t anticipate how much downtown would change as a place, as a signifier. Much of the resentment that the moral accumulation has created seems to be flowing through what we call downtown, in real and imagined ways, brewing a backlash whose forms, contours, and shapes still feel like they are in their infancy. There is thus an imbalance in the list of shows we have reviewed here, with fewer models to emulate and more attempts to take problems seriously, trying to think about the acts of submission downtown art has been engaging in. We know that transcending one’s own context has never been easy. But there is a spectrum in which one gets to experience symptoms.