Art in Ruins

Gimpel Fils

Political art does not exist, unless one’s conception of the political either features the sign as the agency of social change, or privileges the acquisition of information as a kind of political consciousness. Representations in art of the political, however, abound. It is precisely the willful confusion of these two registers—coupled with and fortified by the institutionalized separation of art and social practice—that sustains and legitimizes the practice of so-called political art.

The critical and curatorial celebrations of such art generally suppress the difficult and embarrassing contradictions that sustain the fallacy that esthetic form plus political content necessarily yield a political effect. Theodor Adorno already saw that art in capitalist society is ambiguous; it is at once a negation and an affirmation of the social world that gave it voice. Herbert Marcuse suggested that

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