Decline in contemporary art: tracing the uncomfortable continuities of endings.

Written for The Drouth in 2010, this is my response to the theme ‘Decline’. (If you enjoy this you may also enjoy, Susan Norrie: Part of The Enlightenments)

 “Images of broken light

which dance before me like a million eyes

they call me on and on across the universe”  (1)


Fig 1: Wolf Howard (2001) Mrs Chippy [oil on canvas].
Fig 1: Wolf Howard (2001) Mrs Chippy [oil on canvas].

Part 1:  Modern Art and the cat that will never be shot.

Donald Kuspit characterised Modern Art as being governed by The Dialectic of Decadence (1996).  Staging works as a departure from what has been before Modern Artists are, in Kuspit’s repetitive but accommodating essay, locked into a dislocating cycle.  The novelty of their work is maintained through the denial of connections to previous forms of art –proven to be redundant, limp articulations of a tradition (decadent) –at the inevitable cost of making themselves a target for the next generation.

“Advance or decline – these are the only alternatives.  Impasse, in which there is neither advance nor decline, only uncertainty, is unimaginable in the logic of decadence.  Worse yet if the decline of an art – representational painting, for example – seems to go on forever, because those eager to put it out of its misery, to hasten its death throes with their contempt and indifference, or at least teach it the agony it should feel, find they have no effect on it: it continues to be in good cheer as it goes about its creative business.”  (2)

Kuspit’s statement, derived from a reading of the stance taken by Donald Judd in relation to artists like Sandro Chia, could be seen as a very belated, American, meditation on postmodernism.  Certainly the  singling out of figurative painting seems archaic given the way that the medium has been successfully reformulated by a number of artists, becoming central, for example, to the 2010 Turner Prize.  However, Kuspit’s statement still seems to capture something important about the term ‘decline’, even if it requires a critical reconsideration.

Kuspit elaborates upon what I have here called a dislocating cycle, arguing that Modern Art, excluding the past in order to be present, is always partial and fragmented.  He adds, “To seem modern… art must ultimately look like a ruin, the ultimate improvised look.” (3)  Kuspit’s choice of metaphor is an interesting one.  The ruin, as we shall see, has historically been a sign of absence, the fall of a Great Empire giving those who belong to present political systems impetus to contemplate their own mortality.  Nothing has surely seemed to indicate the past more than a ruin.  Yet here Kuspit uses it to symbolise the broken elements that result from the immediate, improvised forms of artists desperately trying to break from the past by seeking refuge in the flowing tide of the present.  He continues to argue that in order to overcome the impoverishment of Modern Art artists must start to recognise the stable confirmation of the past; only the past “can rejuvenate life, that is, give life a depth which makes it seem whole, and rejuvenate art, that is, give art a wholeness which makes it seem deep.” (4)

This argument raises a number of very complex issues, but Kuspit is not wrong to use the metaphor of ruin, which I shall explore in Part 2.  Not only is it a central motif within Modernism, but it could be argued that ruins are very much about the present.  As much as we might stand by a broken column and consider those who once walked under the Architrave it might have supported, the process of remembering is always ours, it exists for us in the present.  As the Archaeologist Cornelius Holtorf has written:

“Recent sociological studies have tended to take the view that all forms of remembering, whether individual or collective, share a similar dependence on the specific social conditions of those remembering and are thus constructions of their respective presents.  Both kinds of memory rely on what we are reminded of or told, as well as on whom or what we trust, in certain situations, and both can acquire acute political and ethical dimensions.” (5)

