Tag Archives: art

The geopolitical uses of abstraction

What would have been the geopolitical uses of abstraction? The theory, as it was proposed in articles published in Artforum and other journals in the nineteen-seventies, and then elaborated in Serge Guilbaut’s “How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art” (1983) and Frances Stonor Saunders’s “The Cultural Cold War” (1999), is that abstract painting was an ideal propaganda tool. It was avant-garde, the product of an advanced civilization. In contrast to Soviet painting, it was neither representational nor didactic. It could be understood as pure painting—art absorbed by its own possibilities, experiments in color and form. Or it could be understood as pure expression—a “school” in which every artist had a unique signature. A Pollock looked nothing like a Rothko, which looked nothing like a Gorky or a Kline. Either way, Abstract Expressionism stood for autonomy: the autonomy of art, freed from its obligation to represent the world, or the freedom of the individual—just the principles that the United States was defending in the worldwide struggle. Art critics therefore developed apolitical modes of appreciation and evaluation, emphasizing the formal rigor or the existentialist drama of the paintings; and the Museum of Modern Art favored Abstract Expressionists in its purchases and international exhibitions, at the expense of art whose politics might have been problematic—the kind of naturalist art, for example, that was featured in the “Advancing American Art” exhibition.

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The people’s choice

From 1994 to 1997, the artists worked on the series People’s Choice, whereby they created the “most wanted” and “least wanted” paintings of various countries based on the results of surveys conducted by professional polling companies. The book, Painting by Numbers: Komar & Melamid’s Scientific Guide to Art, published in 1997, explains the statistical underpinnings of the polling process and provides the results of each country’s preferences. Komar & Melamid used the same process in 1996–1997 in a collaboration with composer Dave Soldier to create The People’s Choice Music, consisting of “The Most Wanted Song” (a love song with low male and female vocals, of moderate duration, pitch, and tempo) and “The Most Unwanted Song” (in part: an operatic soprano raps over cowboy music featuring least-wanted instruments bagpipes and tuba while children sing about holidays and advertise for Wal-Mart).

The Most Unwanted Song has a Wikipedia page. The Most Wanted Song does not.

The Most Unwanted Song was uploaded to YouTube in September 2012. It has over 238,000 views. It was also uploaded in parts in October 2009. The first part has over 73,000 views. The Most Wanted Song was uploaded in December 2011. It currently has 34,512 views. Here’s the video description:

The Most Unwanted song is easy to find everywhere, but the Most Wanted isn’t – so here it is.

And here’s the first comment:

The funniest thing about this is that I listened to the Most Unwanted song longer. I found it more interesting. Does that make me a hipster?

And here are the replies:

nope, this is a rubbish song. makes sense.

No, I think that’s the point. This song was made based off of what was popular on the radio/what people ‘liked’; the result being that it sounds really samey and not special. The unwanted song was built off of weird things that you don’t hear often, so it’s more interesting. I don’t know what their aim was with this project, but I assume it has something to do with showing how popular music can be quite boring.

See also: Eurovision.