A friend described dissociation as “taking a break from personhood . . . via food, via sex, via being smart.” But for trans people dissociation can be almost constant, accompanying moments of gender dysphoria. Here is the most stereotypical case: someone has just misgendered you; “their” you and “your” you can’t both exist. Unable to choose and gripping the possibility of future psychic consistency, you let some part of yourself drift away from your body, steam off a cup of tea . . .
While “dissociate” has a specific valence for trans people, we aren’t the only ones who do it. I’m ambivalent about the Woke Era (who isn’t?), which began with the 2008 financial crisis, peaked with the Ferguson Uprising, and ended with Trump’s election. But during this period, many young people simultaneously experienced accelerated political consciousness-raising and a declining standard of living. That is, they became acutely aware of why their life was hard, but didn’t know what to do with that awareness. We are now living in the backlash to the Woke Era: overt fascism from the right and center, and, from the left, a hipster fascism that reduces political commitments to social affiliations, and seeks (among other things) to renormalize transphobia. No wonder that people, confronted with horror and unable to escape, find themselves checking out. —Charlie Markbreiter
DILLER SCOFIDIO + RENFRO
On the one hand you had wars, economic deprivation, the death of democracy. On the other, you had museums. Many of them, all bigger than ever. In the 2010s, culture’s physical footprint expanded to gargantuan proportions. In the US alone (let’s not even start with China), hundreds of thousands of square feet of new museum gallery space came online. New institutions opened from Miami to Bentonville, Arkansas. And we got much more of the MOMAs in San Francisco and New York.
There were some architectural triumphs, like Renzo Piano’s new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, but the name of the decade was Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Once a boutique firm with roots in the 1980s art world, DS+R became the most influential designers of cultural institutions. Taking into account the firm’s Lincoln Center overhaul, completed in the early years of the decade, DS+R has realized some of the largest art commissions of the past ten years, including the Broad in Los Angeles, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and the half-billion dollar renovation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
DS+R’s buildings are the total 2010s package: clean forms that acknowledge a modernist inheritance, undulating exteriors that announce something digital is happening, and spaces designed to be as flexible as the artists and workers who use them to thrive in the neoliberal world order. The defining DS+R project of the decade is not a traditional building, but the High Line: a mixed-use post-industrial flagship tourist destination. DS+R converted an abandoned elevated railway in Manhattan into a “linear park” that supports a robust arts program and epitomizes urban placemaking. It has been copied from Atlanta to Dallas to Chicago.
The High Line helped drive the transformation of what was, in 2010, a somewhat out-of-the-way gallery district into an engine for luxury urban development that shows no sign of stopping in the 2020s. The High Line terminates in DS+R’s Shed, a building that might also be a symbolic punctum for the decade. The multi-use pavilion/theater/gallery funded by billionaires embodies the inequities and openness, contradiction and creative promise, at the heart of contemporary art. —William S. Smith
During the past decade there were real and consequential moments when artistic freedom was suppressed—Tania Brugera’s arrest by Cuban authorities for attempting to re-stage her anti-censorship-themed Tatlin’s Whisper in 2014; Ai Weiwei’s detention by Chinese authorities in 2011, putatively for “economic crimes” but more likely for his continual calls for democracy; the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly (1986–87) from the group exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 2010; or the removal of works by three Chinese artists and collectives from “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” at the Guggenheim in 2017.
But these episodes are not what some of the noisiest free speech advocates on social media have been worried about in recent years. Rather, most of the hand-wringing about free speech in the art world has arisen when people (largely people of color) complain about white artists creating insensitive work. Charges of censorship were regularly laid at the feet of black, Indigenous, and POC protesters, including those who objected to Dana Schutz’s ill-conceived painting of Emmett Till at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Kelley Walker’s solo show at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2016, and Sam Durant’s Scaffold (2012) at the Walker Art Center in 2017. Free speech is increasingly being recast not as the right to speak truth to power, but as the right to raise “difficult issues” without pushback.
It’s hardly surprising that such a revised definition has taken hold so tenaciously in the Trump era, when people like Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, and even the president see themselves as victims of a PC culture hostile to their racist drivel. While it’s definitely better to have free speech than not have it, art world discourse about the topic has frequently positioned white artists and curators as victims of a POC mob when that discourse should be focused on the most important freedom of speech issue facing the art world today: the question of how much speech is censored by excluding people of color from institutions in the first place. —Aruna D’Souza
If many in the art world of the 2000s bought into to Richard Florida’s idea that the creative class could help drive the economy, the 2010s saw an increasing skepticism and even regret about where those ideas had taken us. As the decade went on, talk of urban renewal was replaced by growing distress about gentrification. As the displacement of working class communities was followed by the displacement of artistic communities, “creatives” themselves started to wonder about their role in making cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco increasingly unlivable.
