[-empyre-] Nonsite as recovery

John Haber jhaber at haberarts.com
Sun Jan 13 09:11:24 EST 2008

At the very least, I argued last time, no one is getting rid of 
surprisingly nostalgic, even trashy conceptions of site and nonsite, not 
even by going online. It may not have much to do with the 
under-the-radar approach of Smithson and Matta-Clark, but it bears their 
obvious traces all the same. Besides, people who buried buildings or 
blasted through the roof made some pretty bold gestures, too.

What accounts, then, for the resurgent interest in two artists and two 
entangled ideas? Most obviously, it amounts to the usual generational 
swings, as yet another age cohort enters the museum. After 
Neo-Expressionism and irony, it has become safe to return to the past -- 
provided it comes without the old narratives of formalism and theater. 
In 2007, too, for example, David Reed curated a view of the late 1960s 
and early 1970s as "High Times, Hard Times." While it focused on 
painting, there, too, art spilled over into space. A year earlier, MOMA 
devoted the atrium to Jennifer Bartlett's "Rhapsody" as another study in 
how painting refused to die. Minimalism is fine now, honest, so long as 
comes with a warm narrative of survival—and reasonably warm, fluid 
work to match.

Conversely, the themes never really began with Smithson and Matta-Clark, 
and they never went away. One can see their presence in the litany of 
recent exhibitions, or one can look back in time instead. Postmodernism 
has seen disruptions of art as self-contained cultural artifact in 
everything from Dada to Walter Benjamin's Arcade Project. Even the 
idealism of Le Corbusier's buildings surrounded by park, like Olmstead's 
Central Park, invites human habits and landscape to fight it out for 
themselves. Besides, if Modernism sounds too utopian these days, one 
should not overlook the late-1960s optimism in Smithson and Matta-Clark, 
both recovering contested sites for artists and others on the economic 

For all that, something has changed. One can see it in the almost 
ridiculous explosion I have noted in 2007. Another purported use of 
real-time data, by the Brooklyn duo Fame Theory, displays career 
prospects numerically on LED, like a pretend stock ticker. One can see 
it, too, from my own attempt at a hitsory. Note how fixed notions of 
temporal continuity and discontinuity have entered an account of site 
and nonsite. One recovers nonsites in installations today as if 
recovering the past. In the process, one recovers conceptual boundaries 
all over again, even when one thought one had broken through the walls.

I want therefore to consider alternatives to art history as blissfully 
marching on or in need of recovery. Museums sometimes like it that way, 
and the scenario has real power. Tomorrow I shall take up challenges to 
so optimistic a view. Maybe the ruptures that nonsites and earthworks 
thought they earned have lost some of their ability to disrupt.

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