Revolution is a brutal form of politics. The fact that politicising encompasses a fair share of people’s various fields of activity nowadays is not particularly revelatory. This is due to the post-modernistic understanding of politics and culture mixed with elites’ worldview being possessed by the spirit of Marxist revolution.
Aristotle acknowledges politics as the art of ruling the country, with common good as its main goal. The juxtaposition of words “good” and “common” constitutes a contemporary dialectical contradiction which is impossible to solve for left-wing discourse. How to define “good”, especially in regard to a person (or a “unit” in left-wing terms), and connect it with commonality, a community? One can hardly expect neo-Marxist intellectual and artistic elites to refer to Aristotle. A number of our intellectuals thinks immediately of The Communist Manifesto where Carl Marx explains in a picturesque, essayistic style how to achieve “good” of one social group. Interestingly enough, the manifesto presents many historically (or one should say - “hysterically”) readymade recipes how and what should be destroyed so that the aforementioned common good, communistic one, could exist. At this point, it is worth recalling Carl Schmitt[i], a German thinker and Marx’s compatriot. He believes that the essence of politics is strife. A life-or-death dispute. It calls for defining an enemy and a friend, yet it is the existence of an enemy that is crucial here; a friend is there only as a partner to fight the said enemy. The struggle must not stop, revolution is destined to lead – in Schmitt’s words – “a war against war”. The atavism of fighting an enemy is a generative principle of revolution. The utopian vision of world order securing peace and assuring the common weal required terror and domain of fighters for peace, equality and fraternity at each level of social life and particularly culture – especially in the context of the current phase. Alas, the history of the 20th century showed that Communism and National-socialism utopias were based, unfortunately, on fraternity of blood and peace ensured by their victims’ graves.
The allegation of being political used against people, groups, actions, works of art and artists themselves appears to be the ultimate anathema, with nothing more powerful left, except the very word fascist. After the Second World War, the fight against fascism was one of the main slogans of political propaganda carried out by the Soviet Union, despite the fact that – as is stated in The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – it had been in the Soviet work camps (gulags) that around 60 million people died between the beginning of the revolution and the year 1956. Just as historical Marxist deemed bourgeoise as a model enemy, today, neo-Marxist sees a fascist in the same way. The definition of a fascist is extremely capacious and fluxional with its purpose to stigmatise a given person profoundly and forever. On the other hand, the definition has to be crude enough and shallow at the intellectual level so that the media and entire social groups are quickly mobilised to perform subsequent revolutionary acts. If the temperature of revolt in the society drops, if there is not a single fascist close at hand, one is orchestrated and exposed in order to deliver a simple enemy symbol. What would happen if the enemy disappeared of its own volition before the revolution took over the world? Would the revolution be cancelled or, rather, it would create another enemy that would legitimise it once more? Those questions are left for those who do not detest independent thinking in their search for an answer.
Schmitt points out that the ultimate differentiation in politics is the “friend or foe” division, similarly to good versus evil in morality, beauty and ugliness in aesthetics, profit and loss in economy.[ii] In the area of visual arts, mentality based on such a dichotomy results in the permanent and atavistic need to confront an alleged enemy. In its struggle to maintain significance in the society, left-wing art has to create its new enemies for itself. Thus, for more than a hundred years, it has been a weapon of barbaric, nonhumanistic and anti-Christian war.
Political avant-garde of art
Politics as a genetic avant-garde art principle was present from the very beginning since it was set to achieve an ideologically specified social change. Contestatory currents of new art such as constructivism, Dadaism, absurd actionism or critical art were politicised and harnessed within proletarian revolution in the spirit of dialectic materialism, Marxism-Leninism or uncouth Stalinism. The process was complex and multifaceted but the essence of this “thump” in art had to be a seemingly minor shift of balance point from aesthetics to politics. These were not aesthetic arguments concerning formal-artistic issues that became the cause for rapid changes in art. It was a fundamentally political concept of historically “imperative” modernisation of the world and culture resulting from The Communist Manifesto. At the beginning of 1920s, Włodzimierz Majakowski agitated in what was indeed a poetic tone:
“It is a call to create a unified front of left-wing art – “Red Artintern”. Comrades! Separate left-wing art from right-wing art everywhere! Through left-wing art you should prepare the Revolution in Europe and ensure it in Soviet Republic. Be in constant contact with your headquarters in Moscow (…).”[iii]
After 1919, the idea of art internationalisation was promoted by International Bureau of Art that functioned within People’s Commissariat of Education, a division of Revolutionary Ministry of Culture in Bolshevik Russia. Following the stop of Red Army expansion to Europe by Poland in 1920, communists scattered around the globe, penetrating scientific and artistic communities. In the field of arts, the equivalent of Cominterm (III Internationale glorified by Tatlin with his constructivist sculpture) was Red Internationale of Creative Artists, an organisation propagating Marxist-Leninist ideas in Europe that Majakowski called “Red Artintern”. Its Polish representative was Mieczysław Szczuka. In as early as 1920s, he wrote the following after El Lissitzki: We cannot conceit construction of new forms in art outside the process of social forms transformation.[iv] The material for activities within the field of art was society itself – this clearly highlights avant-garde turn in culture as being political in nature. Art was chosen so that the idea of permanent revolution in Europe and in the world is efficiently continued. Lew Trocki, a man previously co-creating Red Army along with Lenin, became its main ideologist and organiser. Trocki’s International Communist League (Fourth Internationale), upon accomplishing main goal of the founder, took measures to propagate Lenin’s ideas in civilised countries of Western Europe. This action was to assure its ultimate victory and maintain the proletariat dictatorship as well as create global communism.[v] In many countries, the League is still operating.
