The Nicolas Bourriaud curated Tate Triennial, Altermodern, has been generating plenty of discussion – much of it negative. I’m the first to get grumpy with contemporary art, but to my surprise I enjoyed a lot of the Tate’s exhibition. Much of the criticism, such as Rachel Campbell-Johnston in the Times, Jackie Wullschager in the FT and Waldemar Janusczek in the Sunday Times, has been pitched very much against the artists’ and Bourriaud’s use of theory. In one sense one should be used to this with the mainstream press – they’ve always been scared of intellectuals that go beyond the merely middlebrow. But surely their art critics should be obliged to be at least a little up-to-date with the cutting edge in contemporary thought? Doesn’t that kind of come with the job description?
In this context, the latest issue of Art Monthly (February 09; nothing available to read online, I’m afraid) is to be recommended, with no less than three excellent pieces that amount to a critical engagement with the issues surrounding the Tate’s Altermodern. There’s a wonderful interview with radical artist Francis Alys (not at the Tate, but one who could be indicated as an exemplary practitioner of Bourriaud’s earlier headline concept, Relational Aesthetics); a great piece by Dave Beech on the possibilities for critical art after Postmodernism, where he tackles Bourriaud’s concept of the Altermodern within a historical and theoretical context; and finally Maya and Reuben Fowkes on the relationship between art and theory, where they explore a curator’s relationship to art theory and how it can be used and abused.