In this passage Holtorf is slowly building towards a radical critique of the way that the past is authoritatively constructed and managed by a specialist elite (i.e. trained Archaeologists or Historians) and separated from the past as it is created within popular culture.  Holtorf borrows from Raymond Williams, defining popular culture simply as “the culture actually made by people for themselves.” (6)  I shall pick up the political dimension of this in a moment.  Firstly however, we might say that Kuspit’s choice of the ruin as a metaphor is complex, but not inappropriate for the present.  However, this quickly starts to pervade Kuspit’s ensuing argument.  If the impoverishment of Modern Art is to be overcome by its reconnection with the past, then isn’t that past as much an ideological construct as the spuriously ineluctable decline of art practices viewed by ‘advanced artists’, only then to be confronted by the frustration of them seeming ‘to go on forever’?  If it is, then Kuspit’s model is simultaneously helpful and self-defeating.  The past will be a matter of where one is positioned, and I will argue, will also frustrate attempts to restore any kind of ‘wholeness’ in life or art.  Following Holtorf’s arguement that Archaeology should be a more open and inclusive field, might we not argue that, from our contemporary perspective, the impoverishment Kuspit diagnosed in Modern Art comes not from the void between past and present, but from the void between art as a specialist field and the other forms of art practice deemed to be decadent?

In Britain The Stuckists have famously gone about their creative business in good cheer, provoking figures, such as the Tate’s Director Nicholas Serota, with their protests against the Turner Prize while righteously defending and attempting to critically uphold the “tradition of communicating the power of life through painting” (7).  At first, given the nature of the work produced by members of the group (see Fig 1), their claims and endeavours are hard to take seriously.  Wolf Howard’s artist’s statement about the painting Mrs Chippy reads:

“People have said to me, ‘What’s the point in painting a cat? My five-year-old daughter could do that.’ Yes, she could, but would it be a cat that had the look in its eyes that conveyed to you that it was about to be shot? That’s the fate that befell Mrs Chippy during one of the greatest survival adventures ever – Ernest Shackleton’s voyage to the Antartic in 1914 on the ship Endurance – shown in the background of the painting, stuck in the ice, as the crew drag the small open boat which later accomplished an 850 mile rescue journey through sixty-foot waves.  That’s the difference between my cat and a five-year-old’s.  I also paint cats where there is no difference” (8)

Yet to say that this can’t be taken seriously seems to raise a number of problems.  Firstly, we know from experience that this type of humour and naive childlike style can be legitimate under certain circumstances.  We might think of the witty drawings of David Shrigley and the legion he has influenced; closer to the precipice, we my think of Martin Maloney’s intentionally garish paintings (“The remarkable thing about this painting and the statements that try to support it is the lengths to which Maloney and his collaborators have to go in their attempt to rescue high art from the clutches of cynicism, philistine attitudes…”(9)); or the relevant legacy of radical movements like CoBrA.  There are a lot of parallels with Stuckist forms that cannot be simply dismissed as being demonstrably different in intellectual intent: aren’t they also witty, intentionally garish, radical?  Secondly, when the art establishment tries to defend itself against groups like The Stuckists it becomes apparent that their pluralist motto is ‘anything can be taken seriously’.   Following the 1999 Turner Prize, featuring Tracy Emin’s My Bed (1998) and Steve McQueen’s (winning) video installations, including the Deadpan (1997) recreation of a Buster Keaton stunt, Jeremy Paxman interviewed Charles Thomson, a central figure in the Stuckist Movement, and Brad Lochore, a conceptual artist.  This was to be one of most surreal (contemporary art) moments in Television History.  Charles Thomson, well spoken and courteous, made a vigorous start in the debate by claiming that the work in the Turner Prize wasn’t art.  After an attempt to justify the work as art based upon its capacity to engage with contemporary experiences, this quickly led Brad Lochore to fall back on the kind of tautology made famous by Donald Judd – the key inspiration for Kuspit’s theory – with the assertion that “if people say it’s art, it’s art” (10).   This escalated with Thomson saying, “…I think that’s absolute rubbish”, then responding to Lochore’s statement, “You could say everything is art…” by thrusting his shoe in front of the camera and asking in a plumy voice, “Is my shoe art?” (11) Lochore’s response was actually very reasonable, though the camera catches his momentary surprise (fig 2).  He answered, “I… If you say it is… I have to then Judge it on those terms.” (12)

Fig 2: BBC Newsnight (1999) Conceptual Artist Brad Lochore (and Jeremy Paxman) confronted by Charles Thomson’s shoe.
Fig 2: BBC Newsnight (1999) Conceptual Artist Brad Lochore (and Jeremy Paxman) confronted by Charles Thomson’s shoe.

