The Dark Heart and the Economics of Fear

George  Magalios

george magalios and dark art

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst, Skull with Diamonds, 2007

Contemporary art fixates on the darker side of human nature. This dark art aspect of creativity is a central psychological component of the codification of art seen in major galleries in New York, London and other cities. Figures as varied as Charles Ray, Peter Coffin, or Maurizio Cattelan all demonstrate an ironic mode of ressentiment in their work. Whether tongue-in-cheek irony or general angst (of the I hate the world but I am better than you variety), there exists an inherently cynical and false darkness to what constitutes the majority of work and art criticism in contemporary art collections and publications.

This  falsehood of darkness, of posturing, of pretending, or wanting to be seen as dark, is in reality a pose, much like a model trying to look serious or sad in front of the camera when she is bored. True darkness, true depth, can only emerge when it is a product of authentic emotional striving and life experiences that do not put oneself before the experience of creation. Contemporary art is divorced from life and death and this is its central problem. True darkness cannot be self-conscious.

This self-consciousness may be the decisive thread that runs through artists like Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.

It is this self-consciousness that prevents an art of true sincerity from appearing in places like the Matthew Marks Gallery or the New Museum. We cannot be true to ourselves when we are always pre-occupied with the “I”,  with what we are wearing, how we are speaking, and how we are being perceived. The condition of pre-self-awareness is psychologically and creatively crippling. It does not matter if this is the cause or a symptom of fraudulent cynical art. What matters is that art in the contemporary sphere is a closed system that cannot stomach true darkness in much the same way that our political sphere cannot accept true alternatives to the Republican/Democrat binary. To do so would destabilize the assumptions of contemporary art and make it more true to life and hence, more democratic – the last thing elite collectors and curators want since the very presumption of eliteness and rarity is central to the (artificial) valuation of a work of contemporary painting, sculpture, video, performance, etc.

The truth, as we all know, is that contemporary art is not inherently “better”, “more intellectually stimulating” or “of a higher quality” than other modes of making. Contemporary art is, however, inherently built with consensually fraudulent values. It is this way for one reason and one reason only: so the wealthy patrons can re-assert their difference from others and feel culturally, intellectually, morally, and financially superior. But this need for superiority is itself a drive born of guilt and insecurity. The relationship between contemporary art and economics is tied to the latent terror prominent in all attempts at status distinction and hierarchy. To understand the false darkness of contemporary artists you must study the economics of fear.

Luc Tuymans and the Use Value of Irony

George A. Magalios

First Presented at the College Art Association Conference, New York, 2007

A Cynic is a spy who aims to discover what things are friendly or hostile to man; after making accurate observations, he then comes back and reports the truth.
-Epictetus (55 – 135 C.E.)

The Surface: Warhol’s Victory
Ladies, Gentlemen. Artists and Academics:

Let me begin by speaking about the wound…
Or, more precisely: the social/aesthetic disease from which the creative wound today originates: Cynical Irony. Continue Reading

The Surface Versus the Ground

George A. Magalios

Surface versus Ground: the battle between the sign and that which is signified. This contest encmpasses good and evil, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, environmentalist and gun lobyist and all of the central epistemological dichotomies of our time. Continue Reading