Original language: English

Original title: The Return of the Real

Translation: Alfredo Brotons Muñoz

Year of publication: 1996

Valuation: Difficult

Hal Foster is an art historian and critic, or rather art theorist, who I think has a somewhat different nuance. Among his numerous publications, collaborations and works for various universities and institutions, the return of real It is considered one of his key contributions, now reissued in a careful and elegant volume, as deserves one of the most outstanding works on the avant-garde of the last decades of the last century. It will not be necessary to insist that reading will be interesting, even essential, for fans (very fans) of contemporary plastic arts, but only and exclusively for them. The rest of the world can save the effort it requires, which is not little.

Foster focuses, as I say, on the artistic neo-avant-garde movements that emerged in the mid-20th century, and relates them to the historical avant-garde movements of the 1920s and 1930s, entering fully into a controversy, mainly with Peter Bürger, about whether these new movements represented a mere revision of the previous ones, or a complete reformulation of the old principles. This exposition, considered the heart of the book, is however only a part of the work. Many other aspects regarding the evolution of art at the time are also discussed: the underlying kinship between minimalism and pop, appropriationism and abject artthe influence of neoconservatism in the 90s, or a very interesting exhibition about the double point of view of the viewer and the observed object.

If Foster were to read this review, which seems very unlikely to me, he would laugh at my simplicity, but that is the opinion of an amateur. Even so, I will not go without saying (or without criticizing, too) that it is very surprising that the vast majority of the artists to whom Foster refers, and there are many, are North American, as if in that last stretch of the 20th century there was no art other than that which emerged in the United States. Either that, or the author simply isn’t interested in anything created beyond his country. As I say, surprising and a little disappointing.

But apart from this, what is truly important is to make the nature of the text clear so that no one makes a mistake. The book is not informative at all. It is a theoretical work around certain movements and trends, but no color palettes, basic ideas about the simplification of forms or the influence of some isms on others, no allusion to the artist creating in his attic (nor, in this case, in his New York loft). Here parade, in the midst of a dizzying bibliography, thinkers who have dedicated a notable part of their reflections to art, such as Deleuze, Benjamin, Barthes or Foucault, but also others who perhaps we did not expect, Derrida, Althusser, Saussure, Lacan. Because the art that Foster deals with is seen and analyzed from anthropology, psychoanalysis, philosophy or semiotics, from unexpected perspectives that intertwine, theories that are refuted or qualified.

Difficult, yes, quite difficult. As much as reading raw any of the authors I was commenting on, Einstein or Freud (by the way, very present throughout the book), perhaps more so, because complex concepts are handled that come in a straight line from all these areas without any balm that I softened them, on the contrary, transformed them into something even more hermetic by crossing them and reviewing them in the light of new sources. Foster does not pretend to be intelligible, he addresses that very small community of theorists, artists, philosophers and thinkers who live in abstraction, scholarly flurry and private polemic. What’s more, I would say that Foster is enthusiastic about moving between especially stratospheric concepts (she is a little reminiscent of a certain philosopher whom I am not going to quote so as not to divert attention, and who by the way is mentioned several times in the book), she likes inventing neologisms and twisting meanings.

So as far as I’m concerned, the American critic has achieved his goal of leaving me out, because I confess that I haven’t understood perhaps even a quarter of it. And even so, I admit that I have enjoyed observing at times, even if it was with a stupid face, because the exhibition is brilliant, with very interesting moments, typical of someone who not only has a cyclopean background but also knows how to dive without limit and examine all the possibilities, all the derivations of what you are studying.

I think it was Gompertz, who does play in the league of popularizers, who assured that art critics and theorists feel somewhat obliged to sell erudition to assert themselves in that strange world, because curating an exhibition and writing Your catalog requires maintaining a certain level. They surely contribute to dignifying art in times so conducive to disbelief, to overcoming the resistance that we mortals, consciously or not, oppose to novelty and creativity, and that makes progress possible. Another thing is that the distance at which they are placed from the rest of the world is often excessive, even more so when the author in question enjoys observing from his vantage point.

Source: https://unlibroaldia.blogspot.com/2024/02/hal-foster-el-retorno-de-lo-real.html

Leave a Reply