I’m not interested here in trying to dismiss The Stuckists based upon academic theories, there is surely something valuable in their assault on Serota and the commercial, exclusive interests underlying the Tate enterprise and (neo) conceptual art.  Neither am I interested in making an attempt to justify their theories, I do not believe that figurative painting alone can adequately question the contemporary world, and being from an art background myself, I know (have been taught to know) that there is something important in Lochore’s response.  It tries to assert that (good) art does not merely present an idea in a conventional form, but develops that form in a way that can help us to reassess our relationship to both art and the broader manifestations of that form in the world around us (how conventional the neo-conceptualism promoted by the Tate was, by institutional, theoretical or economic standards, is another question).  What I am interested in is the way this particular case brings the continuity of various forms of art into conflict with the institutions and histories that have ‘advanced’ art by claiming that these previous forms are redundant.

According to the Stuckist website there are now 207 Stuckist groups in 48 countries (13).  It seems reasonable to speculate that they represent only an outspoken minority of artists and members of the general public who still consider figurative painting to be an important art form.  From common sense experience we know that the streets are full of shops making and selling figurative painting, even if it is to serve ‘only’ decorative purposes.  The idea that these art forms might, from certain perspectives, be in decline, is frustrated by their ever continuing vitality.

Before I explore this further it is important to stress a number of other readings of this particular period that need to be recognised as thwarting any attempt to view this subject from one position.  The Tate and Turner prize are particularly powerful entities which also provoked (“legitimate”) artists to react to their apparent elitism by making attempts to bridge the gulf between Institutional practices and a more popular culture of art, such as Jeremy Deller and Alan Kanes’ Folk Archive (2000).  John Roberts has also argued that the work of Young British Artists, so far seen from the position of a highly sceptical group, was in fact much more egalitarian than anything that went before, engaging as it did with a broader spectrum of popular culture and dispensing with some of the esoteric postmodern theory of previous generations (14).  Equally important, it has also been argued that this London centric world was actually losing its grip at the time The Stuckists were demonstrating, with the development of peripheral centres (15) and in some instances, such as Glasgow, driven by artist run spaces that share a much more independent sensibility (16).  This breaks down any clear dichotomous dialectic between advance and decline.  At the same time however, though this sense of relativity might blur boundaries somewhat, it further emphasises the fact that specialisation has been considered a problem, not just by excluded groups but by established critics and artists too.

Returning to Kuspit’s statement we might simply adopt the view that decline is discomfiting to those who might relish the closure of a particular set of artistic practices, because unlike an ending or a fall it designates something that may go on indefinitely.  ‘Decline’ risks the purity of cultural forms that rely upon their ‘newness’, that rely upon a conception of their makers as innovators able to bring forth ideas from nowhere.  It seeps under dividing lines and blurs the edges of historical categories, occasionally raising its head to prove that the progress of advanced art is conceivable only when a broader spectrum of practices is dismissed. So, though the term might frequently be used in a pejorative sense by conservative critics to elevate their own estimations of certain artist’s negative impact on contemporary art (17), the term seems to have more interesting implications when considered as a troubling kind of historical concept.  If there was to be a theory of decline in contemporary art, I am suggesting that while it would remain the focus of critical analysis, it would also emphasise a quite radical entropic quality that washes against a long standing tendency in art to consider clean breaks and movements.  If there was to be a theory of decline, I am suggesting that it would also have to account for the agony and misery intimated in Kuspit’s statement, it is a particular way of remembering that reasserts the lingering presence of something that might otherwise be cleaned away.  Something that has ended can be categorically thought about, either individually or socially, in the past tense.  Something that is in decline, even if (wishfully) diminishing, remains somewhat in the present.

