Altermodern: Tate Triennial 2009: same mindlessness with a new name?

Charles Moore gives it the treatment it deserves-

The unbearable pointlessness of subversion

Rather like fashion ("Pink is the new black"), art is told to reinvent itself more often than it can cope with. It could only go on being Modern for so long. Then it had to be Post-modern. Now Post-modern is a bit 1990s, so there has to be something else.

As the cruel fashion magazine editor in the film The Devil Wears Prada decrees what rises and what falls, so contemporary art requires a similar brilliant, heartless dictator. This role has been filled for longer than anyone can remember by Sir Nicholas Serota. He became director of the Tate Gallery in 1988. He changed the name to Tate Britain and built Tate Modern across the river. He is the Maecenas (with public money) of the modern.


As you enter the show, a notice reads, "Please be aware that some works in this exhibition contain images of a sexual nature". But if this raises your hopes, please be aware that all that is visible in this category is a "TV Wall", on which you can watch something called the Dildo Seesaw.

More typical of the work on offer is a High Definition Video called The Plover's Wing, in which a man wearing a dead badger on his head interviews an Israeli mayor. Or try "Installation of Fedex Large Kraft Boxes 330508, International Priority, Los-Angeles-Tijuana, Tijuana-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-London", which consists of six perspex Fedex boxes which have been cracked in transit. Near the entrance, a gigantic "Squeezebox Jukebox", which is played at two o'clock every afternoon, contains nothing but Left-wing protest songs: Free Palestine Now, Here We Go (for Women of the Working Class), War Pigs.

Beneath the patient chastity of the Tate's Ionic columns, these "spaces", installations and heaps of rubbish – the last is an exact description, not an insult (or not only an insult) – "identify", according to the exhibition's official "supporters", "with Tate's willingness to take risks". What are those risks, I wondered, as I listened through headphones to a story called Giantbum, in which a madman described his "expedition" through the bowels of a giant ("metaphors for cultural recycling").

There is no financial risk – the taxpayer sees to that. There is no risk of attack, because the targets of such satire there is are the usual ones – bankers, war, people who are nasty to "Native Americans". Is there an artistic risk? For something to be risked in art, there has to be some sense of pre-existing rules, something which is then remade, rethought or challenged. There has to be an orthodoxy to overthrow.

There is no such sense in Altermodern. So long ago has form, or painterly or sculptural skill, or harmony, or tradition, been rejected that it feels as if such things are no longer even known. In fact, nothing is known, or thought. The work just sort of sits there – acrylics, photographs, tape recordings, electrical gadgets, scraps of clothing, plastic toys, cardboard boxes. It is like a vast jumble sale of things which no one can ever have wanted.

With Altermodern, the boredom is absolute. The show barely even repels. It is utterly pointless. Possibly Mr Bourriaud might reply that the pointlessness is the point, and start talking about his cultural "negotiations" and how the show "wilfully flattens out any cultural hierarchies", as one rushes from the room.

But I know, and I suspect he knows, that no one's heart (or head) is in this. Altermodernism is required by the patron, so it is brought into being. Far from challenging orthodoxy, it repeats it – the orthodoxy being that art's purpose is to "subvert". It is not the beginning of anything, but the fag-end of something.

In this case you must read the whole thing.

A comment to the above article-
The art is not in the "installation" or exhibit, it is in the blurb that goes with it describing just how, exactly, it is supposed to be art.

I think that the exhaustion of contemporary visual arts is palpable. It is decadent - not in the exciting way proposed by Sally Bowles, but in the sense that it is not only boring, it bores itself.

Moreover, it is the opposite of 'avant garde' in that behind exhibitions like altermodern is a set of cosy, publicly-funded asssumptions. These artworks are usually called 'challenging' and 'cutting edge' and are backed up by a critical language full of 1980s political antagonism: 'subversive', 'interrogative', 'transgressive'.

And more-
Many modern so-called artists appear as shallow self-publicists. It is questionable whether their work has any aesthetic or intellectual content; pickled sharks and unmade beds come to mind.

The trouble is that modern art is easy. Its production does not require years of experience in refining the artist's mind and developing technical skills. It is worthless like popular culture. Yet it is not popular culture but rather something that has gulled weak minds among the section of the population that has pretensions to education, albeit in "soft" subjects like the arts.

So well said -modern art is easy!