200 years after the birth of Karl Marx (1818-1883) we wonder what has happened to the influence of the concepts of this German thinker in contemporary art.
During the post-industrial era and as far as the dominant artistic field is concerned, Marxist ideas seem to have been relegated to the point of being outdated. In the midst of a financial boom, the success of creative economies and their valuation of intellectual capital, no longer physical, glorified the model of celebrity-artist supported by a market that did not hesitate to set new records. As an example, we can mention the acquisition of the work “For the love of God” (2007) by Damien Hirst for 50 million pounds sterling.
A year later, in 2008, the legendary Lehman Brothers came to lower the volume of the party. The investment bank declared bankruptcy which led to the collapse of what was a prevailing business model until then, showing how fragile and interconnected the system is.
Seven years later, the curator of the 56th Venice Biennial, Okwui Enwezor, intends to seek alternative curatorial policies to review the evolution of contemporary art, highlighting stories that may be outside the dominant culture. In this way, the former Director of the Haus der Künste in Munich, reopened the doors of the art world to Karl Marx by putting his curatorial work in dialogue with the literary work Das Kapital. Directed by Isaac Julien, this work would be read throughout the duration of the Biennial, articulating with various activities and artistic actions.
From this perspective, both work dynamics and socially and politically engaged content gain ground. The idea of art as a work is retaken, artists are organized under alternative, collaborative and collective management and production models. International agendas swell their lists with urgent issues. It is from this place that Okwui Enwezor invites artists and their works to participate in one of the most important events in the artistic world.
We are faced with the growing visibility and international progress of numerous interests and sectors that have long been bidding from the most resounding margins. Art raises with new vigor this endless voices questioning from its language to the dominant culture. Feminism, immigration, gender, decolonialization, afrodescendence, etc., are some of the themes that address the new legitimating guidelines of biennials, museums, galleries, and fairs.
However, it is precisely here that we should again recall Marx and his accurate analysis of the system’s own logic. It is not uncommon to find works of great questioning power that have been financed and acquired by large companies. What do these apparent contradictions tell us? In the face of any threat and with the objective of not perishing, an organism must find a way to neutralize the destructive power of the strange agent being the incorporation many times the best way to do it. In this sense, the prevailing system, which can no longer sustain its borders so easily in the face of critical voices, will always seek to incorporate them, widening its limits, yes, but also under the eternal attempt to make functional what once was questioning and destructive.
If the dominant culture has its own logic, art also and for it will always be our best alternative, the constant search for the possibility of glimpsing what we have not yet seen.
All the images belong to the project “After Marx” coordinated by the Goethe-Institut Uruguay and the French Embassy in Uruguay. He summoned the artists Various & Gould (Germany), Vince (France) and Min8 (Uruguay) to reflect on the theme by showing his works in the tunnel of 8 de Octubre in Montevideo (September 2018).