Leaders from the world of art are gathering once again for Art Basel this week, the world’s largest art show. After a year of COVID-induced absence and convalesce, artists, art galleries and art collectors are about to stage a strong recovery. Yet, amidst all the adulation I am missing a sense of what shall come next. As a naïve but concerned sculptor I believe that we have a rare, brief opportunity to rethink, reimagine, and remodel our world. What are our shared solutions that we can enact to solve the existential challenges facing humanity? How can the arts nurture the deep transformations our world really needs? What is the zeitgeist of present and emerging art and how does it impact society?
I am not proposing a new manifesto though – there have been too many manifestos in the last 200 years, starting with Karl Marx’ Communist Manifesto. And I will hardly mention the ruminations of philosophical schools since the times of the ancient Greeks. Manifesto of arts have been particularly persistent: post-Modernism—as manifested by the pop-artists, abstractionists and globalists of our time—has become a recurring discourse over the last 50 years: being associated with fragmentation, irony and yes, mundane entertainment.
French philosopher Jacques Derrida laid the ground for post-Modernism – conceiving the idea of the deconstructive mindset. Deconstructivism criticised the emotional order of humanity and Plato’s early idea of true forms: he argued that essence is to be found in appearance. While this school of thought held sway, it was inherently associated with the indifference and nihilism that are so characteristic of post-Modernism, and now globalisation. There is a certain homogeneity that seems complementary to the globalist post-Modern era; objects look and feel similar, somewhat like a déjà vu. And the development of the post-Modernists’ digital inanimate technology has only furthered this self-obsession that does not hide humankind’s desire to feel important.
With Art Basel refilling its stage we are entering a new era, and witnessing the death of post-Modernism. In burying post-Modernism, I wish to embrace an era of hopeful togetherness and organic growth that shall lead us beyond a Derridean levelling down. All my thoughts come about in response to the complex crises arising from pandemics and climate change, and to meeting our collective obligations within the sustainable development goals. Post-Modernism cannot portray such epochal challenges any longer. I could take the easy way and vociferate a new manifesto calling for post post-Modernism – but that would be too simplistic and just a form of words: no one can literally be avant-garde, since no one can be in front of everyone else. What we need is a non-manifesto – an endeavour to really understand the diversity of the Arts. And to understand the passion and purpose of the Arts.
Artists can go beyond all ‘isms’, all ‘post-somethings’ and be creative and innovative using this period of upheaval to find new ways of expression which do not moralise other artists or non-artists. Dialogue is important just as we see between consumers and artists like Christo and Jean-Claude’s posthumous covering of the Arc de Triomphe. We shall embrace plurality – humans have more in common with one another than differences. And we need to get beyond the dogmatic boxes—realism against abstraction, for instance—as such reductionism cannot give birth to new things, neither in everyday life, nor in the Arts. Categorisation, in my humble opinion, leads to small-mindedness and pusillanimity. The new freedom of the Arts can be herald a period of almost endless creativity and innovation—in the best case—to paint and sculpt the future.
As humans seek shelter, searching for themselves as part of a community or society they really want to be at one with others. Art can connect, depicting the fate of a human being within its surrounding called nature. This idea supports the query of Plato – breaking our procrastination, to live, and feel the true sense of being while tottering on the edge of infinity. Plato also suggested co-existence in harmony should be the ultimate goal for both individual human action and political decision-making.
We don’t need a new manifesto at this very moment. What we need is to retrench and grasp the vocation of Art to help define and develop our existence and determine our real needs. To save the planet and to realise an actionable balance between Art and the material world. We shall overcome the nihilism of globalisation while accepting Plato’s dialectic reasoning. And artists shall speak out, enlighten, or at least inform us how to read, see and touch their creations – giving rise to a new macrocosm.
While the art world deals and parties in Basel, we need to engage in real debate about the future of the Arts. The answers of the artists on the eternal questions of human mankind might all be there, they should get out of the gallery booths to be heard and seen, to congregate and speak as one. We just need to open Art Basel’s treasure chest.
I wish Art Basel good luck. Or rather, inspiration.