Sunday, March 6, 2011

Social Realism in the Twenty-first Century:

Number Eight in a Series

Shaqe Kalaj, “Male 1 (Albuquerque) The Faces of ‘Social Realism 2010, * 1

The first entry in this series was posted way back on October 27th, 2010. The second on November 20th, 2010. With the last entry about Paul Cadmus, March 1, number seven in the series, I have completed my review of a few Twentieth Century artists who worked in the genre. I must now take up the following questions. Is Social Realism an actual concern of Twenty-first century Artists and the Art World? Or has it instead become so politically incorrect and / or difficult to point out problems - much less to try to correct them - that it is no longer possible for artists to create socially proactive art or for the Art establishment to place such before the public?

But first, How Would a supposed twenty-first century Social Realism fit into the Post Postmodern (hereafter the Popomo)?

As a person living in the Popomo I do expect that any current movement called Social Realism should be influenced by contemporary ideas. The first item on my list after Googling “Social Realism” does not disappoint that expectation. “Social Realism 2010: Photographs by Thomas McMillen-Oakley, Shaqe Kalaj; Julia DeClerck,” a show curated by Shaqe Kalaj and presented in September, 2010 in Plymouth Township, Ann Arbor, Michigan was described by the reviewer in ways that place curatorial concerns squarely in the Postmodern if not the Popomo.

…because there’s certainly more than enough social and economic strife to be found in today’s America — even if conditions are far different from the late 1920s-1930s. As the gallery’s exhibition statement makes clear, this trio of photographers crafts “contemporary takes on ‘reality’ (that) incorporate irony, wit, and ambiguity.”

This social commonality — rather than the squalid desperation to be found in the 20th century’s social realism — that gives the exhibit its more subtle, wry undercurrent. * 2

The reviewer's key Postmodern terms are "irony, wit, and ambiguity." I contend that these characteristics can be carried forward into the Popomo.

As discussed in past entries, many critics agree that an important ingredient of the Popomo is the infliction of anguish/confusion/pain on the viewer - though interjecting a brief thought about Michael Anne Holly and other Postmodernist rumination on “reception theory” - I’m not sure how that is to be done consistently by any artist. * 3 Many of those who claim to be living in the Popomo are fans of “Salvage Philosophy,” which seems to be a depressed and dysfunctional propensity to pick through a supposed (often virtual) wasteland of kitschy junk in order to reprocess and claim something as one’s own. That, however, to this writer, is pretty much what quite a few Postmodern artists did anyway. * 4 Perhaps the Popomo the Postmodern and the Modern are really one obsessive / compulsive triple singularity, like a dog running in circles, chasing it's own tail. Still another actual characteristic of the Popomo is that there is no outside. Everyone is on the INSIDE, as Arnold Sukenick states writing about hypercapitalism.

The very exclusion of the poor, the homeless, the ethnically alienated is one of the hottest topics in the body informatique, affecting if not defining our sense of them and inevitably their sense of themselves. Nor is the status of ignored ignored in the Popomo polylogue - it's simply a category continuous with various degrees of not-ignored that cycle in and out of attention. There's no place to hide, no dropping out, whatever your situation, it's part of the convoluted incorporations, the "fold-ins," of corporate culture. Paradoxically, we inhabit an inside with no outside. There is no counterforce to the gravity of money that can sustain an exterior. * 5

I am left with a confused notion of what is philosophically to be characteristic of the Popomo, and the status of the poor and/or disenfranchised within that construction. Thus, I will fall back on my own concern, my desire to find contemporary art that does something similar to that which Social Realism of the 20th Century did with social and political concerns of the time. So, this viewer of art wishes to find art that suits his own needs and purpose, something of a “polylogue” Popomo concern in and of itself. Simultaneously, since any all things are on the inside with no outside in the Popomo, a twenty-first century Social Realism must be included in the polylogue, and that is – as the Pennsylvania Dutch would say - ironic, ain’t.

To be Continued


*1 Kalaj, Shaqe, “Male 1 (Albuquerque),” The Faces of ‘Social Realism 2010,’ “ in, Viewed 10:10 AM EST, Friday, March 5, 2011.

* 2 Cantu, John Carlos, “Art and Ideas Exhibit Displays the Faces of ‘Social Realism 2010,’ “ in, Viewed 10:10 AM EST, Friday, March 5, 2011.

* 3 Holly, Michael Ann. Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image. New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1997.

See also The Three Positions of Interaction with an Artwork," this journal, Wednesday, September 9, 2009.

* 4 “Life After the Oil Crash Forum,”;topic=72983.0. Started by Bones on August 04, 2010, 11:21:34 AM, Viewed 10:57 AM EST, March 4, 2011.

* 5 Sukenick, Ronald, “Avant-Popomo Now,” at Threads, abrinfo, Copyright (C) 1996 The Electronic Book Review and the author. All rights reserved. Viewed 11:01, Friday, March 4, 2011.

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