Tom Holert – Flag Display. Art “after the general politicization of life”


Tom Holert – Flag Display. Art “after the general politicization of life”

Is there contemporary art beyond the political? The inescapability of the present’s multiple, escalating crises palpably affects (and alters) the discursive frameworks of any given artistic practice. In the wake of identity politics, anti-racist mobilizations, right wing populism, climate activism, etc., the language of the political has become tantamount in the field. This entails far-ranging changes in the ways works of contemporary art are being addressed and analyzed. The idioms available to the discourse of art reflect the ubiquitous pressures to adapt to the altered conditions.

Fifty years ago, art historian Francis Haskell attended to the conflation of political and aesthetic languages during and particularly in the aftermath of the French Revolution“after the general politicization of life,” when the matter of painting became a matter of polemics framed in metaphors imported from political discourse. The present state of things, however, differs from the situation of the nineteenth century to which Haskell referred. Rather than grafting categories such as “revolutionary” or “reactionary” as metaphors onto the works, political language is increasingly deployed in a literal, non-figural way—occasionally in and through the works themselves, routinely in artists’ statements or in the writings of curators, critics, administrators, political commentators, etc.

The talk will try to chart the becoming-literal of the political in contemporary art by drawing on a selection of works by William Pope.L, Belinda Kazeem-Kaminski, Kubra Khademi, Liliana Angulo Cortés and Sonya Clark who in recent years have turned to flags as objects of political mobilization, recontextualization, provocation, remembrance and care. 


Tom Holert works as an art historian, cultural critic and curator. He is a co-founder of the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin. Currently, he prepares a book on present shifts in the articulation of “art and politics”. Recent publications include: ca. 1972. Gewalt – Umwelt – Identität – Methode (2023), Navigation Beyond Vision (ed. with Doreen Mende, 2023), Politics of Learning, Politics of Space: Architecture and the Education Shock of the 1960s and 1970s (2021) and Knowledge Beside Itself. Contemporary Art’s Epistemic Politics (2020).

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