SUHAIL MALIK: The Problem with Contemporary Art is not the Contemporary

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.53.10 AM

Produced by Artists Space



In this series of lectures at Artists Space, Suhail Malik discusses the predominant polemics on the conditions of contemporary art and its critical uncertainties. The argument is presented around the axioms of contemporary art as a field of activity that not only includes artworks but also common places, idiolects, received ideas, judgments, justifications, social and administrative quasi structures, power operations, and so on. The first talk looks at what Malik calls the anarcho-realist maxim of contemporary art, which posits art as we have it as a shortcoming of what art should be. The second talk looks at what he calls the mistake that is contemporary art, noting that the problem of contemporary art is not the contemporary. The third talk offers the face off of these two arguments outlining how to exit contemporary art.

In the second lecture of the series Malik posits that contemporary art is a mistake where its characteristic indeterminacy is wrongly identified as the non-unity of the present. Malik draws on the writings of Juliane Rebentisch and Terry Smith, who, respectively, suggest contemporary art is an experience in the object-subject encounter or a set of doubt-filled gestures, equivocal objects, bemused paradoxes, tentative projections, diffident proposals, or wishful anticipations (total uncertainty). As such, contemporary art has what Malik calls a soft identity, which is not, in essence, a recognizable characteristic but an identity at the level of a style, object, medium, venue, without any definite logic. It can’t be characterized but it takes a form of proposal or mode of address. Malik then revisits a series of descriptions on the present condition of art by art historians and curators published in October’s “Questionnaire on ‘The Contemporary’” (2009) edited by Hal Foster. Malik observes how, for the most part, the “now as multiple without identity (the historico-temporal contemporary) is mistaken with contemporary art as a meta-genre of indeterminacy.”

Suhail Malik writes on political economy, theory, and the axioms of contemporary art. Malik holds a Readership in Critical Studies at Goldsmiths, London, where he is Programme Co-Director of the MFA in Fine Art. For 2012–2013, Malik is Visiting Fellow at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, New York.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s