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1 Dec, 2021 13:25

NFTs and activism named 'most powerful art' of 2021 – no actual artists need apply

NFTs and activism named 'most powerful art' of 2021 – no actual artists need apply

The ArtReview Power 100 is an annual measure of how badly postmodernism and progressivism has degraded culture.

Last year’s list put Black Lives Matter at #1, this year it is the artificial intelligence-generated digital commodity ERC-721. This non-fungible token is named the most influential party/entity in the annual list announced on December 1. Number 2 is Anna L. Tsing (“anthropologist”), #3 Ruangrupa (communitarian-focussed Indonesian collective) and #4 is Theaster Gates (b. 1973), American artivist with a focus on racial issues.  

NFTs: opportunities or scams, not art

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are digital commodities (or a form of cryptocurrency) that have recently generated large sums of money in the art world. They are unique images that exist only as blockchain (digital code), having no physical component. The common perception is that NFT is a financial bubble, with only a tangential relationship with art.

Digital data may be a financial opportunity or a scam, but at the moment pieces can fetch up to over $69 million at auction. The result may be visual slurry with no aesthetic merit, but appearance was not why it was produced nor acquired. It was an investment. A possible advantage of the NFT craze is that it might siphon off the most avaricious investors and free gallery walls of bad art, allowing fine art to become again the domain of people who love making and looking at pictures and objects.  

In the American comic book industry, politically progressivist writers (prompted by online publications such as The Verge) have condemned NFTs as environmentally damaging because they require computing power which consumes electricity. However, some observers have pointed out that whereas comic book artists can become rich from NFTs, their writer colleagues are unable to benefit from NFTs. There is a suspicion that the vehemence of writers’ invectives comes from jealousy.

Anyone but artists

Artivism is the widespread trend of parasitising art venues and funding in order to engage in political action. Artivist Theaster Gates, whose interventions and curating centre on community activism, is only one of the curators ranked in the list. Eyal Weizman, a progressivist artivist/curator, is at #19. His recent exhibition in Manchester was so controversial that it was closed after a dispute with the venue, Whitworth Gallery. The display (by Weizman’s collective Forensic Architecture) was a presentation of data regarding treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli military forces, with a strong bias against the Israeli government. Another non-artist is 92-year-old Mexican “Mixe linguist and activist” Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil. So, no art qualifications or artistic engagement needed to get into this art power list. According to postmodernism, art is merely a category of nomination. Name something art and it becomes art. Now ArtReview is naming political activists as artists.  

At #5, the highest ranked ‘artist’ is Anne Imhof (German, b. 1978) “best known for her endurance art.” Search for images of her art online and you will encounter a sulky-faced individual posing archly in gallery spaces. So, not exactly the sort of art you would hang on your wall. The only name the average person might recognise is Olafur Eliasson (Danish/Icelandic, b. 1967), best known for his large installations, particularly at the Tate Modern in 2003. But these are more museum-funded entertainments than fine art. The remainder of the artists noted in the press release are all issues-based (i.e. political). As vacant as Eliasson's spectacles are, they do not berate you for your privilege or thrust ugliness in the viewer’s face.  

Philosopher Byung-Chul Han is given the #55 position. I know that when I meet student artists and members of my life-drawing group, Byung-Chul Han is one of our favourite philosophers. We are always sharing his quotes and exchanging copies of his books. No, not even professional artists know who these individuals are nor would they benefit from knowing them. The preening self-regard for quasi-intellectuals began with conceptual art in the late 1960s and has now infected every pore of the upper strata of the art world.

Depressing, ridiculous, infuriating…and perfect

The ArtReview Power list shows how detached the elite class is. The list patronises minorities (in the press release, five black women are framed specifically in racial terms), promotes repatriation of non-Western artefacts to their countries of origin (four campaigners listed), and prioritises curators over artists. The list is a time capsule of current-day political correctness.

As art supported by the state – promoted by museums, hosted by venues that receive tax-breaks, funded by governmental diplomatic soft-power cultural initiatives – becomes more divorced from what the rest of us recognise as art, so the elites show their hand. The aim of state art is not to beautify or ennoble or excite; it is to politically harangue people, push niche ideologies, and to humiliate taxpayers by forcing them to fund grotesque extravagances.

Depressing, ridiculous, infuriating, risible, and pompous as it is, the ArtReview Power 100 is the perfect reflection of postmodernist state art today.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.