The Great Proletarian Culture Revolution ushered in 1966 in China shared this aim of social change in culture. It was surprisingly convergent with Bolshevism goals with differences in means, scale and methods used but similarities in final results. The “cultural aspect” of this revolution was to murder teachers – representatives of then rare intelligentsia – by sending Red Guards and move on to kill Communist Party members that represented traditional and national values from times before the revolution, people who had doubts in Mao Zedong’s politics (40-70 mil. people).
Artworld – exclusive reservation
The direct heir to Red Artintern and communist, Leninist-Trotskyist cultural revolution is the international society of modern art called artworld. If it were not true, a clear-cut caesura or artistic event in history of art is required to distinctively separate art from this heritage by severing the roots of Marxism. Post-modernistic philosophical currents – cultivated in so called Frankfurt School by thinkers such as T. Adorno, H. Marcus, E. Fromm and later by J. Habermas – developed new transmutations of Marxism so that it was finally consolidated and adapted to the contemporary world, ensuring continuity of Bolshevik’s total revolution ideas. Alas, there was no attempt to utilise the established critical method to study contradiction within Marxism and genocidal Bolshevism as such.
Contemporary art societies, melted with financial and political elites, co-create structures of a worldwide meganation – artworld. Its full symbiosis with liberal-left political base, along with the control over public cultural institutions, ensures peaceful existence. Institutions populated with curators and artists of “international style” constitute units not unlike regional structures of some globalist political party with due discipline in effect. To be faithful to its execution is to ensure higher position in the hierarchy and guarantee public funding. Contemporary art became, being somewhat separated from the general art, a reservation managed by curators where a collection of specimen-artists is protected from extinction and is given tasty fodder. They hold a strong position and a power of influence as they are agents of Red Artintern and Red Guards bringing global culture revolution. The term “contemporary” is, in their view, the most powerful magical spell. Without it, the avant-garde revolution shall not come to pass!
Artworld is an exclusive world based on different laws of perception where, following the laws of aesthetics, economical laws are suspended as well. In Poland, due to minimal recognition and social interest, most of the modern art works and stock would cease to exist once this society was cut from public funding. The reservation, thanks to its hermetical nature and loyalty it inspires, can rigidly coordinate public fund’s flow and control circulation as well as acquisition of artifacts called pieces of art within the art’s realm, iconosphere. Art curators and artists of contemporary art manage culture due to achieved monopoly; they arbitrarily shape the official history of art as this is the only way for their reservation to be justified and to prevail. The power over culture is characterised with lofty arrogance towards art receivers – proletariat masses. A utopia organised according to Marxist premises ensures equitable and peaceful existence for its members, albeit under one condition: one must not break away from the permanent revolution. If one critic or the artist does that, they are finished. The society immediately and effectively stigmatises said individuals and eats them alive. Such was the case of Monika Małkowska, an esteemed critic who was part of the clique. As long as she preached homilies and used incense, that is. All it took was one, overly honest article about mafia of a too cultural kind and her public execution was well under way. Małkowska wrote:
Polish contemporary art has become a network of interests. “Families” were formed, groups of mutual support that exclude anyone from the outside. Independent critics were eliminated – they were dangerous as they could slip out something against the grain of policymakers. Their role was taken over by curators who keenly speak up in the media. Cussing people out, deprecating. They wallop everyone who might be their competition.[vi]
One would like to read further but… Apart from the typical Internet verbal hatred and media ostracism, the article did not spark any debate. The strength of the argument and logical thinking were not in operation. The revolution eats its own children and demands sacrifice. Wot, very cultural revolution indeed, comrades!
