Today, artistic debates are rare within the field because in our post-academic, post-movement, post-ism, and increasingly post-critical art world, controversy has balkanised into smithereens. In an age when originality is the one golden rule, debate is usually a private matter between artists whose differences are aired at dinner parties behind each others backs. They can be interesting, but such disagreements are almost always beside the point.
Artists are so independent of each other now that large collective controversies may never again flower among them. It is just too hard to start a good argument in a culture where invention has eclipsed convention, where orthodoxy celebrates the unorthodox, where ideas overshadow skill, and where sense, reference and subject matter are all optional. This is not to say that controversies have disappeared from art altogether, only that they have become very, very small.
Let’s get this straight: artistic debates are rare because artistic communities no longer exist and we’re now beyond criticism because innovation is more important. I don’t live in Canada any more, but unless something drastic has changed in the last month, I don’t see how these comments have any bearing on reality. The internet is rife with debate amongst artists, and he’d know that if he either visited an artist run blog, or enabled comments on his own. Also, the idea that originality is the only attribute of any relevance to the community is outdated at best. Today, ideas spread so quickly, their repetition is a given. Innovation is not an equivalent to relevance and cultural value, and since we’re past the age of Modernism, most of us know this.
Mayer then proceeds to discuss a long list of artist spats and controversial works, complete with inane suppositions such as “If it is true that art and pornography are diametrical opposites, and that has been the consensus for centuries, does art that takes the form of pornography lose its status as art?” Later he concludes that the merit of the work sparking large controversies “didn’t matter” because the debate eclipsed the art.
I suspect at least some of the ideas in this post were prompted by Mayer’s appearance earlier this year on the CBC’s The National, where he explained that the museum itself is concerned only with quality. The director caught a lot of flack for declaring the museum “blind to color” — apparently they see only “excellence”.
Mayer’s lucky it’s August because the laundry list of problematic statements made in his post could avoid widespread controversy because fewer people are around to care. If The National Gallery is wise it will use this post and other recent blunders to begin a search for a new director. Mayer represents the country, and if his blog is any indication, he’ll do nothing but embarrass us all.