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Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontova

REPRINT - Flash Art N° 167 - 1992



What is the point you’re making with “Post Human”?

Jeffrey Deitch: I have the sense that we are beginning

to experience an extraordinary revolution in the way human beings understand themselves. The convergence of rapid advances in biotechnology and computer science with society’s questioning of traditional social and sexual roles may be leading to nothing less than a redefinition of human life. It sounds a little too much like bad science fiction, but in fact powerful genetic engineering technologies that will allow people to choose their children’s or their own genetic recomposition are likely to be available during our own lifetimes.

Computer science is perhaps a decade or more away from producing computers that will have more intellectual capacity and maybe even more creative intelligence than any human. In the essay, I wrote about the end of natural evolution and the beginning of artificial evolution. These developments will have an enormous impact on economics, politics, and on virtually every aspect of life. As we turn toward the 21st century we are likely to be experiencing a wave of new technologies and accompanying social changes that will possibly be even more important than the changes that were part of the development of the industrial revolution and of modernism. The point of “Post Human” is to begin looking at how these new technologies and new social attitudes will intersect with art. It fascinates me to think about how many creative and even artistic decisions will have to be made in the application of the new bio and computer technologies. I am not particularly involved with the latest developments in genetics and computer science, getting most of my information from journalists rather than from primary sources. I was therefore quite amazed when the artist Paul McCarthy and his wife gave me an article by the leading geneticist Leroy Hood entitled “Notes on Future Humans” in which he actually uses the term “post human.” Coming from the direction of art criticism, I was actually much closer to current theory in advanced genetics than I had ever realized.

GP/HK: You recently suggested an idea for a show at the 1993 Venice Biennale Aperto whose theme would be “Can Art Still Change the World?” Could “Post Human” actually be this very exhibition?

JD: “Post Human” is certainly about the intersection of art and social changes, but the focus is very different. In “Post Human” I am trying to identify and interpret a new type of figurative art that is emerging in Europe, America and Japan. I do very much believe that art can still change the world and would point to the potent example of Andy Warhol. There are very few individuals who had more impact than Warhol on the culture and society of his times. I believe that some of the artists whom we are presenting in “Post Human” will have an important impact on the shaping of new social attitudes and on the development of a new visual language that will articulate to a larger public the changes that are occurring.



From left: CHARLES RAY, Oh Charley !, Charley, Charley, 1992. Mixed media. Courtesy Metropol, Vienna. Photo: Dirk Bleiker; FELIX GONZALEZ-TORRES, Untitled (left), 1991. Billboard; Untitled (Revenge), 1991. Light blue

candies wrapped in cellophane, endless supply; Untitled (top right), 1989. Paint on wall. Photo: Marc Domage. Installation view at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris MAM/ARC, 1996; MARTIN KIPPENBERGER, Martin, into the corner, you should be ashamed of yourself, 1989. Cast resin, pigment, metal, styrofoam, foam plastic, clothing, 180 x 76 x 30 cm. Collection of Daros Contemporary, Zurich. © Estate Martin Kippenberger; Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.

GP/HK: Wouldn’t you say that an advertising campaign such as Oliviero Toscani’s for Benetton has very high aesthetic merit and could have an impact on the art world and society at large which no work of art or movement could ever have?

JD: Toscani’s Benetton campaign shows the powerful new communication channels that are now available to artists. The Benetton ad campaign is certainly aesthetically interesting, but I do not consider it to be art. It is an excellent example of the new category of ‘meta-art,’a mixture of fine art and advertising, or art and entertainment.  Madonna’s videos and performances are another example of ‘meta-art.’ They use elements of performance art, but not in a really profound way. Yet even though the Benetton campaign is not art the way Barbara Kruger’s work is art, or Madonna’s videos are not art the way Dara Birnbaum’s videos are art, both are communicating in an aggressive way and expanding the boundaries of public taste. We will be seeing a tremendous expansion in this category of ‘meta-art’ in the advertising, marketing,  intertainment and publishing industries. Artists are already participating in it. Good examples are the magazine covers designed by Barbara Kruger and the collaboration on a U2 music video by Jeff Koons. I see companies like Benetton pushing this kind of ‘meta-art’ further towards real art and certain artists pushing their art closer to advertising and entertainment in order to increase their ability to communicate broadly.

Ultimately it is the power of the imagery and of the mind behind it that gives art its impact. I believe that if a great artist were to use the kind of public media that Benetton is so good at exploiting, it would have a much stronger and more lasting impact than the Toscani campaign.

GP/HK: Do you feel that science or ethics might have a more direct influence on the world rather than art, as you hypothesize?

JD: If we look back on the last 150 years of art, science and philosophy, it is very impressive to see the kind of impact that art has had on defining how we perceive the world. The new physics was, in an abstract way, articulated by artists like Picasso and Kandinsky; the new psychology by artists like Schiele and Kokoschka. The exploration of the unconscious was articulated by the surrealists. One can understand existentialism by experiencing the postwar work of Giacometti. I am always fascinated to see how artists parallel the most advanced thinking in science and philosophy, and then crystallize and communicate it. It is through art as much as through anything else that we can understand the world view of the Renaissance. Two hundred years from now I think that people will still be looking at art for a better understanding on the world view of the late 20th century.

