Calin on Wed, 10 Jul 2002 23:27:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Learning from Prada?

NOTE: for those with little time at hjand, skip my intro and go to Andrew
Renton's text, fished by me on a sister list - nettime-ro. it sheds a
pretty funny light on the matter.


Learning from prada is a challenging text, as they usually come from Lev
Manovich (if we get over the irritating misspelling of all those all too
well known names). Some thoughts, though, triggered mainly by the last
part of the essay:

I do not think that all analysis of such hot potatoes like: surveillance
technologies, cultural predominance of design, brand(scaping, but not
only), dictatorship of corporate aethetics etc. should be performed only
and necessarily from a leftist, critical position. In that sense Lev
Manovich positions himself as an art historian, as far as he keeps a
muzzle on ethical commentaries. Things get a bit blurred when he comes to
launch activist questions like:

>Can cultural institutions play an active, even a leading role, acting as
laboratories where alternative futures are tested?

and answers implicitely that this is possible if strategies of the
avant-garde wing of retail industry are going to be imitated. which is
twice naive, because:

one. by getting into the shoes of the Pradas (and they already do that
handsomely - see the Guggenheim, so inocuously mentioned by LM in his
text), museums/galleries are just what they became already, second rate
followers of fashion. two. while racing for the same type of attention as
the one got by the cool-retail-cum-cafeteria-lounge, museums/galleries can
do nothing more than comply to the ideological, financial and moral
constrains that filter access to > new technology (that) is being
developed for military, business or consumer use<.

which is fine, but then how can one expect a "leading role" to come out of
this? i know that it is not the purpose of the "prada" essay to solve this
dilemma, (the text suffers mainly from this unfortunate, wish-to-be
exciting title, that hardly covers the content), but then maybe a
cautionary approach of the topic would have been better.

see bellow what do other people learn from Prada.


 _Looking for meaning_
by Andrew Renton

One of the criticisms that I always hear levelled at contemporary art is
that it's really just a neat bit of design in disguise. There's no "art"
or soul left in the work. It's a tough proposal to counter, so I jumped at
the chance to talk through some of these questions last week with Hal
Foster, one of the world's leading art historians, in front of a packed
audience at the ICA.

  Foster is Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, and there can't
be a clued-in art student who hasn't grappled with one of his books.
Throughout his career he's looked at various movements central to 20th
century art, such as minimalism or surrealism, and has managed to change
the conventional wisdom on the subject. He's a founder and co-editor of
October - a journal so overwhelmingly influential in the past decade that,
in the art history corridors of the world, the word itself is almost
synonymous with art criticism.

But Foster has been a bit troubled of late. He's hungering for something
new in art, and all he seems to find is a slick product. Design, by any
other words. And he has just published a book, Design and Crime, which
pinpoints this design-as-art crisis and might just offer us an escape
route into a 21st century culture.

After all, he says, we live in a world that's just so much design. From
designer faces (surgery) to designer personalities (drugs), even designer
babies through genetic manipulation, we're constantly surrounded by

The result is that we're inhabiting an increasingly smooth, glossy and
superficial culture. And it's a culture looking for a subject. In Foster's
words, design is the "package" that "all but replaces the product".

Weren't we warned never to judge a book by its cover? Foster cites
Canadian uber-designer Bruce Mau, whose two huge doorstop books, S, M, L,
XL (in collaboration with architect Rem Koolhaas) and Life Style, aren't
so much to be read, or even placed on the coffee table - they are the
coffee table. And look at the irony of that first title - it's culture,
any size you want it.

Design moves product so successfully that the product can't catch up and
design becomes the driving force. Foster called this the "political
economy of design". This is the late-Modernist equivalent of putting the
cart before the horse, doing the packaging before there's something to be
wrapped up.

Design doesn't need to be the devil's work. It clarifies and clears the
cluttered space of so much of our world. The problem is, we're left
wanting something more. Something we can't quite reduce to stylistic

We feel this most in the museum - the place where, as a last resort, we
hope art might touch us. Often we find that we're no longer engaging with
the object, but a digitally manipulated version of it, where the artist
mediates our very own view for us.

We see it most clearly in the works of two Germans, Andreas Gursky and
Thomas Struth, the world's most successful photographic artists. Their
photographs build the act of seeing into themselves.

Struth, for example, often returns to the museum to make his work,
photographing some of the world's masterpieces in situ, with crowds of
tourists also milling about in the frame of his lens. Now he finds his own
work in the museum too.

Is there anything left for us to do, when we're standing in the museum
looking at an image of some people standing in the museum looking at an
image? Will we feel the need to go to the museum when its contents are
fully digitised and accessible on-line?

The museum itself has also been looking for its subject. It used to be
cathedrals that conferred status on cities, now it's the museum that puts
a place on the map. But a grand tour of Europe's new museums will reveal
great design and an empty heart. There's nothing to put in them, or rather
there's nothing that needs to be put in them. They call it the Bilbao
effect - great for the local restaurant trade, but hardly the saviour of
our culture.

To my mind the Guggenheim in Bilbao, jaw-dropping as it may be when you
glimpse the metallic sheen through the cobbled streets of the Basque
capital, has become a celebration of its own surface, rather than of its
contents. It's part of a larger Guggenheim brand, which is developing an
international resource of "reassuring" cultural consumption.

You know where you are with a Guggenheim. It's the grand tour - fuelled by
Big Macs. The problem with the art/design conundrum is that the art can
become all too strategic, too stylised. What we might be seeking now is
the old-fashioned magic that often comes when you least expect it. We need
an artist to see it and, in this digitised age, we crave the artist's

Here's where I see a glimmer of hope. Towards the end of his book, Foster
speaks of a simple but touching work by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco,
made in 1993. It's a photograph that documentsa little assemblage of
stones and wood detritus, found in the streets and propped up against a
wall and a dirty puddle. In the distance we see the Manhattan skyline. It
doesn't lay claim to any grand gesture. Although it's set up by the
artist, however humble the assemblage, it still has meaning. So where does
this meaning come from?

The temporary configuration, for all its fragility, echoes the immovable,
modernist grandeur of the cityscape. Orozco snaps the scene and moves on.

The work of art, the little gathering of materials on the street, lasts
until the next street sweeping. But it's a moment that sees beyond the
discarded qualities of the materials, holds these incongruous elements
together, and situates them in a real place. And they hold together in the

How affecting the image appears to us now, after that same skyline was
fractured last year - even though Orozco's moment happened some nine years
earlier. But somehow this work that was hardly ever there still resonates
and means something anew. That touching moment observed by the artist
couldn't have been designed - it's art."

see the online version at

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