(R)evolution in Central Europe: AICA's Resurrection of Art Criticism

"-White Places-Black Holes" was proclaimed both publicly and privately as the best congress in recent memory, reflecting both in structure and content, the death and rebirth of art criticism in the 21st century.
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The Art of the Critical Image/Critical Image as Art in black & white & grey: Perpetually self-transmutating Orlan as the "on site" embodiment of the XLVI AICA International Congress Slovakia 2013.

Hosted by the Slovakian chapter of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA)
"-White Places-Black Holes" was proclaimed both publicly and privately as the best congress in recent memory, reflecting both in structure and content, the death and rebirth of art criticism in the 21st century.

The magic that escapes words: The Bratislava closing speech on September 27 with AICA International President Marek Bartelik and XLVI Congress organizers Juraj Carny, President of AICA Slovakia (right) and Richard Gregor, Vice President of AICA Slovakia (center).

AICA Slovakia lured participants from all corners of the globe through the promise of a new dialectic focused on the "horizontal" between local and global catalyzed by a unique concept regarding 'black holes in white spaces" in a public urinal, all the more enticing due to its historical authenticity:

The AICA Congress was last held in our region in 1966 in Prague, the capital city of Czechoslovakia. Only its secondary offshoot took place in Bratislava, but that part has become legendary. Many world-ranking critics, headed by Pierre Restany, instead of attending an event presenting the official notion of contemporary art as found in the halls of hidebound institutions, took part instead in Alex Mlynárčik's "counter-event", which was held in public toilets. This event underlined the duality of the contemporary cultural situation, -- official and alternative -- a model which survived through subsequent decades in various modifications. Today we have a new situation before our eyes : we are witnessing real international successes by Slovak artists on the international scene. This fact in itself poses a duty to contribute our own opinions and stances towards the naming of the wider-than-local context of visual art, at the very least for the purposes of Central Europe and Europe as a whole.

Peter Kalmus, Slovakia's performance art star, lightened up the levity of the Black Hole with hilarious video projection of a re-cycling monotony - uncannily perceiving James Elkins' performance two days later in Bratislava.

Not only did the organizers dare, as above, to do the unthinkable act of creating a fertile middle ground through hidebound linear thought by including performing artists as participants...

ACIA resident artist Igor Przybylski blasted borders from his native Poland to perform the "middle passage" as Congress participants traveled by train from Košice to Bratislava.

The Third Way, in fact, reflected the upward spiral of the presentations: the first morning's polarization of airing cold war grievances in papers by Piotr Piotrowski (Poland), Laszlo Beke (Hungary) and Tomas Pospiszyl (Czech Republic) quickly gave way way to a local search for renewal by Slovak participants Richard Gregor and Beata Jablonska. This effort catalyzed a new impetus to integrate polarities -- the black hole in the white space -- in afternoon presentations by Igor Spanjol (Slovakia), Andrzej Szczerski (Poland) and Katarzyna Jagodzinsksa (Poland).

The second day delivered the bulk of Getty scholars from around the globe -- Karen Von Veh (South Africa), Trinidad Perez (Ecuador), Verlie Poupeye (Jaimaca) and Elaine King (USA) -- finding common concerns in horizontal tensions between local/global with papers from Central Europe: Nina Palavandishvili (Georgia), Lena Prents (Belarus), Belinda Grace Gardner (Romania), Nadja Zgonik (Slovenia).

Karen Von Veh's virtuoso "White/Black/Grey Areas: Reflections on Transitions in South African Art" gave figurative form to dark energy even as it opened the dialectic into the grey zone where the tension of the opposites is dynamically contained...

The husband wife duo Reuben and Maja Fowkes summed up a new universal state of gender equality in their collaborative paper even as they reported on the nationalist hegemony of the "new official" of the "constitutionally embedded super institution" in their base of Hungary.

Fortunately, the Chinese were on hand to close the paper presentations from a holistic perspective...

With masterful stroke, Ling Min of China delivered traditional pen and ink into the dynamically charged white space of contemporary art.

Tsai Raylin of Taiwan summed up grey aesthetics: "Ego's Island is Maze to Others; the critic's duty is to show a way out."

Within this global perspective, the artifacts of Central Europe's pioneering role in integrating the east/west polarity, along with the opposing 20th century styles, was very much on display during the auxiliary tours...

The merging of opposites in the curving forms of Košice sculptor Jan Mathé (1922-2012) whose gracious widow Eva Mathé hosted a dinner party for congress participants.

The trajectory of the middle passage was smartly contained in the art historical visual language of Slovakia's rapidly rising star Ján Vasilko...

..whose aptly titled "Old Future" opened at Pyecka Gallery on September 23. The young painter's resolution of Central Europe's geographical tensions established a vibrant holistic language, hand rendered but with digital acuity -- and plenty of energy filled white space to reflect the shadow.

Here too was a visible, tangible resolution to the tension between the market and the artist outlined by Elaine King's "A Cultural Capital Quagmire." The American scholar delivered a riveting boundary smashing poetic/graphic narrative -- made all the more cutting by its timeliness -- to the hijacking of art by the mushrooming global market, in inverse proportion to the rapidly declining numbers of mainstream critics.

Summing up the exhausted state of the market driven art world, King's sword skewered a crucial point: without the artist there would be no need for the network sustaining the professional art world system.

