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Marek Bartelik in Saint Petersburg

Quite a few negative things have been said here, at the conference, as to the ability contemporary art to interact with reality, describe it in its own language. All these endless installations and video screens that do not make any sense unless you read a page of the curator’s explanations first... What do you think of that?

Yes, contemporary art can sometimes be somewhat dry or, rather, somewhat empty. It is very much sensation-orientated, built according to the principle of ‘fast delivery’. It only has to be packaged in the right way to become a reality, to become ‘art’. There is another trend, however, which turns to, I would say, spirituality. It may also be quite dangerous as the whole thing can knock against religiosity. There are quite a few artists going that way in search of the fourth dimension referred to by Malevich in his time.
As for video, it is a relatively easy medium – easy to distribute. You can send your DVD wherever you want while an installation, sculpture or painting takes some physical exertion to be transported. I sometimes find it hard to keep my attention focused on a video if the piece is nor very well structured. If it happens to be a simple story someone wants to tell me, I’d rather watch some news or a good movie perhaps. I don’t need to visit an art gallery for that. The new media actually demand an incredibly deep level of understanding what you are doing, and artists often do not think about that: to them, it is the easy way. It is the same with installations. It looks easy, and yet it is incredibly hard to create a really good installation. I don’t think that contemporary art is, say, ‘colder’ than it used to be. The thing is, there is so much of it produced that it is quite hard to figure it out what really is going on or what is the point of it all.
In all, I would say that we are currently living in an age of mannerism. People are not making real breakthroughs, they are busy ‘crossbreeding’, hybridising stuff. That will, of course, change. Hard to say in which direction the whole thing will go, though. And, by the way, that is yet another reason why I am teaching: I want to see what my students are doing. This way, I am also learning – from them. I have no intention to tell them what to do.
On the other hand, it is simply necessary to be famous today, even in art criticism. If you are not very famous, no-one will ever read your texts, people are not that curious. And therefore, unless you are famous, there is a very little chance of you being heard, getting noticed.

And yet we constantly hear voices asking where the Rembrandts and Cézannes of our time are...

Yes, Rembrandt and Cézanne worked very hard and long to become the artists they were. Today, there is an incredible pressure on young artists; the very situation they find themselves in demands that they strive for ‘success’, and it does paralyse them to an extent. They stop growing and don’t develop into the Cézannes and Rembrandts of their time. Admittedly, young artists today use a much more diverse visual language, and yet it takes the same intense focusing on their profession it did in those times. They need space to grow in.
The very paradigm of the way the artist operates in the society has changed. Of course, it is easy to judge for us. And yet I cannot predict which of the contemporary artists will still be remembered thirty years from now, who will be considered key figures. As far as I am concerned, I hope it’s not Jeff Koons or someone like him. Now, that would be a pretty sad testimony of our time, of who we were. >>