“Crisis? What crisis?” is the title of a 1975 Supertramp album. On the cover is a man wearing sun glasses and swimming trunks sitting in a deck chair under a parasol, a long drink next to him, but around him is not the beach, but a gloomy, grey industrial landscape of smoking chimneys. The title is a quote from a conspiracy thriller called The Day of the Jackal (1973), about a far-right terrorist assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle. The crises of the 1970s are a premonition of our contemporary crises of the 2020s because they are at least partly the same: the striving for individual pleasure and gratification, if not freedom per se, takes place against a looming background of unhinged capitalism and authoritarian populism, of climate catastrophe and war. “Criticism”, in the very root of the word, is defined by crisis: krisis in Greek means to distinguish and judge. So how do we need to readjust our criteria of judgment not only vis-à-vis contemporary art, but the cultural landscape in general, if, for example, an unhinged billionaire can just buy and destroy one of the most important global platforms of debate, or Russia decides to invade and destroy Ukraine? But for art critics to even make these readjustments, they need to exist in the first place: so what are the rescue plans for an endangered species?
Jörg Heiser is a critic and curator, and the Director of the Institute for Art in Context at the University for the Arts in Berlin, Germany. For twenty years, he was an editor at frieze magazine. He continues to write, amongst others, for art-agenda.com and republik.ch. Most recently he curated, together with Cristina Ricupero, the exhibition Ridiculously Yours! Art, Awkwardness and Enthusiasm at Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, Germany.
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