GP/HK: Do you think that art today can have more of an impact on reality than in the ’80s, and if so, what do you think art is becoming?

JD: I think that art had a very large impact on society in the ’80s. Art does not have to be socially or politically oriented to have a social impact. The ever-growing importance of the communications industries, which will be absorbing more and more from art, will be giving artists increasing opportunities to make an impact. In the ’90s, I think we see a continuation of the trend that I have tried to explore in “Post Human,” a return to a direct confrontation with social issues and humanistic concerns. The most interesting art, however, will continue to be conceptual in its foundations and somewhat abstract in its form, along with being psychologically and emotionally oriented in its content.


GP/HK: Do you think that virtual reality may be a solution? How might art compete with virtual reality’s potential?

JD: Virtual reality technology is like the introduction of video technology in the late ’60s. Virtual reality technology is itself not necessarily artistically interesting, but it of course presents tremendous new opportunities for the artist. I suspect that numerous

artists will begin to make virtual reality works that are not particularly inspiring as happened when video was first introduced to the art world. But a few artists who have special insight into how to exploit this new medium will, I am sure, make extraordinary things.When the new medium of film was being developed,  there were critics who wondered how art could possibly compete with this powerful new medium. In fact art has competed, coexisted, and contributed to film with remarkable strength. Ultimately, virtual reality will enhance the importance of artists rather than trivializing them. These

powerful new communications technologies will more than ever need powerful creative minds to create the imagery that they will be carrying.

GP/HK: It seemed to us that the first installation of the show in Lausanne was much more intense and dramatic than the version in Turin. The rooms in Turin, which already have such character to them, somehow softened the impact of the show

with respect to the neutral spaces in Switzerland. What did you think?

JD: It is extraordinary how a different architectural or cultural context can change the way a work of art is perceived. I was quite pleased with both versions of the exhibition even though they were quite different. I actually prefer the Turin version because the dramatic spaces of the Castello di Rivoli give the artworks an aura that they did not have in the more conventional contemporary spaces in Lausanne. I also appreciated the juxtaposition of the 18th century and contemporary sensibilities in the Castello di Rivoli’s galleries. The juxtaposition between the Paul McCarthy sculpture and the grand neoclassical architecture of the room was amazing. Even really aggressive works of art like the McCarthy can have a kind of poetry and I like to see how a special space can bring that out. The exhibition will also travel to Greece and Germany, and it will be very interesting to see how the different spaces and cultural contexts will again change how the exhibition is perceived.

GP/HK: Do you think of “Post Human” as a major return to figurative art? What is the difference between this type of figuration and Pop art or hyperrealism?

JD: Yes, I do think we are seeing a significant movement toward figurative art. I see it as more of a reinvention of figurative art, however, rather than a return to figuration. I feel that we are seeing a rebirth of figurative art that is coinciding with these changes in the social and technological environment. This new figurative art is coming from

someplace very different from the figurative tradition of Picasso and Matisse. A new type of figurative art is developing that instead is heir to the conceptual tradition of Duchamp and Warhol. Through the “Post Human” exhibition and its accompanying

book, I wanted to examine this new approach to figurative art, and begin to get people

thinking about the role of artists in interpreting and perhaps even shaping our coming “Post Human” world. The new figurative art of Charles Ray or Jeff Koons, for example, owes something to Pop and to hyperrealism, but its conception is very different. The new figurative art is very much in the tradition of Conceptual art. It is more in the tradition of Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman than Duane Hanson or Roy Lichtenstein. The heritage of performance art is particularly strong in this new work. Andy Warhol, who was as much a conceptual artist as a pop artist, is certainly one of the strongest influences on this new direction, as is Jasper Johns. The best new art usually encompasses a broad historical tradition, redefining it in the context of contemporary thought. Pop art and hyperrealism are two of the recent figurative traditions that

have been assimilated into the new work.



“Post Human,” curated by Jeffrey Deitch, opened in June, 1992 at the FAE Musée d’Art Contemporain in Pully/Lausanne (Switzerland) and later at Castello di Rivoli, Italy (through November, 1992); at Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art in Athens

(December 3, 1992-February 14, 1993); and at Deichtorhallen Hamburg (March 12-May 9, 1993). Artists in this landmark exhibition were: Dennis Adams, Janine Antoni, John M Armleder, Stephan Balkenhol, Matthew Barney, Ashley Bickerton, Taro Chiezo, Clegg & Guttmann, Wim Delvoye, Suzan Etkin, Fischli/Weiss, Sylvie Fleury, Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Damien Hirst, Martin Honert, Mike Kelley, Karen Kilimnik, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, George Lappas, Annette Lemieux, Christian Marclay, Paul McCarthy, Yasumasa Morimura, Kodai Nakahara, Cady

Noland, Daniel Oates, Pruitt•Early, Charles Ray, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Pia Stadtbäumer, Meyer Vaisman, and Jeff Wall.






Giancarlo Politi and Helena Kontova are the editors of Flash Art.



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