First published: Fall 2012
To capture the unique obscurities of one’s time, it seems that one needs to be out of step with the times; at least, that is the thesis of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, developed in his essay ‘What is the Contemporary?’ Offering a particular reading of the word ‘contemporary’, it is worth reflecting on – especially if we are to search for the particularities that are characteristic of a work of art brut in the broader field of contemporary art.
July 1945: this date marks the famous trip of Jean Dubuffet to several psychiatric hospitals in Switzerland; it has gone down in history as the beginning of his collection of art brut. From the beginning of his adventure, Dubuffet was aware of the difficulty of defining his new concept, but he defended himself by writing that while ‘something’ is ‘indefinable, indescribable, elusive, it does not mean that it does not exist.’ One could even argue that this vagueness – the blurring of pixels – is a sign that the concept is still very much alive, constantly changing to the point that it is hard to follow or fix its limits, like a meteor that flashes across the night sky, whether those who regularly announce its death or illegitimacy like it or not. The year 1945 also signified the beginning of what is called ‘contemporary art’, which, according to Wikipedia, is defined as ‘all works produced since 1945 to the present, whatever their style or aesthetic practice’. For some it is more specifically ‘aesthetic practice and achievements of artists claiming “a breakthrough in the progress of the avant-garde”’.