Igor Zabel: Contemporary Art Theory

Book presentation and discussion


March 25, 2013, Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Maistrova 13, Ljubljana

Presentation of the book: Igor Zabel: Contemporary Art Theory

Speakers: Urška Jurman (programme manager of the Igor Zabel Association) and Zoja Skušek (co-editor of the selection of texts for the Igor Zabel: Contemporary Art Theory). Zoja Skušek works as an essayist, translator and editor at Založba/*cf. She also edited Slovene editions of Igor Zabel's texts Eseji I – III, published by Založba/*cf between 2006 and 2010.

Igor Zabel: Contemporary Art Theory brings for the first time a comprehensive selection of Igor Zabel’s writings in the English language. This important translation brings forward Zabel’s thinking and writing on modern and contemporary art from Socialist Realism and Conceptual Art to Post-Modernism and Contextual Art, particularly in Slovenia and Eastern Europe.
More about the book.

Discussion: Reflections on Contemporary Art

Speakers: Zdenka Badovinac (Director of Moderna Galerija), Jurij Krpan (Artistic Director of Kapelica Gallery), Tadej Pogačar (artist and Director of the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Institute), Igor Španjol (Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova)
Moderator: Urška Jurman

Igor Zabel was one of the key art historians and theoreticians in Slovenia who defined contemporary art as an art historical concept and not only as artistic production created in the present, in the literal meaning of the word. In his writing, he emphasised that the term contemporary – as something that defines the immediacy of artistic production addressing complex questions of the contemporary world, on the one hand, and the conscious separation from the modernist tradition, on the other – has established itself in its opposition to the term modernity, which in the general cultural consciousness is inseparably connected to the tradition of Modernism and its dominant art institution – the museum of modern art. He dated the emergence of contemporary art as a specific artistic practice at the second half of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, connected contemporary art to the artistic tradition extending from the avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes to retro-avant-gardes, and synthesised the key characteristics of an otherwise very heterogeneous artistic production: a conscious separation from the modernist tradition, especially in terms of deconstructing the concepts of autonomous form and art object; the artwork’s shift from object to space, situation and relation; a shift to a social space; a new role of technology and the media, also in connection to the transformations of painting; new relations between the audience and the work, leading also to new conceptions of authorship; critical, defiant and political strategies in art; an exceptional development of the art system; integration into and compatibility with the international art system, but at the same time a commitment to the examination of a specific, local, concrete space and context; and the already mentioned different conception of artistic tradition.

In his writings, Igor Zabel also repeatedly examined how a particular art concept is to be understood, especially when a certain conception has become canonised in the art historical narrative. In this regard, the presentation of the English translation of his texts collected under the title Contemporary Art Theory and written between the beginning of the 1990s and his death in 2005 seems to make sense in Slovenia above all as a discussion on the concept of contemporary art itself – its aesthetical, politico-economic and ideological implications – and the theoretical tools we use today to interpret and historicise it and consider its perspectives.

The concept of contemporary art was first established as an emancipatory concept for new artistic practices that found a way out of the postmodernist dead-end. After more than two decades of developments in contemporary art, which went hand in hand with the processes of globalisation that the “old first world” used to triumphantly spread the doctrine of neoliberal capitalism after 1989, we can claim that contemporary art has become the dominant artistic paradigm in the age of globalisation.

In light of the general crisis, which challenges the neoliberal capitalist doctrine, the reflection on contemporary art and its involvement in these processes seems more than appropriate.

In the second part of the event, we will thus focus on the questions and findings that have lately strongly stimulated critical self-reflection in the field of art theory and art history:

  • What does contemporary art encompass today and what is the common denominator of this heterogeneous production?
  • Can this heterogeneous artistic production be encompassed by aesthetical and artistic categories? Which discursive categories can we use to interpret contemporary art?
  • Can we talk of contemporary art as a cultural manifestation of globalism – the neoliberal ideology of globalisation, in the sense of Ulrich Beck’s definition of globalism, or the cultural logic of late/financial/neoliberal capitalism, if we paraphrase Fredric Jameson?
  • Does such a conception of contemporary art attest to the fact that the conceptualisation of art as an autonomous field has finally become a matter of history, or is it precisely in this direction that one should seek its potential in the future?

The event is organized by the Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory in cooperation with the Moderna galerija and SCCA-Ljubljana, Centre for Contemporary Arts – World of Art Programme and with support of the ERSTE Foundation.