Art Criticism And Social Critique

Why are all the good symposia far far away from me? I really wish I could go to this!

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Where do you stand, colleague?
Art criticism and social critique 

Symposium on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Texte zur Kunst
December 11, 2010, Hebbel-Theater am Ufer (HAU 1), Stresemannstrasse 29, Berlin

Conference organizers: Isabelle Graw & André Rottmann
Conference language: English
Tickets available at:

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the renowned Berlin-based journal for contemporary art, this symposium investigates art criticism's potential to become social critique. When the journal was founded in Cologne in 1990, returning to the methods of social art history promised to link current artistic production to larger economic and ideological frameworks. Even if this approach has remained an important touchstone in the critical work of the journal and its most frequent contributors, new models have emerged: discussions around biopolitics and immaterial labor under post-Fordist conditions have radically questioned long-held methodological assumptions about the visual arts' potentially antagonistic role in the capitalist societies of the West. Moreover, the notion of the aesthetic, which had for many years been utterly dismissed due to its association with idealist concepts of autonomy, has returned in unforeseen ways—by way of a recourse, for instance, to an emphatic and ethically motivated defense of aesthetic experience and an immersive attention to formal detail.
The symposium takes this situation as a point of departure in order to reflect on the role and potential of art criticism as social critique today.

Program, Saturday, December 11, 2010

4 pm:
Official Welcome
by Arend Oetker, Berlin

by Isabelle Graw, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin & André Rottmann, Berlin

4:15 pm:
Opening Statement
by Diedrich Diederichsen, Vienna/ Berlin

4:30 pm:
Panel I: New Spirit of Criticism? The Biopolitical Turn in Perspective
Like no other field of theoretical investigation, studies of biopolitics and related discourses around immaterial forms of labor in post-Fordism have come to inform recent art criticism and history. This sort of approach to art allows us to revisit historic as well as contemporary artistic practices in terms of their complicity with an economic and political regime that seeks to produce social life and to control subjectivity by way of internalized notions of productivity, creativity, and individual freedom. These notions, still so dear to art-historical discourse, appear more problematic in a perspective informed by the discourse of biopolitics than repressive structures of authoritative interpellation. Yet the urgent question arises and needs to be addressed: does not this new master trope of (art) criticism itself amount to a totalizing gesture that subsumes all aesthetic phenomena to the insurmountable grasp of an omnipresent but elusive regime of power? Is the recourse to biopolitical thought maybe even part and parcel of the notion of life it wishes to analyze critically?
Franco Berardi, Milan
Luc Boltanski, Paris
Sabeth Buchmann, Vienna/ Berlin
André Rottmann, Berlin
chaired by Martin Saar, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin

6:30 pm:
Panel II: Between Specificity and Context. Social Art History Revisited
Social Art History, as it had been rediscovered and expanded as a methodology in Anglo-American art history in the early seventies, once provided the privileged critical model of how to align supposedly autonomous aesthetic phenomena with the specific historical, discursive, ideological, and economic conditions that shaped their production and the subjectivity of both artist and beholder. However, this approach was deservedly contested for its tendency to interpret works of art in a rather schematic fashion as mere illustrations of social conditions, ultimately neglecting the genuine logic of artistic phenomena. Are there theoretical models today that, while staying true to Social Art History's methodological insights, can lead a way out of this theoretical impasse? Is there a way to reconcile formalist or phenomenological approaches with an attention to social and historical factors? And how can we write a contemporary social history in a non-reductive way, given recent shifts in media culture and forms of immaterial labor?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Cambridge, Mass./ New York
Andrea Fraser, Los Angeles
Gertrud Koch, Berlin
Isabelle Graw, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin
chaired by Sven Lütticken, Amsterdam/ Utrecht

8:30 pm:

9:30 pm:
Panel III: From the Anti-Aesthetic to Aesthetic Experience?
In recent years, art criticism has witnessed a complete re-evaluation of the validity and reach of the notion of the aesthetic. Whereas postmodern theories of artistic production of the 1980s were largely determined by an anti-aesthetic impulse in their attempt to contest idealist tenets of the bourgeois appreciation of art, today's debates are shaped by a return of the aesthetic in terms of a new valuation and conceptualization of the beholder's experience of artworks, even if the latter defy modernist ideals of autonomy and self-sufficiency. This panel sets out to explore the implications and repercussions of this paradigm shift: Is the notion of aesthetic experience inadvertently championing an individualistic idea of the beholder? To what extent can it provide a model that would do justice to the specificity of a work in terms of its form and content as well as its social context, rather than explicating a universal mode of perception? Might the aesthetic be reliant on an emphatic idea of "Art" that, for many good reasons, had been challenged—if not utterly shattered—by critical art practices ever since the avant-gardes and the new spirit of capitalism, which is to a certain degree based on the recuperation of artistic critique?
T.J. Clark, London
Helmut Draxler, Stuttgart/ Berlin
Jutta Koether, Hamburg/ New York
Juliane Rebentisch, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin
chaired by Christoph Menke, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin

11:30 pm:
Reception at the WAU restaurant (HAU 1)
with DJ Carsten Jost and guests