The excesses committed in contemporary art have led it to a state of anarchy and confusion. Different authors write, some apocalyptically, about post-art, anti-art and, in the worst case, the death of art. Arthur Danto argues that the end of art does not mean it is no longer produced, but that it is created without any kind of narrative that can be considered as being the next stage. There is no identifiable style. There is no stylistic period. Donald Kuspit ironically refers to Damien Hirst’s exhibition in New York´s Mayfair Gallery: half empty coffee cups and beer bottles, ashtrays with cigarette butts, and other things. The next day the janitor threw it all out. The work valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars disappeared.
Most authors distinguish three great art periods: 1. Pre-modern art or that of the great masters who produced representational painting and used art as a window to the world; 2. Modern art in which mimetic representation is secondary until it becomes abstract and the painting stands on its own. This is the era of art manifestos. The manifesto defines a movement, a style, and proclaims it as the only kind of art that matters; 3. Contemporary art, which many situate at the end of the sixties; anything goes and any object can be considered as a work of art. The last straw was the appearance of cans with Piero Manzoni´s excrement.
Jerry Saltz says 85 per cent of recent contemporary art is bad. Don Thompson goes further: most people respond positively to one in a hundred works and really dislike almost everything else.
In our medium works of art are inevitably reduced to the condition of merchandise. Sellers of art call themselves gallery owners because the word “seller” implies that they work for money. This is pure hypocrisy. If the work is not sold, the artist and the seller do not eat and the work does not circulate.
Contemporary art buyers come to auctions because of snobbery and buy because they need to position themselves. They divide the works into two categories: those they can hang in their homes and those they cannot. At auctions the market value is contaminated by motives such as status, competition, publicity and, above all, by ego. The price paid for the works is rising while their value is falling. Most artists who sold at record prices ten years ago are gone. This does not prevent many from contending that buying art is a good investment.
The public is reached by imitating the so-called contemporary art museums. The small number of people visiting them means they need to be subsidized, unfortunately with taxpayer money.
Contemporary artists can be divided into two groups: visual and conceptual. In conceptual art the idea prevails over the material production of the work to the point that it is considered as being superfluous. Beauty is thought to be outdated. Aesthetic art must be destroyed so that it can be replaced. The first conceptual artists were academics and their suggestions were good; for example, Alighiero Boetti’s embroidered maps. They were also bad, such as Vito Acconci’s performance when he masturbated beneath a wooden platform on top of which the audience walked. Today mediocrity, incompetence and negativity predominate in conceptual art. It is the refuge of pseudo artists who do not know how to paint, draw or sculpt. It creates a sense of community around a kind of religion or existentialist channel for atheists whose only aspiration is to achieve a degree of transcendence.
Art is first of all expression and not a forced representation. Expression and not technique is the meaning of the work. We can recognize a style in the sense of a characteristic technique, but we understand artists by the nature of their ideas or the strength of their feelings. Hence the importance of the concept, although not to the extent of denying what the work really represents and hoping that beauty is surpassed. Today the essence of art is sought anywhere except where it has always been: in beauty.
José Javier Esparza speaks of the eight deadly sins of contemporary art. To begin with, they should be called anti-art or post-art sins as Allan Kaprov called them.
Esparza denounces an art that obsessively seeks novelty as an end in itself and ends by giving in to simple experimentation; if the art is not understood, so much the better; if it is understood, then the artist believes he has failed. Art made on any type of support becomes unsupportable; ephemeral art that cannot be taken home. Art that appears to be subversive when subsidized by politicians who feel they are very modern by supporting it with the people’s money without their consent. Art produced by artists who only value their own ego and don´t even understand themselves. Art that banishes beauty because it is considered to be a retrograde and perverse concept. Finally I come to the worst of all sins; embracing nihilism in an effort to destroy any solid and stable reference. The denial of every principle and authority, of political, religious, social, and family institutions. I ask myself whether that is the world we want for our children.
To the sins mentioned by Esparza I want to add another: by denying aesthetic art and accepting only what is conceptual, the pseudo artists are surrendering art to a very superficial philosophy. What right do they have to do it? They cannot speak on behalf of the real artists. Art belongs to whoever produces the work. Photography and film became firmly established as arts in the last century. The pseudo artists intend to establish as art experiments in philosophy, theatre, film and photography, among others, as if every art could be divided into categories.
I agree with Kuspit when he tells us it is not correct to speak of the decline, much less the end, of painting. Kuspit’s theory is that new old-style teachers will prevail, the people who, while dominating their trade also have a conceptual dimension that combines the ideas and techniques of both old and modern masters.
Criticism must understand, evaluate, compare, inform. Artists should not be pigeonholed in styles as a pretext to classify the history of art as if style is what matters most. Every movement has included major artists who could not be classified.
Art is also the person. I express what I am with my life’s three great passions: motorcars, animals and art. I convey the love and respect I feel for creation: fauna, flora and man, represented in the Bestiary, Urban Forest and Utopian Cities series. God gave us the world to master. This means to manage it, respect it, and preserve its resources. My message goes against the destruction of nature, the degradation of human relationships and the destruction of art itself that is associated with truth and human values. Using the platform of the Mario Monteforte Toledo Foundation we promote art and literature by following these principles.
It is no coincidence that we made this call for the first time in the José Luis Cuevas Museum, a master who, with his drawings rich in brutal gestures lays bare people’s souls and aesthetically portrays the anguish of man and the degradation of the human race in a despotic and prostituted world.
Today all this is summarized in a single proposal: creationism. This is not a manifesto because manifestos have always been disqualifiers. This is a call to a new state of conscience, evolutionary, inclusive, respecting God’s creation, the restoration of human relationships, and the return of art to aesthetics. A simple but powerful solution.
Artists declare ourselves to be free. Free from pseudo artists who want to deliver art to philosophy. Free from the critics who want to lock us into styles. Free from the agents who contaminate the art market.
We propose an art that is born in the artists and not in the critics, curators or gallery owners; an inclusive art that takes what is positive from historic aesthetic manifestations, far from the restraints imposed by movements; that accepts the ugly and grotesque but aesthetically represented; that accepts the object encountered as part of the composition, but not as a work of art in itself by simply declaring it to be so; that accepts the multiplicity of techniques and means of expression as part of the creative process; that constantly evolves, without going through stages; that upholds the concept without denying how it is represented; that recognizes beauty as art’s unique essence, together with truth and human values.
Today, we are no longer spectators and we raise our voice. Hence the name of this expo: Dangerous Sculptures because truth hurts and the search of freedom threatens those who hold privileges.
Today, with all of your help, that pendulum which is the way of art stops and starts its way back to aesthetic art, truth and moral values.
José Toledo Ordóñez