PRINT December 2017

Editor’s Letter

Continuous Project

GEORGES SEURAT once said he wanted to be paid by the hour. The nineteenth-century painter thus pinpointed the central contradiction of the modern artist and, by extension, the modern writer: Like a ragpicker or a flaneur or a hack, the artist and critic were always already compromised by capital—and by the rapaciousness of the new, the fashionable, the ever obsolescent. In our own century, each advance in culture is also a step back, a capitulation to the commodity (in any form, whether object, image, datum, or experience) and to the forces of inequality and regression.

But art is never simply the sum of the political, economic, and social systems that surround it. Art can never fully be explained away by the market, or ideology, or identity. Art and writing and looking will always exceed their contexts.

It is this excess, this irreducible surplus—the profound magnanimity and mystery of art—to which Artforum has devoted itself for more than half a century. As the publication of record in the art world, it has, since the early 1960s, pursued a kind of independent criticism and critique that never shied away from debate or conflict or from its own complicity with larger social forces; instead, it examined art and its milieu with the utmost rigor and seriousness—not without risk, but rarely without joy.

This spirit motivated countless essays and conversations and projects in the magazine in recent years, as emblematized in the special issue on “Art and Identity”—the first of its kind in the publication’s history—in summer 2016. I am proud to have featured the work and writing of more people of color, women, and underrepresented minorities in the pages of the magazine than ever before; but also to have interrogated the ways in which the very forms and processes of art itself might work beyond representation, or mimesis, or essentialism, to ask how art might actually counter social and structural repression. Much hard work—and, just as important, thinking—has been done.

And yet the organization as a whole and the art world more broadly must still confront deeply entrenched, systemic inequalities and fight to eradicate violence, abuse, and patriarchy. To enact structural change—to create protections and opportunities for art workers at all levels—will require unflinching honesty, and responsibility, and sacrifice. It will require historical consciousness. It will require protest, and reckoning.

Even as the artist and the critic are always already implicated or compromised, as Seurat implied, defense is not the only option. Rather than react, they can take action. And that means that critics and artists might have to join together with others and find strength in a collective voice; or that they might have to stand alone, without safety in numbers, or signatures, or “likes.” They might have to strike. They might have to work outside the traditional institutions and structures that we know, or they might have to forge new ones.

At a moment when we seem to be facing so many ends—the end of liberal democracy, of ecology, of the public sphere, of autonomous culture: the eschatology of the world—we cannot simply retreat or remain static. After all, we’ve been here before, as postmodernism and even modernism claimed the ends of previous epistemes. We can and must continue to find a way to act. In this issue, we find artists and thinkers who are already hinting at unforeseen and novel paths forward, posing unprecedented possibilities, offering glimmers of different experiences and worlds. To paraphrase one of the most brilliant art historians of our time: If art is still to come, if artists and critics are still to come, they will not come from where we expect them to.

THIS IS my last issue as editor. Deciding to leave the magazine was an extremely difficult choice to make. But I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work under its aegis, with pioneering writers and contributors, for nearly ten years. I wish the publishers and next editor all the best as they chart the coming course for Artforum together. Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the magazine itself—an institution that has historically fought for art, for understanding, and for critique—and to the magazine’s staff, with whom I have been honored to work, and who are some of the kindest, smartest, and truest people I know.

Michelle Kuo