Monday, December 18, 2017

Aesthetic Relativism > Moral Relativism > Cultural Assassination...,


Counterpunch |  In contrast, an ongoing exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute shows the early Soviet arts in all their bustling contradiction and coming-to-be. The CIA could not have produced anything on this scale, which required a world-shaking collision of forces and a belief uncomfortably close to the religious. Malevich, Dziga Vertov, El Lissitzky, Lenin, Mayakovsky… The US, too, had considerable forces at its disposal (Buster Keaton, first and foremost). The strange thing is that this exhibition, mounted in a refreshingly no-nonsense and rather cool style, still manages to inspire, as if the past was waiting for the present to catch up to it. This power lies not so much in the myriad forms of the works, which may be bound in time, but in the pure electricity of their still-disarming presence. Against the morose ideas of ends, the grand mortuary they call ‘history’, against the relegation of past works of art to nostalgia and price, something else appears beside the collages, constructivist paintings, fabrics and living spaces constructed for the great new socialist world. We are always told that Stalin was the culmination of this moment in time. Who says? And who paid him to say it? The answer is obvious. They say that here is only one modernism; that there is only one history (and one power able to declare that it is over); that there is only one self to express; that there is only one public and one art which can express it (sometimes fearfully, it has to be admitted). If this sums up the most banal kinds of socialist realism, it is equally applicable to the art the CIA promoted in the middle of last century. Behind the paintings was the logic of pacification.

Alan Dulles’ influence extends far beyond his admittedly meagre artistic output. The CIA’s most recent work of criticism is the destruction of San’a and Aleppo, where the Agency has taken to task outmoded theories of architecture in an imperial inversion of the Situationists’ support for the Watts riots. And The Intercept informsus that Erik Prince, infamous Blackwater capo, and that old has-been Oliver North are setting up a parallel intelligence agency to defend the embattled President against a rogue CIA. Thus, the old rivalry between Classical and Romantic has returned with a swinging post-modern, mercenary twist. Although painting seems to be off the radar for now, the ideas behind the Abstract Intelligence school await resurrection in another form whose inelegance may delight or offend, depending on the myths necessary for the murder of both the Image and its reflection.