A seventeenth-century nobody coined the word influencer, but the term didn’t obtain cultural capital with swayable tweens, anxious shoppers, or aspirational copycats until the 2010 launch of Instagram. Enterprising influencers typically build-up personal brands through direct marketing campaigns and product endorsements, while more socially conscious trend setters use their public platform to address our garbage dumpster on fire world. Kim Kardashian and Greta Thurnberg are two influencing exemplars whose posts stoke feelings and inspire actions on a massive scale. The former flaunts her curvaceous, heavily retouched image to sell sunless tanning lotion and advocate for prison reform, while the latter sparks vital conversations on climate change and straight up tells adults they suck for making the world shitty.
In the context of the art world, “influencer” has a far more insular meaning. Whereas movie stars often use social media to underscore their everyday relatability, many A-list art influencers regularly employ the same platforms to showcase their virtue signaling clout and cringe connections. Carefully staged sunset selfies with Marina Abramović in Abu Dubai and snapshots of hard hat wearing curators casually posing while art installers do strenuous work behind them reinforce the industry’s enduring elitism, stratification, and nepotism.
Real art world influencers—deep-state patrons, dealers, and socialites—wouldn’t be caught dead posting pics of themselves at Gstaad hot tub raclette parties or rolling around in California King beds made out of money. They understand that invisibility is power and true influence is brandished behind closed doors at MoMA board meetings, not amassed from “likes” dealt out by MFA grads on cracked phone screens. Knowing that no one but the GOP actually like them, the power elite are more than happy to silently control society from inside the actual tax shelters that their architects, art advisors and accountants build for them.
Almost everyone uses social media to project a fiction of their reality, but photographer Nan Goldin used her feeds to seek justice for a societal ill with deep art world roots. In 2017, she began a blistering campaign to call out the Sackler family, whose inconceivable wealth comes from manufacturing the opioid prescription drugs currently ravaging our society. Goldin successfully triggered activists to confront these powerful patrons whose limitless coffers have been bankrolling institutions for more than fifty years. Instead of posting pictures of lowlife friends and art pals, Goldin has established a real model for influencing change in and outside of the art world. —Chen & Lampert
Activist Tarana Burke founded the original Me Too movement in 2006, with a MySpace page where survivors of sexual abuse could share their stories. In October 2017, in response to articles outing film producer Harvey Weinstein as a serial predator, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a suggestion that women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault post the phrase “me too”—prompting the viral #MeToo campaign. In a matter of weeks, the reverberations hit the art world. Powerful men including former Artforum publisher Knight Landesman, Armory Show director Benjamin Genocchio, curator Jens Hoffmann, and artist Chuck Close were revealed to be harassers, and a group named We Are Not Surprised—after a “Truism” by Jenny Holzer, “Abuse of power comes as no surprise”—posted an open letter online denouncing sexism in the art world. The letter was ultimately signed by more than 2,000 women and gender-nonconforming individuals.
As we continue to grapple with the fallout from #MeToo, artists and art historians remind us of visual art’s long engagement with the topic of sexual assault. In Nancy Princenthal’s important new book, Unspeakable Acts: Women, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s (Thames & Hudson, 2019), the author discusses the history of depictions of rape and sexual harassment, including recent responses to the subject, such as Emma Sulkowicz’s durational protest-artwork Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), 2014–15. Last year, the exhibition “The Un-Heroic Act: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the US,” curated by Monika Fabijanska, was held at the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery at John Jay College in New York. Veteran feminist artists have contributed new work in response to the #MeToo movement. In the “Apologia” series (2018–), Betty Tompkins hand-letters the apology statements of sexual harassers onto reproductions of artworks depicting women. —Wendy Vogel
In the abstract: a refusal to ascribe to a theory because an opposite one lurks. An ambiguity of diffuse effect. A restructuring of power relations by rejecting hierarchies. In the physical sense: thriving in the middle of the gender spectrum. See also “gender-nonconforming,” the arguably more archaic “genderqueer,” or “they/them pronouns.” All these words describe those who identify as neither “woman” nor “man,” those who may have been assigned to either side of the gender binary at birth and now live somewhere else.