To provide further evidence for  this idea of continuity, before moving on to consider the central motif in decline, the ruin, it is worth quickly reflecting more generally on the relationship between art and history.  Modern Art has, in concordance with The Dialectic of Decadence, often been understood as a radical break with history and convention, whether in the anti-art of Dada or the non-figurative work of the Abstract Expressionists.  On a more specific level it has also been seen as a break from the genre of History Painting, which was established as the highest art form by the Academies of the late 17th and 18th Centuries.  Yet, as a fascinating collection of essays published under the title History Painting Reassessed (2000) makes clear, History Painting might be better described as being in decline.

History Painting used grand themes taken from classical myths in order to create moral allegories for spectators, who would recognise the themes they conveyed. However, this function, it is stressed in History Painting Reassessed, is not so distant from the aesthetic values attributed to abstract art.  As Brandon Taylor writes in his contribution History Painting East and West, “modernist painting in Western Europe encouraged reformulation of aspects of civic humanist ideology on the level not of overt or particular content, but of painting’s styles and techniques.”(18).  The utopian visions pursued by Avant Garde groups, Taylor also argues, required a similar belief in the unifying power of art, the drive for a “reform of consciousness”.  And he also goes on to suggest that the apparent repression of the Russian abstract avant-garde art of the 1917-20 period by the socialist realism in the 1930s belies a number of subtle continuations.

This collection of essays makes an interesting case, though most contributors agree that multiculturalism, ushered in with postmodernism, severely challenges this sense of continuity.  At a theoretical level also, works such as The Anti-Aesthetic published in 1983 encapsulates the desire to resist Modernism’s drive for singular, universal experiences (19).  But it might also be argued that these specialists’ theoretical discourses also reveals a desire to repress a more popular use of historical forms.  Hal Foster, the editor of The Anti-Aesthitic, wrote elsewhere that the then prevalent neo-expressionism presented us with “hallucinations of the historical” (20).  What again comes back into focus is the desire to preserve a ‘proper’ relationship to history, something we were critical of in Kuspit’s argument.  However, here I’m not particularly wanting to challenge  the validity of Foster’s position, it offered a brilliant and penetrating critique of the metaphysical concepts underpinning expressionism while exposing the fallacy of a commercially orientated art pluralism.  Yet, there is still a concern about how it is possible to speak of a ‘proper’ history without maintaining an elite discourse against popular culture.  Moreover, it might be argued from a contemporary standpoint, that aesthetics does not necessarily have to be defined as it was by critics such as Clement Greenberg, a target for Foster, anyway.  The philosopher Thierry De Duve has argued, for example, that aesthetics isn’t about a consensus as to what is beautiful or what is not, or even what is art and what is not, but about the form of speech we use to represent our experiences to others, so that those others can respond (21).  In other words, the function of History Painting, to unite people in the shared consideration of values, needn’t be equated with elitism or be considered extinct in a multicultural society comprised of different points of view.

For Charles Jencks, in a softer reading of the 1980s, there was evidence of a “Post-Modern Classicism” seeing the revival of “the classical languages to call up an idealism and a return to public order”, though he adds that it is “notably without a shared metaphysics or a belief in a single cosmic symbolism.” (22) So, as much as we have seen the attempt to efface certain artistic forms, in Modern Art, in postmodern discourse, in the stance taken by art Institutions, they continue.  And as we attempt to now advance ourselves by analysing the ruin, we may remind ourselves that the penetrating eyes of Mrs Chippy will still be with us.

Part 2:  Through the ruins of art’s history.