This point was sharpened further during a visit to Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) launching the post-congress where critics experienced the bold, engaging and timely Economics in Art.

Impressed by the thematic show, Edwin Rubin summed up the awe of his fellow critics: "We don't have a space like this in New York!"

Maria Anna Potocka, director of MOCAK, which resurrects the workshops of Oskar Schindler's former factory.

This new reflective middle posture was present everywhere throughout the 46th AICA Congress, most predominately in the artist designed logos creating a visual language of artist and critic merging to create a space between...

Moment by moment, it was increasingly apparent that organizers gave way to a higher power that effectively declared the death of conceptualism itself, by way of a Boris Groys inspired Gesamtkunstwerk plunge into the black hole the urinal.

Riding the wave of unforeseen changes in scheduling, Sebastian Baden, winner of the 3rd annual AICA Incentive Prize for Young Critics, transformed critical paper to critic's performance...

The "skull" cap was put to use as holy vessel in a death rite of Conceptualism by way of a critical appraisal of the interactive collaborative performance critically appraising Duchamp's infamous urinal...

...effectively opening the white space of the museum for a new breed -- the performer critic who embraces the dynamism of opposites by absorbing of his own shadow.

Baden invited his audience to enter Uncertainty via a border smashing presentation/performance skewering consumerism in art even as it created a shiny new critical reflection...

...slaying the grandaddy of conceptualism and inventor of Readymade urinal complete with black holes in white spaces...

Baden's projection of the Le Musée Igor Balut critical performance in a public toilet directly referenced Duchamp and, indirectly, the AICA Slovakia history, bringing up an enticing question:

What if being at the periphery, or better yet, at the vortex of a black hole was the hippest place one could possibly be?

To consider this inversion would take a re-visioning, not only of criticism, but the making of art in the celebrity driven 24/7 media culture. And yet, this is how Baden, with some help from the local magician launched a new wave...

...the Slovakian Resurrection: Baden with his benefactor, Adriana Almada, President of AICA Paraguay and Juror for the AICA Incentive Prize for Young Critics, with Kalmus hidden by his looming signifier.

The return of the critic was, therefore, very much in evidence by the time that James Elkins arrived in Bratislava on the final day of the congress -- the Ivory Tower counterpart to James Franco -- boundary smashing his way out even as the movie star/auteur is blasting his way in.

Elkins not only admitted that his book "The State of Art Criticism" didn't come to any conclusions, but also proclaimed that "for most of the contributors, it doesn't matter" because "they don't care."

Armed with an arsenal of mind-numbing statistics and research into contemporary critical practice, the speaker with the self-distinction of being selected to write the latest Wikipedia definition of art criticism performed the deadening reflection of dulled surfaces in the cyclical paralysis of his lonesome attempt to systematize the study of the AICA practice. The most salient reference was again Boris Groys, whose insistence on the phenomenological plus or zero (if you are not there) would disqualify the Ivory Tower academic.

Even a casual observer would have to admire the pedestal the globe trotting Elkins has climbed on to perform the duties of guardian at the self-mirroring drawbridge encircling, like one of Kalmus' inane bikers, the Ivory Tower. Wielding his sword to minimal effect, dulled by his battery of numbing statistics, attempting against all reason to determine the vital signs of criticism's demise.

Yet, concluding with an overview of recent cycles in the art world -- from curatorial to market dominance -- Elkins finished his performance with a flourish by suggesting it just may be the time for the critic's cycle. Not stopping there, he went on to demonstrate a real time (R)evolution into an upward spiral.

"The Return of Art Criticism" moderated by Andrzej Szczerski (not pictured) in Krakow. Left to Right: Elkins with fellow panel members Marek Bartelik, Adriana Almada, Henry Meyric Hughes, Juraj Carny and Richard Gregor.

Elkins declared that he already launched a horizontal exchange via Facebook reflecting that of AICA's new initiate: the UNESCO supported organization positioning itself as literal interpreter between local/global manifest in a new project to produce annually a bilingual book of writings by a leading critic hailing from the congress host location.

"Visual Art can be criticism," said Elkins (right, with panel moderator Andrzej Szczerski)

Switching roles, Elkins announced he was writing a review of the conference, mirroring the critic who declared, in an impromptu performance, that she would be reviewing his keynote speech.

The life/death/rebirth cycle of the art critic was therefore completed via a new identification...

AICA International President Marek Bartelik at the Bratislava home of Tomasz Chłoń, Polish ambassador to Slovakia, with the Polish Plumber promotional poster from his native Poland.

...proving once again that a fearless plunging across white spaces, both internal and external, into the Black Hole of uncertainty is the ultimate staking of ground in a new paradigm.

Such a direct thrust into an ever scarcer freedom of public expression is, by necessity, the tool of the critic, whose only obligation is to tell the truth as reflected by the visual.

For this extraordinary effort of boundary smashing at the 49th AICA Congress, art critics have uncovered a new identity by foraging into "-White Places-Black Holes" where only the plumber dares to tread...

An impromptu performance "Identifying with the Polish Plumber" by this critic at a cocktail party hosted by the Polish ambassador to Slovakia.

For more information on the XLVI. AICA Congress, including the published papers, go to: http://www.aica.sk/

All photos by Lisa Paul Streitfeld and used with the permission of AICA International.

Lisa Paul Streitfeld is a philosopher and member of AICA based in Berlin.

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