Artist Martha Rosler’s book Culture Class (2013) was an important catalyst for this discussion, as it traced the figure of the artist’s historical transition from bohemian to professional. Ben Davis’s 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (2013), similarly encouraged artists to reflect on their actual—rather than mythologized—social position. But most of the plotline of this story occurred in the actual neighborhoods that were being gentrified.
Events along the front lines ranged from the complex and rhetorical, such as Chinatown Art Brigade’s 2017 protests against Omer Fast’s simulation of a pre-gentrification space at James Cohan Gallery on New York’s Lower East Side, to the simply tragic, as when thirty-six people died in the 2016 fire at Ghost Ship, a warehouse that had been illegally converted into art studios and living spaces in rent-pressed Oakland. The most prolonged, heated, and successful anti-gentrification effort occurred in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, where groups aligned with Defend Boyle Heights connected the dots between artisanal cafes, arts nonprofits, and predatory “development” schemes, using tactics such as picket lines, boycotts, and aggressive social media campaigns to push back.
With a racist landlord as president, it was easy to see how these smaller real estate skirmishes connected to events on a national scale. With protests against Warren B. Kanders (who is in the tear-gas business) and the Sacklers (who were peddling addictive drugs) having found success, one wonders how long it will be before activists focus their attention on the rent speculators sitting at the art world’s boardroom tables. —Dushko Petrovich
I can’t Google this word because articles about me will come up and I don’t feel like being triggered right now. It’s late. I’m tired. I’m Caroline Calloway.
In January of 2019 a Twitter thread went viral comparing my Creativity Workshops to Fyre Festival. At twenty-eight, it’s hard enough trying to figure out who you are without the literal news reporting that you’re evil. To grift is to harm. “Grift”—the noun—is the act by which you separate someone innocent from their valuables by means of charisma or fraud or overpromising with premeditated, malicious intent.
What’s Fyre Festival? Jesus fucking Christ, if you don’t know what Fyre Festival is, you need to put down Art in America and start with the pop-culture basics. No one will be learning about Anna Delvey here. If you’re reading this, you already know the story of Billy McFarland. You know Elizabeth Holmes. And if you’re me, you know them personally because we all met as undergrads at the University of Scam!
But an A.i.A. editor told me that it would be good to include examples. Did you get a load of that Art Basel Banana? Sold thrice for $120,000–150,000 just because someone had the nerve to call it art. To wit: overconfidence is easier than ever in the age of social media. I’ve had “Art Historian” in the bio on my Instagram account @carolinecalloway for years. And until now, it was more grift than true. Thanks for the byline! —Caroline Calloway
Before mobile phones and social media, “immersive” often connoted installations meant to force viewers out of detached contemplation and into an engaged complicity. As Claire Bishop describes in Installation Art (2005), such “total environments” subordinated interpretation and placed emphasis “on sensory immediacy, on physical participation (the viewer must walk into and around the work), and on a heightened awareness of other visitors who become part of the piece.” By replacing representation with immediate experience, artists could purportedly “activate” viewers and emancipate them from social inhibitions, if not the burden of subjectivity itself.
These works were usually meant to be difficult to document and assimilate to the art market. You had to be there. Their point typically was to make you feel fully present in the moment, in that place, attuned to the idiosyncrasies of human perception.
In our current era of self-documentation, these ideas take on a different cast. Engagement with an installation isn’t necessarily about a viewer’s relation to it but how much attention it secures on social media. Activated viewers can be engaging less with the work itself than with their phone. Immersion simultaneously implies dispersion, as visitors share images of their immersed selves as souvenirs of their photogenic, phantasmagoric experience.
Such installations collude with ubiquitous connectivity, which is its own sort of totalizing experience. It decouples our sense of presence from a particular time and space, but it’s also an immersion in surveillance from which there is no escape.
Virtual reality, the latest frontier in immersion, counters the totality of surveillance with its own small-scale worlds. This could be understood as a pointed rejection of Instagrammability: virtual reality, after all, is one of the few remaining places where you can’t take a picture of yourself. —Rob Horning