In order to remain critical of ‘decline’ it is important to briefly consider its function within historical literature.  As much as I have tried to tease out what seems quite subversive about the term, it remains bound to certain ideological positions.  In historian James Thomson’s Decline in History: The European Experience (1998) the relativity of the term is stressed.  Decline in particular European cities or states was essentially the inverse result of the general dynamism of the other European economies, as power shifted from one centre to another given political changes, such as the ‘fall’ of Rome, or technological changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution (23).  This relativity also suggests that decline often hinges on essentialising or othering on the part of dominant cultures, nostalgically revisiting pivotal places in order to learn from their misfortunes.  In art this is revealed in the painting prominently of French, Dutch and Spanish artists from the 17th Century and connected to the fashion of The Grand Tour. This is the name given to the travels, undertaken by wealthy European Travellers, centred upon Rome, precisely when Italy had lost its political, economic and cultural force (24).  The ruins of the great empire became fixed in the imaginations of foreign writers and artists, who lamented its passing (Fig 3).

Fig 3: Olfert Dapper (1703) Delos. [illustration]
Fig 3: Olfert Dapper (1703) Delos. [illustration]
The Ruin became established in modern historical accounts, from around the 18th century, as an allegorical warning against the possibility of advanced societies’ potential collapse (25).  In a recent and inspiring article, also exploring Decline and Fall in relation to contemporary art, critic Brian Dillon wrote: “Ruins seem, in fact, intrinsic to the projects of modernity and, later, Modernism.” (26) However, since the 1970s this motif lost its credibility for many historians, and in the broader restructuring of postmodernism ‘decline’, as the steady translation of economic and cultural patterns, has been seen to usurp ‘fall’.  As Professor Glen W. Bowerstock states in his report The Vanishing Paradigm of the Fall of Rome (1996):  “For well over two hundred years the fall of the Rome has stood as a warning to modern peoples in the relentless march of their civilization.  And now, in the last third of this century, those who think about these things seem ready to announce that Rome’s fall was an illusion.” (27)  In this, Edward Gibbon’s classic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) is seen to be something of a remarkable precedent, in which, against the impetus of the times, Gibbon desired to trace the Roman Empire up until 1453, though ending it with the decisive fall of Constantinople in that year.

Bowerstock’s text draws out a number of very important observations that help to refine our study of decline and clarify our brief historical summary.  The nostalgia demonstrated by tourists to Italy clearly highlights a romanticising of that culture:  “Ruins, to an Enlightenment eye, conjured up an image of a fall, and Europeans on the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century confronted with emotion sights that Italians had lived with in perfect equanimity for centuries.” (28)  But significantly it is this nostalgia that Bowerstock suggests has diminished.  As stated earlier, the past is dependent upon certain forms of remembering, what I think we have established here is that although ruins might be integral to a concept of decline, ‘decline’ is actually not considered, in historical discourse at least, to be of exactly the same nostalgic ilk as ‘fall’.

But both are moralising terms that are part of human narratives, though we now need to reassess the moral value decline might have.  I shall start to explore this in Part 3.  But let me quickly support this paragraph’s opening statement with the concise words of the philosopher John Gray: “History is not progress or decline, but recurring gain and loss”(29).

“Theories of modernisation are cod-scientific projections of Enlightenment values. They tell us nothing of the future.  But they do help us understand the present. They show the lingering power of the Christian faith that history is a moral drama, a tale of progress or redemption, in which – despite everything we know of it – morality rules the world.” (30)

Finally, Bowerstock’s text offers us a perfect segue for our further exploration of decline:“Since the Enola Gay [the plane dropping the first atomic bomb] did its terrifying work, we have seen images of ruin far more horrible and far more instructive than any that the Romans have bequeathed to us.  Those ruins from antiquity have begun to lose their magic.” (31)

Part 3: The Enola Gay and other disasters:

The Australian artist Susan Norrie frequently brings together TV or film footage to make films that imply catastrophe, while being structured in a way that doesn’t present an explicit narrative: Melbourne might be obliterated in a sandstorm, while other sites are threatened by other natural disasters, slowed down to become more surreal and difficult to ascertain, allowing little purchase from which to gain control over the experience (Undertow (2002)); a mushroom cloud might initiate a series of images of small encampments that suggest life after a doomsday type scenario (Black Wind (2005)).  The works evoke both a sense of foreboding and the type of aesthetic and nostalgic longing we have linked to ruins.  As Jazmina Cininas writes about one element of Undertow:

