An Aesthetics of Negativity: On the Instrumental Evaluation of Conceptual Art in Eastern Europe

Abstract

The contextual interpretation of conceptual art under politically oppressive regimes as a politicized art practice seems dominant in the current revisionist discourse of art history. At a closer inspection, this discourse seems to illustrate Rainer Rochlitz’s comments on the use of political criteria for instrumentally evaluating contemporary art, favoring political engagement as a relational artistic value instead of a set of (inherent) aesthetic values. Using art historical analysis of the context of artistic production and reception as well as case studies, I intend to show that what we may praise as being critically efficient conceptual artworks are also aesthetically relevant in a particular sense. The political character they may acquire and the instrumental value attached to it depends on the production of artistic autonomy as a field of semiotic experiments with language and social communication. It is the aesthetic function of that part of conceptual art engaged in useless artistic labor and pointless communication, criticizing the inherent rationality of the modernist project, which obliquely acquires political overtones in times of straightforward ideological engagement of art.

Keywords: Conceptual Art, Eastern Europe, Instrumental Evaluation, Aesthetic Functionalism, Aesthetic Autonomy, Negativity, Ideology


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