The Contemporary Condition

The title of my contribution to this series of small books is Exhibition-Ism: Forms of Togetherness in Time. Reflecting on what it is that makes the contemporary a “condition”, I make the case that exhibitions are the most typical instances of contemporaneity, since being together in an installation space makes us aware of the moment, the now, where the interaction with artworks awakens the objects from their slumber and brings them to life. The book begins with a reflection on a Spanish sculpture where contemporary artist Fernando Sánchez Castillo had reconceived Rodin Thinker as a woman. To respond to Rodin’s most famous sculpture through gender-bending is a timely intervention in a tradition where thought is tenaciously connoted masculine, leaving for women other roles, mostly servicing masculine desires. In all its brilliance, Rodin’s masterpiece fits in a tradition of falsehood, reductionism, and iconographic stagnation. Then, after some reflections on my Don Quijote project, I end on another Spanish sculpture, El soplador by Lidó Rico,an exuberant installation that embodies my concept of “preposterous history”.
At any given time, what each of us sees when looking at an image, whether historical –“old master art” – or contemporary, is a new image, fresh from the thought-act the viewer and his or her baggage of experience, earlier viewings, and thoughts brings to bear on it. That makes art contemporary: it acts on and with its viewers in the present. This is not, not ever, our own thinking power only, but primarily the image that persuades us to enter in the interaction. This is how images can be said to “think”: in interaction (performatively), in theoretically relevant ways (as theoretical object), and across time (anachronistically). These three facets point to those aspects of the image that seem more like ideas than things or people.