Directions in Contemporary Art

Alexander Alberro

Contemporary art has taken on a dramatically different form since the end of the Cold War. A number of factors have converged in the past thirty or so years to significantly expand and reconfigure its infrastructure. In addition to the tens of thousands of art galleries and museums that have opened in cities around the world, a rapidly growing number of regularly recurring large exhibitions and art fairs, a proliferation of publication platforms, art schools, and art residency programs, as well as a swelling commercial market, have generated a complex transregional interchange among artists, curators, critics, and collectors, and increased the infrastructure of contemporary art’s breadth and scope. The effects of this enlarged and recalibrated global infrastructure for art remain unclear, however, as do the underlying reasons for this shift in scale.

This seminar will explore the interplay between the expanded circulation of art across regions and borders and recent social, historical, and economic developments by probing the internal logics, codes and standards of the new cultural relations that have developed into a consistent framework over the past three decades. What precipitates these patterns and norms? What activities do they orchestrate? How uniform are they? What effects have they had on the function of artists, critics, art galleries, museums, schools, markets, press, and the like? Are they simply processes that are jumping scales upwardly, moving toward the scale of the global, or is there a rationality at work that seeks to coordinate spaces and circulations, bodies and quantities across scales, a phenomenon intent on smoothing scalar differences into a logic that attempts to reduce art to a single scalability? Or, conversely, how have artists responded to this newly expanded infrastructure in which art now circulates? Have they contributed to, or resolutely resisted, the new conditions? Have they generated representational practices or aesthetic forms that repeat and, through that repetition, order the framework that gives them meaning? And are there alternative, counter, or emergent practices and perspectives that operate in the circuits or at the borders of that infrastructure, with consequential effects on its shape? Addressing these and other questions, the seminar will seek to come to an understanding of the effects that the massive expansion of contemporary art’s infrastructure have had on art production.