Relyea, Lane. Your everyday art world

Relyea, L. (2013) Your everyday art world. Canada: MIT Press.

Today the painting students, all of them, across the board, don’t say they’re painters. But they also don’t call themselves artists. “I do stuff” is the most frequent response. Or, “I make stuff.” All verb, no predicate. All open-ended adaptability and responsiveness, no set vocation. (pag 5)

Ergo,  free  agents,  action-oriented  individuals  liberated  from the confines of labels and titles—“a growing population of people,” as Frances Stark describes the budding art scene in early-1990s L.A., “trying to eke out an existence in any number of vaguely defined layers of a so-called art world.” 3  (Later I’ll talk about a diametrically opposite identifying statement, Andrea Fraser’s declaration, “I am the institution,” also from the early 1990s.) (Relyea:2013;6)

“the subject of DIY is not an autonomous individual; rather it’s a “free agent” or networker who, by being so thoroughly defined in her or his predisposition to “doing” and making connections, is always situated and contextualized, externalized and performative. And yet this agent remains “free,” despite being context-dependent, because the new context is not thought to be the all-determining
social structure or the rigid bureaucratic institution or the brain-washing ideological apparatus. It’s the temporary project.” (Relyea:2013;6)

 disciplinary  walls  that  once  striated  space  are  collapsing, leaving in their wake a smooth surface of dispersal—“clouds of narrative language elements,” as Jean-François Lyotard put it in  The  Postmodern  Condition,  rolling  across  a  landscape  strewn with “institutions in patches” (or as Michel de Certeau reworks the scenography, “a dark sea from which successive institutions emerge”). 4   Michael  Hardt  and  Antonio  Negri  also  choreograph this  figural  repertoire.  “As  the  walls  of  these  institutions  break down,” they write, “the logics of subjectification that previously operated within their limited spaces now spread out, generalized across the social field.” 5  Among examples to which they and others point: fewer and fewer people actually live in traditional nuclear families, and yet the rhetoric of family values seems everywhere; retail malls go bankrupt, but everything takes on the structure of a marketplace; factories close and jobs are outsourced, and yet the
work  discipline  seeps  into  every  space,  every  activity  and  every hour of the day. The canon of fine art is in shambles, and yet every-day life becomes aestheticized, with connoisseurship and tasteful discrimination dominating the discourses of mass marketed food, clothing, furniture, and more (pag 8)

Today’s DIY culture portrays our neoliberal world in an all-too-enchanting light. Being a DIY artist, uncategorizable and nomadic, a hacker of culture and a poet of the everyday—all this is romantic. Its template is the romantic hero’s transcendent quest of leaving behind common social definitions and roles in search of unique
paths and triumphs, fuller truths and a more authentic and rich existence. But given current circumstances, with official policy advancing risk and short-term profit-taking over the social contract’s promises  of  security,  and  with  the  penetration  of  market  turn-overs and rhythms further and further into the everyday, it’s hard
to see how the values of networking and DIY—loose and numerous affiliations, hypermobility, opportunistic interventions in any situation or ensemble anywhere, the recombining of “data” indefinitely—can be taken as challenges to the system when these are the very attributes today’s dominant system so loudly promotes. (pag 12)

It seems impossible to flip open an art magazine or catalog these days without running into photographs of artists socializing. Not formal portraits of artists isolated each in her or his studio, posed statuesquely behind professional-grade cameras and studio lights. These are handheld snapshots taken with automatic flash, seemingly private tokens not suspecting they would someday end up as glossy art world publicity. Just as the single artwork has been replaced  by  the  exhibition,  such  photographs  attest  to  how  the artist as lone individual has been replaced by a more social, extroverted figure, by a milieu. (pag 53)

The pub and the street are iconic of what today is celebrated as everyday life, itself increasingly taken to represent a kind of platform  writ  large,  idealized  as  a  flexible  space  of  just-in-time  improvisation that floats to the surface in the wake of institutional dispersion. Initially aligned with the Marxist concept of alienation in Henri Lefebvre’s pioneering mid-twentieth-century work, the everyday has since been used within critical theory not only to distill the deep banality and emptiness that capitalist society imposes on modern experience but increasingly to marvel at the pedestrian possibilities for transgressing such impositions. Art in the 1990s
came to rely heavily on this latter sense of everyday life, and especially the anti-institutional recodings it permits. Here art is imagined to reside not at some Platonic remove, cordoned off within a separate, autonomous disciplinary realm, but on street level, in a space of modest, shared practices. Artists align themselves with the everyday as representing a culture more common and less elite than what’s suggested by the category of “fine art.” But not too common.(pag 72)

The discourse of New Institutionalism continues the trajectory of institutional critique on some level, at least as it directs attention away from the stereotypes of the studio, the lone artist-genius, and the isolated art objet, and foregrounds instead the art world itself as an array of interlocking spaces, functions, and discourses that
ultimately and necessarily frames all art. But it does so by stressing not enduring, determining structures and apparatuses but temporary projects and the affective, interpersonal sense of “responsibility” that glues together otherwise disembedded agents. (pag 127)