Issue 237 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
'Artists will continue to try and discover new forms of expression' John Molyneux: visual art
The fundamental problems facing visual art at the present time--the elitism of the art world and its domination by the super-rich, and the alienation of the artist from the large majority of working class people--are so bound up with the very nature of capitalism that I do not believe they can be resolved while the system survives. Nevertheless, it is clear that avant-garde artists will continue to wrestle with these problems in the new millennium as they have since the bourgeoisie turned conservative in 1848.
These artists will continue to rebel against the art world establishment. They will continue to kick at the fences that mark the boundaries of high culture by claiming for art the low, the vulgar and the marginal.
They will continue to try and discover new forms of expression and representation which reflect and respond to new materials, new technologies, new science and new phases of capitalist development as did the Cubists, Futurists, Abstract Expressionists and Young British Artists before them. They will continue also--a few of them--to become rich and famous in their turn, and to be absorbed into the establishment.
How these things will happen and in what proportion they occur will depend to an enormous extent on how the political situation develops. If, as we expect and hope, the deepening crisis of capitalism provokes a large scale and sustained resistance, then artists will respond and we will see a renewal of radical art. If the resistance falters or is delayed then it is likely that advanced art will remain focused on its own alienation and isolation (which is not to say that fine, even great, work cannot emerge from this orientation). It seems virtually impossible to predict in any concrete way the next steps in art. All one can do is try to note what seems to be happening at the moment, and even that is very easy to misjudge.
At present it would seem that Damien Hirst, after an intense period of creativity in the early 1990s, has shot his bolt and more or less stopped producing. Maybe he is too busy being a businessman. Indeed, the Young British Art phenomenon as a whole seems to be running out of steam (although Mayor Guiliani's attempt at censorship in New York may have extended its shelf life somewhat in the US).
Also, Charles Saatchi's attempt to stage manage the next phase through his bogus 'New Neurotic Realism' seems to have been a dismal failure both in terms of its worth and its critical reception.
Suprisingly--at least, it surprised me--the strongest work I have seen by an artist of the Sensation generation has been Tracy Emin's.
But I haven't seen anything recently from Rachel Whiteread or Sarah Lucas, and I don't know what is coming up in other countries. Unfortunately, to really keep up with current art one has to be a full time gallery visitor and globetrotting traveller.
One thing, however, is clear. The best exhibition of the year, by a mile, was the Rembrandt self portraits at the National Gallery, in London--real masterpieces of the millennium and the product of a revolution to boot.Steve Jones: biology