“Despite its damning content, the imagery in Element 3 is compelling and achingly romantic. Although the work alludes to religious imagery, Norrie stops short of preaching. Waves, ink-black and glossy, roll momentously in an oily ocean. Flames ravage a Germanic landscape, illuminating blackened silhouettes of birch trees; plumes of smoke billow up from the burning earth in an image both beautiful and terrifying. Even the water is on fire.” (32)

My interest here is specifically in Enola (2004) (Fig 4), a video shown in Edinburgh in 2009.  This film is made from footage shot in a Japanese theme park called Tobu World Square.  The theme park includes scale models of over 100 famous World Monuments, though Norrie’s film exclusively emphasises European and American buildings.  As the camera pans around the Vatican and Sagrada Familia, highlighting some of the 140,000 scale model people, Norrie nulls us with gentle Muzak versions of popular music.  This kind of elevator soundtrack adds a surreal element to Enola, which given the amazing detail of the models and the bright exposure of the film, could easily be mistaken for a digital rendering of the landscape using the real buildings (the stillness of the people then a spurious result of a Goole Earth type of image capturing).  In certain scenes we see two spectators.  These Japanese onlookers wear anonymous casual clothing with hooded tops and are shot in such a way as to belie the actual scale of the models.

Fig 4: Susan Norrie (2004) Enola . Courtesy the artist and Mori Gallery, Sydney.
Fig 4: Susan Norrie (2004) Enola [video]. Courtesy the artist and Mori Gallery, Sydney.
The soundtrack’s banality suggests the exaggerated tactics used by officials to placate any vigorous response to a tragic event or painful memory.  Given our knowledge of Norrie’s broader practice and the disconcerting feel of Enola we might then start to make bigger leaps of the imagination.  Rather than being a theme park, there for entertainment purposes, these onlookers’ solemn gazes suggests that it is a full scale Museum, dedicated perhaps to a part of the world no longer intact.  And becoming a kind of Museum it evokes a way of looking that has been  particularly central to Western culture.  The Great Exhibitions of the 19th Century were literally comprised of fabrications of far off places, brought fantastically together in one place, fitted into the geographical and conceptual terrain of the host Nation.  However, a closer consideration of some of these Exhibitions also points to a distinct difference in Norrie’s Enola.  Timothy Mitchell offers a detailed description of this practice seen by visitors to the West, here writing about the 1889 Exposition in Paris:

“[Four] members of the Egyptian delegation to the Stockholm Orientalist conference spent several days in Paris … The Egyptian exhibit had been built by the French to represent a street in medieval Cairo, made of houses with overhanging upper stories and a mosque like that of Qaitbay. ‘It was intended,’ one of the Egyptians wrote, ‘to resemble the old aspect of Cairo’.  So carefully was this done, he noted, that ‘even the paint on the buildings was made dirty.’  The exhibit had also been made carefully chaotic.  In contrast to the geometric layout of the rest of the exhibition, the imitation street was arranged in the haphazard manner of the bazaar… To complete the effect of the Orient, the French organizers had imported from Cairo fifty Egyptian donkeys, together with their drivers and requisite number of grooms, farriers, and saddlers…  The Egyptian visitors were disgusted by all this and stayed away.  Their final embarrassment had been to enter the door of the mosque and discover that, like the rest of the street, it had been erected as what the Europeans called a facade. ‘Its external form was all that there was of the mosque.  As for the interior, it had been set up as a coffee house, where Egyptian girls performed dances with young males, and dervishes whirled.’”(33)

In Norrie’s work this liveliness, this throng chaos as a (fantasy) version of history played out by living actors, is absent.  Rather it presents us with a more meditative reconstruction.  The point seems to be that life has gone from these places, that only the more abstract tendencies within this exhibitionary practice remain; tendencies that in other instances, preceded by the Great Exhibition (1851) in London would remove machines from factories and display them as still and silent aesthetic creatures separated from the labouring process; or further ahead the White Cube space as an apparently secular environment for the aesthetic appreciation of objects.  This has a great impact of the way Enola might be read and I wrote at the time:

“If we return to the notion of catastrophe (and we might remind ourselves that the Enola Gay was the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb), then this ‘nuclear fallout’ – as one review described it – seems to be as much about visuality, exhibition and representation as any spectacular aftermath. In a narrative sense, these buildings, standing peacefully intact, might be imagined to be monuments to buildings elsewhere destroyed. If grand narratives of progress, so tied to the nineteenth-century expositions, project a culmination point for Western civilisation, then Enola suggests its permanent deferral: synecdochical forms displaced and frozen, as if the future tragedy of Western civilisation lies in the crippling logic of its past modes of representation.” (34)

Now in light of our study I might push this further.  In Enola, there is no explicit information that suggests the West has vanished.  Instead we are left to imagine that should a catastrophe have taken place – the West continues as a visually reconstituted totem form.  Enola does not present a fragmented ruin for us to nostalgically lament our own end.  Even if we imagine these buildings to have been remade from the still-intact stones of original buildings, they have been immaculately reconstituted; put together a fresh in a new context.  Nostalgia is dispersed against an ersatz memory.  And here we should note that before its relatively Modern inflection ‘decline’ had no pejorative moral character and simply meant “to bend from, inflect”(35).  If Enola might appear to be an allegory for the West, its almost science fictional spectators remain impassive as if they ‘had lived with it in perfect equanimity for centuries’.  If this is decline, replacing nostalgia for the fall, then it is decline without the crumbling stones and pillars – it is one of immanent inflection, a distorting of the sense that any essential timelessness is being carried on. Enola is a shell of material likenesses that have outlasted a particular system of human action and comprehension.

Let us now remind ourselves that Norrie has created this effect from footage taken from a theme park, a site usually associated with the most vigorous of popular cultural expression.  Interestingly Cornelius Holtorf’s study which was referenced earlier is called From Stonehenge to Las Vegas.  As we established early on, the ideology implicit in the use of the term decline, like the past itself, is subject to the organising principles of the present.  For Holtorf the theme park deserves to be considered as an important site for the continued enjoyment of Archaeological forms, and so it is strange we end up in Norrie’s cool world of alienating icons.  Yet, why are they alienating?  Is it because in order to believe in a ‘moral drama’ we still seek in these ‘ruins’, as intact as they are, a lingering trace of something … something it is hard to grasp?  Would we feel so melancholy if surrounded by the whirling dervishes of the 19th Century?  Is our sense of alienation that which comes from recognising in this work that at the beginning of the 21st Century the West is now the one in relative decline, where familiar ways of seeing are being displaced?  Or is this how decline generally establishes its moral yet entropic effect, giving us a chance to experience a fateful moment in an otherwise routine existence?  Are these monuments so alienating because they are from a theme park and we have yet to reconcile ourselves with a more popular sense of history, against the authority of specialists?  The ‘wholeness’ Kuspit sought, never came.  But, in decline we have found something that continues, and reappears, a broader spectrum of activity that will haunt those who claim to be advanced.  This is the paper I could never end…

“Images of broken light

which dance before me like a million eyes

they call me on and on across the universe”


(1)   Lennon, John And Paul McCartney (1968) Across the Universe[lyrics]. London, Regal Starline.

(2)   Kuspit, Donald (1993) The Dialectic of Decadence.  New York, Stux Press.  P.  22.

(3)   Ibid.  P. 53.

(4)   Ibid. P. 55.

(5)   Holtorf, Cornelius (2005) From Stonehenge to Las Vegas.  Oxford, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, inc. P. 3.

(6)   Williams, Raymond quoted in Ibid P. 8

(7)   Childish, Billy and Charles Thompson (2000) The Turner Prize.  Kent, The Hangman Bureau of Enquiry.  Available at [accessed 29/04/2010].

