This essay highlights post-1945 intertwined aesthetic and political radicalisms in the visual arts, drawing on key examples from the United States and Western Europe in the decades from the end of World War II to the present. It seeks to explore the complex relations between selected artists, practices, and products, and nascent spectacular global capitalism (including some of spectacle’s “technical means of production,” such as perspectival representations). Drawing on elements of the well-known critique of spectacle developed by Guy Debord, the essay posits a tradition, or lineage, of “utopian globalism” in the visual arts, traceable back to the time of the Russian Revolution and active, in mutating form, across the world in the period from 1917 up until the late capitalist 1990s. In a discussion linking artworks by Vladimir Tatlin, Pablo Picasso, and Joseph Beuys to the work of 1960s artists Robert Smithson, Jan Dibbets, and Douglas Huebler, the essay posits the existence of a tradition of “anti-anti-utopian” thinking and art making. Inspired by Fredric Jameson’s recent analyses of science fiction, the identification of this tradition constitutes a means to keep alive the possibility of systemic social transformation and an end to destructive and self-destructive Cold War legacies.
System, Totality, Representation: “Utopian Globalist” Gestures of Dissent in Late Cold War Visual Arts and Culture
Jonathan Harris is professor at Winchester School of Art and is the author or editor of twenty books and the author of more than one hundred fifty essays and reviews. His 2001 study The New Art History: A Critical Introduction has been translated into Mandarin, Korean, Turkish, and, most recently, Farsi, in a new Iranian edition.
Jonathan Harris; System, Totality, Representation: “Utopian Globalist” Gestures of Dissent in Late Cold War Visual Arts and Culture. Cultural Politics 1 July 2014; 10 (2): 226–238. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-2651792
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