Over the past decade, at least ten states and the District of Columbia have made it legal to mark one’s gender not as M or F but X on birth certificates and other identification documents. The use of nonbinary pronouns offers a general resistance to the order of gender most literally represented in dress and divisions of public bathrooms.
In the 2010s, an artist or critic who identifies as nonbinary and uses “they/them” pronouns has found their use of these pronouns documented in Instagram posts, magazine articles, and press releases. They have seen the language around their art and body shift from grammatically incorrect to newly grammatical.
And therefore odd on the tongue. In my own writing, I have inserted parenthetical clauses—“Artist X, who uses they/them pronouns”—to educate those unfamiliar with this mode of singular plurality. Once, people whose existence challenges style rules could not be referred to succinctly in publications like the New York Times. They had to be named again and again, or misgendered. How full of fumbles is our use or refusal of “they/them”! How hopeful is this hard work toward larger societal restructuring at such incremental levels!
Even as nonbinary is normalized, misgendering still occurs. “They/them” boasts a bibliography of news stories of material lives becoming real to those outside queer communities. Queer communities—and their manifold parts of individuals—are now burdened with recognition. What was once thought to be not one or the other can now be celebrated as an explicitly messy multitude. —Ariel Goldberg
OBJECT ORIENTED ONTOLOGY
Object Oriented Ontology is the study of objects, premised on the belief that they exist independent of human perception and even, for many proponents, have agency. Commonly referred to as “OOO,” it should not to be confused with “out of office.”
Born from philosophy, the field has proven useful to art history, which studies the role art objects play in society. While art history has largely focused on individual artists and the cultural sensibilities that produce artworks, OOO sparked a shift toward examining the roles those objects play after they are made: the movements artworks spark, the wars fought over them, and the ways in which they circulate.
The term was coined in 2009 by Levi Bryan, who drew from Graham Harman’s Tool-Being: Heiddegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (2002). Similar movements include Actor-Network Theory, New Materialisms, Speculative Realism, Thing Theory, Material Culture, and Quirk Histories: the last details the often surprisingly politicized origin stories behind mundane objects, as in Alison J. Clark’s Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America (1999).
A number of artists this past decade highlighted various things that objects can teach us. For the video The Maid (2018), Carissa Rodriguez filmed versions of Sherrie Levine’s “Newborn” sculptures from the 1990s—themselves modeled after Brancusi works—in the private and institutional collections where they’re now housed. The Maid traces the iteration and dissemination of the sculptures. Ilana Harris-Babou’s video Human Design, on view in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, “probes connections between forced migration and material culture,” Wendy Vogel wrote in our June/July 2019 issue. “In it, the artist portrays an urban explorer who traces the history of objects for sale in a high-end design store.” Pamela Rosenkranz made a series of water bottles filled with flesh-colored fluids (2009–ongoing), exploring how the packaged products embody—and work to perpetuate—myths and sensibilities surrounding health, purity, and cleanliness.
I realize that all of the artists I cited are women. It was not intentional, but perhaps fitting: feminism has long pushed back against the objectification of women, under the assumption that objectification is synonymous with desubjectification. Feminist OOO—much like what Jack Halberstam has called “radical passivity”—insists that agency need not look like outspoken, authoritative beings, but that people and things who seem passive and quiet are pulling the strings, too. —Emily Watlington
For a few months in autumn 2011, under an enormous red sculpture, a privately owned public park filled with thousands of people who would not leave. Occupy Wall Street wasn’t only a syncopated response to what many considered a corporate coup in 2008. Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and the 15M anti-austerity movement in Spain, Occupy was anarchist in spirit, rejecting institutional alliances in favor of horizontal decision-making. One occupied physical space with one’s body, but to occupy encompassed the struggle for the cultural, political, digital, and environmental commons. Utilizing an optimistic early stage of social media, the Occupy Movement quickly spread across the United States and to nearly 1,000 cities in eighty-two countries around the world.