Art of creative artists
Who, among the defenders of art’s anarchic freedom, is able to specify what art actually is? Marcel Duchamp used to say that everything is art if the artist says so. On the other hand, Joseph Beuys – an eccentric conceptualist, performer, provocateur and unrealised politician – claimed that every person is an artist. He continued the disassembly of art’s definition saying: “the process of creation can kiss me on my behind! Man is a creator alone!” If there is no clarity in terms of criteria and definition of art, who and on what grounds can anoint great contemporary artists, then? The answer is simple: reservation institutions. Joanna Warsza explains the intricacies of artist’s instituting and anointing mechanism with an example of a famous Russian band called War. The group is known for its political happenings against Putin and was invited to become curators during Berlin Biennale in 2013 in order to be nobilitated and given artistic “immunity” as well as being granted due prestige in their political fight in Russia.[vii] That is an instance of how political actions are carried out under the pretext of art. Arthur C. Danto, the acknowledged prophet of contemporary art, in his book entitled The Artworld states that in present situation only a society of artists associated with institutions could differentiate art from art.[viii] A contemporary piece of art is a by-product resulting from a political fight for culture within a culture, a – pardon the expression – piece of crap, excrement going out supposed to provide profit coming in.[ix] The object of art as a fruit of contemporary visual artist’s existence has no big significance. It is not a purpose; it is merely a tool of visual oppression sustaining a revolutionary ghost. For a long time now, it is not about service to God or selfless acts for humankind, it is not about the art for art’s sake, much less about the form and the material of the piece. Critics ceased to perform an objective formal analysis, qualitative assessment and works’ interpretation – a sine qua non condition of a critic’s mission. Under the cover of exhibitions they deliver political declarations and agendas. They stopped being critics and became propagandists and publicists of a single, left-wing political option. Similarly to Socialist realism, institutional modern art supports and develops ideological propaganda. Artists en masse willingly respond to the demand of world-dominating political establishments such as European Union authorities and global corporations that have no legitimisation, illustrating with their installations and performances politically correct and desired content, ad nauseam broadcasted by the media and already familiar to all recipients.
Political art centre
The comprehensive exhibition entitled Political Art (Polish original: Sztuka polityczna) which starts in January 2022 at Ujazdowski Castle, Centre for Contemporary Art, much like Wilhelm Tell’s arrow hits directly the most vulnerable spot of artworld – the menacing politicality – that this article attempts to outline. The attention of curators, Piotr Bernatowicz and Jon Erik Lundberg, is focused on artists from all over the world whose works of art, purposefully or accidentally, violated left-wing cultural narrative tabu dominating in politics. The exhibition generates extremely interesting artistic and cultural issues worthy of an in-depth study. The very fact of its existence achieves the basic effect – it tests and debunks political mentality of Polish artworld department. The methods used here were exactly the same as the ones artworld have been using to deconstruct society and the world of classic spiritual values as well as aesthetic, religious and national ones. Every attempt to create a real artistic dialogue and confrontation at the level of artworks and exhibitions or even a mere change in “their” art institutions is considered an outrageous attack and a threat to irrevocably conquered positions. A meaningful comment is made by Joanna Rajkowska who complains about an exhibition competitory to the one she took part in, organised in Ujazdowski Castle:
“I am very sorry that a place that was first radical, avant-garde art institution in Warsaw after 1989 was destroyed. For my generation, Ujazdowski Castle was home (...). I felt that this institution brought me up.”[x]
Leaving home can be upsetting. We understand your feelings!
A blind defence of reservation’s status quo is a simultaneous defence of worldwide revolution’s achievements. These two things cannot be separated. As the external “competition” emerges, maniacal state of agitation among revolution defenders takes place, clearly exemplifying total ideological exhaustion that post-avant-garde art undergoes. At the same time, we witness a collapse in art itself since it lacks artistic arguments and substantive alternative for the future. Reservation’s exaggerated and hysterical reactions are manifestations of fear for livelihood, a somewhat understandable response. As a part of “artistic activity”, public demonstrations inspired by brutal political fight, protests, boycotting, strikes and vulgar shouting or simply aggressive narrative in the media became commonplace. What is more, these are no culture-making and creative means, and most certainly not a language of art, but rather destructive and anarchistic battles for domination. Denying the right of artistic expression for people from outside reservation by artworld is grotesque and hilarious. Especially, in the context of their lamentation and supposed limitations of art’s freedom that they all fall victim to. Nowadays, if someone makes allegations about politicality of an art piece, exhibition, activity or an institution, such a person does not understand dominating nature of post-avant-garde and critical art currents. To press such charges is simply absurd as the main and, most likely, the only paradigm of contemporary art (or rather – anti-art) is to wage political war that involves all possible areas of social life – cultural institutions and media included. Of its own accord, such politicality results in alienating anti-art from wider world of universal art – the organic civilisational works of homo sapiens.
