Beyond Recognition: The Outer Limits of Artistic Creation and Critical Reception after September 11, 2001
Christopher Bedford, J. Paul Getty Museum.
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Jennifer Wulffson Goodell, Getty Research Institute.
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In the wake of 9/11, a surge of art writing emphasized the democratic and expressive qualities of art in a world defined anew by grief, uncertainty, paranoia, and anger. James Wood of the Art Institute of Chicago, for example, affirmed in November 2001, "[a]rt can become our Virgil shepherding us through the labyrinth of life and death. It reaffirms the beauty and creativity that distinguish man-made expression from raw nature and reaffirms tolerance and embrace of diversity." Approached as historical documents, such statements are striking in their reliance on a conception of art-making as an inherently redemptive, humanistic act, a quixotic intellectual conviction that vanished long ago with the rise of post-modernism, if not before.
The day after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the ephemeral Towers of Light project was proposed. While elegant, moving, timely, and suitably elegiac, this was a traditional memorial that served as a placeholder to reanimate nonexistent structures. Irrespective, it was celebrated by both art critics and mainstream journalists. Yet since then the critical community- while often invoking the notion that 9/11 has altered the way we understand extant art- has been less receptive to new projects. As Sarah Boxer noted in early 2002, "[t]he events of September 11, 2001 were beyond measure. But when the day ended, the visual limits were fixed." Boxer's observation is evinced by a reinvigoration of photojournalistic images. But has our investment in these images foreclosed or discouraged work in other media that reflects on 9/11? It appears that faith in the capacity of art to represent and interrogate our responses does not underwrite the discourse of art criticism today, despite recent efforts by artists such as Jenny Holzer, Thomas Ruff, and Carolee Schneeman. Has criticism, consequently, stymied the capacity of visual art to engage such matters?
We encourage artists, art historians, critics and curators to submit proposals that engage with any of these issues and/or seek to answer some of the questions set forth above. We recognize that artistic and critical response to 9/11 is a fitful work in progress, but believe the time to begin to address these issues is now.
The Association of Art Historians (AAH) was formed in 1974 to support and promote the study of art history. We are the national organisation for professional art and design historians, researchers or students who are involved in education, galleries, museums and art-related publishing, or any other activity linked with art and design history.