Physical occupation helped creatively channel the anger of debtors and precarious workers. Parks tended to fill with artists; they become training grounds, perhaps even artistic experiments, for life beyond the imaginary of transactional corporate culture. Then, on November 20, 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s personal army—as he later called the taxpayer-funded NYPD—violently evicted the encampment at Liberty Park as part of a nationally coordinated action. But Occupy Wall Street continued in the mass response to Hurricane Sandy (Occupy Sandy), and internationally in Occupy Gezi (2013) and Occupy Central Hong Kong (2014). It awakened the American Left, feeding into successful grassroots movements and political campaigns. Yet despite its influence, Occupy represents a hard-to-recall optimism in the struggle for common space and democratic process, an improbable vision of a unified 99 percent.
Occupy resurrected class language for an age of extremes, naming the profiteers of 2008 “the 1 percent.” The diverging fortunes of the 1 percent and 99 percent were perhaps most evident in the art world. In 2012, Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895) sold to hostile takeover specialist and MoMA chairman Leon Black for a record $119.9 million at Sotheby’s, which was, at the time, busy breaking their art handlers’ union. Occupy Museums, one of many groups formed in Liberty Park, organized direct actions with the Teamsters at Sotheby’s, MoMA, the Met, the Whitney, Frieze, and Lincoln Center in solidarity with people and issues targeted by the philanthropic class. Arts and Labor, another Occupy offshoot, focused on workplace organizing in museums and higher education. Occupy re-politicized the art world, reclaiming museums as political stages and helping spark the unionization of the cultural sector later in the 2010s.
Artie Vierkant, from the series “Image Objects,” 2011-ongoing, altered documentary photo.
Oh boy. Where to begin? This word has been defined ad nauseam. Nearly everyone who writes about post-internet art feels obliged to define it, and nearly every text about it begins with an obligatory litany of other people’s definitions. I think it’s because the term is so brazenly mystifying—in the way it suggests a condition that comes after a phenomenon that remains omnipresent and all-pervasive—that it triggers the Sisyphean work of shoring up gaps in its meaning.
Anyway. I suppose you could say that definitions of post-internet fall into two broad groups: those that center on the artist’s position and intent, and those that focus on the work’s effects and contexts. Karen Archey and Robin Peckham, who organized “Art Post-Internet” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in 2014, took the former approach, describing post-internet art as “consciously created in a milieu where the centrality of the network is assumed.” This resonates with artist Guthrie Lonergan’s 2008 coinage “internet aware art,” i.e., work made with consideration of how it will be seen online. Terms like these seem to have little utility at the end of this decade, when it’s hard to imagine an artist who isn’t aware of the internet, or would contest the network’s centrality.
Critic Gene McHugh, who kept a blog called Post Internet in 2009–10, gave a nicely succinct yet open-ended definition: “Post Internet art leaves the Internet world. It goes to the art world and mutates itself to correspond to the conventions of the art world . . . as the work mutates from the conventions of the Internet to the conventions of art, the work catalyzes the conventions of art to mutate to those of the Internet.” I took a similar direction when I wrote about post-internet art for A.i.A., but narrowed the scope in my critique of the obsession with the installation shot. In its circulation of images of flat assemblages and branded readymades, post-internet art “preserves the white cube to leech off its prestige.” Post-internet designates art about the mechanisms of digital marketing and itself became a marketing term for art.
As annoying as the perpetual definition and redefinition of “post-internet” may have been, the debates signaled a concentration of intellectual energy in the scene around it. Artists and writers felt like they were exploring new and important ideas, with an urgency that was rare in the art of the last decade. It’s a chapter that deserves to be seriously historicized. Maybe in the ’20s we’ll be post- enough to do so. —Brian Droitcour