This is not the place for a review of the exhibition itself, though it would be much appreciated. Let us take our time and examine allegations and arguments used against exhibition by reviewers in Polish press. The texts that were mainly published in Gazeta Wyborcza, Newsweek, Polityka and Tygodnik Powszechny are not reviews in artistic sense, they are more of Internet comments written in the heat of the moment, surging with bitterness due to politicality of the exhibition. There is no slightest attempts to analyse the works, much less in regards to the main aim of the exhibition. Their depth and message is best articulated by already quoted Małkowska: Cussing people out, deprecating. They wallop everyone who might be their competition. The attention of commentators is drawn particularly to personal details, especially political affiliation. They are hurt and appalled by the fact that exhibition curators are from outside the reservation. Some credit is due to Ziemowit Szczerk for accomplishing couple of more profound analyses, indicating a minimal self-reflection of his society – a great outcome of the exhibition. He openly admitted: “Should the exhibition was organised by a left-wing and not a right-wing curator – it would get a pass.”[xi] In his opinion, it lacks irony that conditions art. From all the articles, one stands out the most: Carousel of scandals (Polish original: Karuzela ze skandalami) by Piotr Kosiewski[xii] published in Tygodnik Powszechny. It is noteworthy thanks to its awareness of the exhibition and attempts to interpret meanings of works. It is a text that allows polemics at a civilised level despite author being stuck on his left-wing tribal identity. Also, his interpretation of the exhibition is based on a narrow, political division of art into left-wing and right-wing one, as proposed by Majakowski. The tendency to resort to pessimistic and catastrophic hyperboles in many texts may be symptoms of fear that if Political Art was seen by a sufficient number of people, this would stop the cultural revolution course for a while.
The art has become a metaphorical blockade under the cover of which a brutal political fight rages on. It is a fierce battle against long-time social values, relations, the classical order of the world. The barricade supplies it with stones. Therefore no resentment is due if someone fights back using the same means to deliver the blow. The art is an arena where fight to the death takes place, not some art workshop for pre-schoolers.
English translation by J. Bujno.
[i] Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), prawnik niemiecki; specjalista w dziedzinie nauk o państwie i prawie międzynarodowym, teoretyk państwa autorytarnego.
[ii] Schmitt, C., 2012a. Pojęcie polityczności, w: Teologia polityczna i inne pisma. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Aletheia, s. 245–314.
[v] Za: Deklaracja Zasad i Elementy Programu Międzynarodowej Ligi Komunistycznej (Czwarto-Międzynarodówkowej). Dokument dyskutowany i przyjęty przez Trzecią Międzynarodową Konferencję MLK, która odbyła się w Europie na początku 1998. https://www.icl-fi.org [dostęp: 25.11.2021]
[vi] Monik Małkowska, ( 2015) Mafia bardzo kulturalna. Rzeczpospolita. https://archiwum.rp.pl/artykul/1264905-Mafia-bardzo-kulturalna.html [dostęp: 25.11.2021]
[vii] Joanna Warsza, 2013. Sympozjum Performans jako paradygmat sztuki w Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie, http://tpm.artmuseum.pl/pl/doc/video-scena-dla-tanca [dostęp: 22.11.2021]
[viii] Danto A.C. (2006), Świat sztuki. Pisma z filozofii sztuki. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagielońskiego
[ix] W nawiązaniu do Gówno artysty (wł. Merda d’artista) z 1961 – dzieło sztuki konceptualnej, autorstwa włoskiego artysty konceptualnego Piera Manzoniego. W 2007 roku jedną z puszek sprzedano za 630 tys. złotych.
[x] Rajkowska J. 2021. Tu słychać jedynie wrzask, w: Gazeta wyborcza. 3.09.2021
[xi] Szczerek Z. (2021). Nie zamykajmy naszych trupów w szafach, bo wyjdą jako zombi i nas pożrą. Ggazeta Wyborcza 2021-09-02
[xii] Kosiewski P. (2021). Karuzela ze skandalami, w: Tygodnik Powszechny. 13.09.2021