(8)   Howard, Wolf (2004) in Milner, Frank (ed) The Stuckists: Punk Victorian.  Liverpool, The Bluecoat Press. P. 80.

(9)   Stallabrass, Jullian (1999) High Art Lite.  London, Verso.  P 220.

(10) Lochore, Brad and Charles Thomson.  Taken from the transcript in , Frank (ed) The Stuckists: Punk Victorian.  Liverpool, The Bluecoat Press. P 40.

(11) Lochore, Brad and Charles Thomson.  Taken from the transcript in , Frank (ed) The Stuckists: Punk Victorian.  Liverpool, The Bluecoat Press. P 40.

(12) Lochore, Brad (1999).  From Newnight, BBC 2, Tuesday 19 October.  Available at, [accessed 30/04/2010].

(13) Dennis, Jim (ed)(2010) Stuckism International.  Available at [accessed 29/04/10].

(14) Roberts, John (1998) Pop Art, the Popular and British Art of the 1990s.  In McCorquodale, Duncan et al. (eds.) Occupational Hazard.  London, Black Dog. Pp 52-79.

(15) Mulholland, Neil (2003) The Cultural Devolution: art in Britain in the Late Twentieth Century. Aldershot, Ashgate.

(16)My overview of the Subject:  Clegg, James (2009) Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Art Review, Issue 30 (March).  Pp. 98-105.

(17) See Robert Hughes assault on Damien Hirst.  Thorpe, Vanessa (2008) Top Critic Lashes out at ‘tacky’ art.  In The Observer, Sunday 7th 2008 available at [accessed 28/04/10].

(18) Taylor, Brandon (2000) History Painting West and East.  In Green, David and Peter Sneddon (eds.) History Painting Reassessed.  Manchester, Manchester University Press. P. 66.

(19) Foster, Hal (1985) Postmodern Culture [The Anti-Aesthetic].  London, Pluto Press.

(20)Foster, Hal (1985) The Expressive Fallacy. In Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics. USA Bay Press.  P. 76.

(21)De Duve, Thierry (2008) Do Artists Speak on Behalf of All of Us? In Costello, Diarmuid and Dominic Willsdon (eds) The Life and Death of Images.  London, Tate.

(22) Jencks, Charles (1987) Post-Modernism: The New Classicism in Art and Architecture.  London, Academy Editions.  P. 33.

(23) Thomson, James K. J. (1998) Decline in History: The European Experience.  Cambridge, Polity Press.

(24) Levey, Michael (1962) A Concise History of Painting.  London, Thames and Hudson.

(25) Bowerstock, Glen W. (1996) The Vanishing Paradigm on the Fall of Rome.  In Bullitin of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Volume 49, No 8 (May 1996), Pp. 29-43.  Available at [assessed 30/04/10].

(26) Dillan, Brian (2010) Decline and Fall.  In Frieze, Issue 130 (April).

(27) Bowerstock, Glen W. (1996) The Vanishing Paradigm on the Fall of Rome.  In Bullitin of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Volume 49, No 8 (May 1996).  Available at [assessed 30/04/10]. P 35.

(28) Ibid. P.37.

(29) Gray, John (2002) Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals.  London, Granta Books. P. 155.

(30)Ibid. P. 174.

(31) Bowerstock, Glen W. (1996) The Vanishing Paradigm on the Fall of Rome.  In Bullitin of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Volume 49, No 8 (May 1996).  Available at [assessed 30/04/10]. P. 38.

(32) Cininas,  Jazmina (2003) Susan Norrie.  In Frieze, Issue 73 (March).  Available at: [accessed 08/05/2010].

(33) Mitchell, Timothy (1998) Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Other.  In Preziozi, Donald (ed) The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology.  Oxford, Oxford University Press.  Pp. 456-457.

(34) Clegg, James (2009) Susan Norrie: Part of the Enlightenments.  In Art Review, Issue 35, October.

(35) Online Etymology Dictionary.  Available at, [accessed 28/04/2010].


Linked to Daily Prompt: Simply the Best


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