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POSTMODERN SYSTEMATICS
by Charlie Finch
 
If, as Donald Kuspit currently maintains in Artnet Magazine [see "A Critical History of 20th-century Art," Dec. 27, 2005], modernism is a decaying substitute for religion in which objects, in the absence of the godhead, are simultaneously defenestrated and reified, what are the systematics, the praxis of worship, in the pseudoreligion of contemporary art?

Surprisingly, the rituals of the world of art strongly reflect the behavior of religious postulants. The pilgrimage, for example, pace Canterbury or the Haj, has become the dominant obligation of art's supplicants. Listen how such mundane terms as "Maastricht" or "Basel Miami" grow incandescent in the mouths of the faithful.

Or take the Bible as sacrament: in the art world just the term "text" transforms any jumble of words beyond meaning into the incantation of prayer.

The mass, the communion, the sacred body transmutes into the artwork itself, shape shifting in the eye or wallet of each beholder, and the antirationality of performance art, now allegedly so popular, mimics priestly function shamanistically.

Go down the list of any group of, say, Christian systematics and you will find its corollary in contemporary art. The offering? Each day's mail proffers some worthy nonprofit soliciting an artist's donations. Confession? Young artists are obsessed with exhaling every putrid nook and cranny of their existences. Intercession? Rich collectors glory in getting close to an artist's life, studio, creativity.

But such slavish hewing to pseudoreligious systematics saps the art communicant of true religious experience.

Contemplation is banished by a mercenary culture of social indulgences that would embarrass Savonarola.

What of the hymnody? Where is the release of communal singing in our contemporary art world? Neglect of the whole leaves bare, ruined choirs.

Self-denial, sacrifice, humility, staples of the religious perspective disappear in the obsessive practice of art: the opening, the sale, the dinner, the party. Indeed, these monkish qualities are openly ridiculed by mobster dealers and the museo floozies who succor them.

So what we're left with is an order of religious observance in the self-satisfied, secular, atheistic art world, which is the envy of the most conservative evangelical church in its conformity, justification of materialism and lack of self-reflection.

And it looks as if a change ain't gonna come.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).