Free Art

Alex Gawronski, Free Art

Alex Gawronski: Free Art, 2010

Peloton, Sydney

(PVC pipe, timber, aluminium, acrylic and enamel paint, amplified sound of dripping tap)

The spaces of art are normally imagined to be spaces of freedom, a series of interconnected sites where ‘free expression’ reigns. Often the freedom of the art space is consciously or unconsciously believed to arise from its being set apart from the tedious constrictions of the ‘real world’, an oasis in a desert of banality and mundane daily obligations. While this is true to an extent, it is also a serious illusion: art is always in some way intertwined with everything outside it, if not as a simple reflection, then at least as an abstract kernel of the numerous social, political, historical and economic forces that shape it.

Interestingly, this last factor, economics, has elsewhere been described as ‘the primary fetish of our age’. It is a fetish though, which rather than perverse, is ultimately only inversely excessive according to the extent of its bureaucratic/managerial normalcy. As a fetish, economics also has a distinct effect on how a large percentage of contemporary art is perceived, especially after the long-absence of an avant-garde or more generally, of a transcendent/utopian dream of art. Therefore, while art today can maintain a certain distance from the negative imperatives of mere industrial production, it is also everywhere partially bound by the overblown prerogatives of dollar fixation. Contemporary art as a result is either caught in, or readily embraces, paradoxical attempts to redeem itself from the otherwise stultifying sameness incurred by exaggerated emphasis on economic value as well as economics’ pervasive representations and affects.

Again, as far as the spaces of art are concerned, the gallery is still regularly regarded as something of a refuge from the outside world, including the world of base economics (unless of course economic discourse has been specially pumped-up and glamorised for art’s sake). Indeed, the Post-War burgeoning of contemporary art museums all around North America and Europe, quickly caused many contemporary theorists to comment on the quasi-religious (though tourist-friendly) sanctity of their many self-representations. Alternatively, if one were to take the utopian premises of the various historical avant-gardes at face value, aren’t galleries also like prisons? Isn’t the gallery or museum, instead of a haven, a place where the artwork is not so much set free as imprisoned, nailed to the wall of mass representation and fetishistic veneration? Thus, do not the historical avant-garde’s efforts to free art from its meagre identity as ‘culture for consumption’ and from its exacerbated attachment to capital, also imply the imprisoning circumstances of the traditional presentation of art? ‘Free Art’ takes such considerations as a starting point for a humorous and not un-paradoxical re-thinking of the identity of exhibition space.

Written by alex gawronski

February 13, 2014 at 3:31 PM