Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

All Things Bright and Fanciful

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

All Things Bright and Fanciful

Article excerpt

Byline: Brian Sewell

POSTMODERNISM: STYLE AND SUBVERSION 1970-1990 V&A, SW7 [bar] N FEBRUARY 2006 -- in an idle moment I suppose, for there was no exhibition to provoke it -- I spent 18 column inches in this paper ruminating on Postmodernism and its discontents. Now that there is, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a vast yet incomprehensive exhibition celebrating this most recent of international art movements, still current (though falling into desuetude), I am inclined to reprint my brief essay, for I have little new to add and it perfectly encapsulates my perplexity and contempt, but I dare say the internet might betray my laziness. Let me, however, quote one of my concluding paragraphs: "Once the distinctions between the visual arts and other forms of intellectual sustenance are blurred in the pancultural soup of Postmodernism, nothing means anything precisely, everything is individually interpretable by anybody, and the deliberately obscure language of this anybody or group of anybodies becomes an art form in itself, for in Postmodernism art and language are one and the same and everything is text. Under Postmodernism the rise of theory has been triumphant and theory has been accorded such privilege that interpretation by those who are not painters and sculptors and know nothing of their skills and talents (that is, primarily, the curators of galleries, museums and the Arts Council), now has absolute supremacy over the physical and occasionally aesthetic business of creating art. Some years ago, to keep us all in line, Nicholas Serota inaugurated a new post at the Tate, the much mocked curator of interpretation."

One small consequence of my observations was a lively correspondence with a postgraduate student at the Courtauld Institute, then (and still) composing a thesis on Postmodernism and its Semiotics (a term that I have never understood). He was kind enough to give me a copy of what can reasonably be dubbed The Postmodern Manifesto, found among the papers of Jacques Derrida on his death in 2004 and, as yet, unpublished.

Derrida (1930-2004), a philosopher, was one of the three wise Frenchmen who, as it were, spawned Postmodernism, defined, embellished and obscured it; his peers in the matter were the long dominant literary critic Roland Barthes (1915-1980) and Michel Foucault (1926-1984), another philosopher. From this it must be evident that Postmodernism was a French intellectual movement with a literarycum-philosophical origin rather than one engendered by artists and the visual arts -- indeed, painting, sculpture and architecture (its most prominent, familiar and international form) were Johnnies-come-lately to the Postmodernist French novel, French philosophy, French cinema and the more international manifestations of Postmodernism in the music of Beria, Cage and Schnittke.

My student friend kindly permits me to publish the Barthes-Derrida-Foucault document, all of whose names it bears as well as signatures of assent from Jean-Francois Lyotard and Giovanni Papini, as it provides for visitors to the exhibition an unvarnished introduction. For infelicities of translation and clarification of the many neologisms (new words even more obscure in French than English), I alone am responsible. The document is headed Manifeste and is as follows: 1. The art of the past is past. What was true of art yesterday is false today. 2. The Postmodern art of today is defined and determined, not by artists, but by a new generation of curators, philosophers and intellectuals ignorant of the past and able to ignore it.

3. Postmodernism is a political undertaking, Marxist and Freudian. 4. Postmodernism is a new cultural condition.

5. Postmodernism is democratic and allied to popular culture.

6. Postmodernism denies the possibility of High Art.

7. Postmodernism deconstructs works of High Art to undermine them.

8. Postmodernism is subversive, seditiously resembling the precedents it mimics. …

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