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TitleArt Beyond Itself by Néstor García Canclini
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Page 1

Art

beyond

Itself

ANTHROPOLOGY

FOR

A SOCIET Y

WITHOUT

A STORY LINE

n é s t o r g a r c í a c a n c l i n i

>

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ART BEYOND ITSELF

Page 12

Preface
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xiv

argument that the art field is insular, so that relations among the actors
in that field follow a different logic than those in the rest of society. By
saying that art is situated in imminence, I am postulating a possible re-
lationship with “the real” that is as oblique or indirect as that in music
or abstract paintings. Works of art do not merely “suspend” reality; they
situate themselves in a prior moment, when the real is possible, when
it has not yet broken down. They treat facts as events that are about to
come into being.

This hypothesis must be tested not only against what’s happening
in museums; we can look for it too in the art spreading beyond its own
field and becoming blurred as it mixes with urban development and the
design and tourism industries. We can see how the predominance of
form over function, which once defined the art scene, now character-
izes the way things are done in politics and economics. The programs
that differentiate between reality and fiction, truth and simulacrum,
fall apart. Long after the era when culture was reduced to ideology and
ideology to manipulation by the dominant, simulations appear daily in
every section of the newspaper.

Dozens of Greenpeace activists climb to the top of buildings owned
by Expal, a Spanish corporation that sells cluster bombs. On the fifth floor,
they ask whether the workers have weapons in their offices, hand out
a video of Cambodian children mutilated by bombs, cover the ground
with silhouettes of bomb victims, and distribute amputated legs.

Guerrilla performances by people dressed up as police officers or sol-
diers used to take place only in a handful of countries that were rocked
by “subversion.” Now newspapers and television reporters in every city
where there are active drug trafficking and kidnapping rings document
gun battles between groups dressed in identical uniforms, whether be-
cause one side is wearing disguises or because they all belong to an or-
ganization that has been infiltrated. In Mexico authorities have known
for years about “leaks” from oil and gasoline pipelines, but investiga-
tions into drug networks revealed in 2009 that some 30 percent of the
557 illegal taps into the pipeline system were made by the Zetas, the
armed branch of the Gulf cartel, with the help of Pemex employees
who supplied them with official vehicles and uniforms to carry out the
operations.

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Art beyond Itself
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xv

What’s the right section for these news reports: politics, police blotter,
economics, or entertainment? If these zones are hard to differentiate,
can artists still stake out a space of their own? The spread of simulacra
creates a landscape in which some of the pretensions of art—surprise,
the ironic transgression of order—become diluted. The various indefi-
nitions separating fiction from reality grow confused due to the decline
of totalizing visions that could assign stable positions to identities.

It isn’t only art that loses its autonomy when it is imitated by dis-
guised social movements. The murky mingling of the illusory and the
real also harms the art market, as we will see in ethnographic descrip-
tions of art auctions, where billionaires hide their unexplained profits by
speculating on artworks. The secrecy surrounding buyers and collectors,
the boom in art prices and their cyclical declines (as in 1990 and 2008)

FIGURE PREFACE.1 Still from Dora García, ¿Dónde van los personajes cuando termina la
novela? (Where Do Characters Go When the Novel Ends?), two 14- minute videos,
color, stereo, in Spanish with English subtitles. Produced by cgac (Galician
Contemporary Arts Center, Santiago de Compostela, Spain) y frac Bourgogne
(Regional Contemporary Art Funds, Dijon, France), 2009.

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ac k n o w l e d g m e n t s

>

Many artists, critics, social scientists, and philosophers who
stimulated my rethinking of contemporary society and art
are recognized in these pages. The sections that I devote to
Francis Alÿs, Carlos Amorales, León Ferrari, Antoni Munta-
das, and Gabriel Orozco are based on pieces that I was in-
vited to write for catalogues or books about their works and
on lengthy visits to their studios and exhibits.

To support theoretical arguments in a transnational eth-
nographic understanding of what is happening in the arts
and cultures today, one must spend a lot of time in work-
shops, galleries, museums, biennales, art fairs, and symposia
in many countries, talking with viewers who enjoy or reject
them. When we have the chance to think in company, some-
times in the company of the same people in different cities
and at institutions with differing strategies, and to continue
conversations and debates over email, our chances improve
of correcting a first impression or an intellectual habit that
otherwise might persist in our thinking when the world has
already moved on to other things. For this reason I owe a
debt of gratitude to, among others, Rita Eder, Andrea Giunta,
Manuel Gutiérrez Estévez, Nelly Richard, Graciela Sper-
anza, and George Yúdice.

The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico
City gave me the research time I needed and made it possible
for me to take on these intellectual arguments in a graduate

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Acknowledgments
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xxvi

seminar in 2009. One of the students, Paz Sastre, helped search for
information on the Internet and gave me suggestions for improving the
text. Gabriela Alarcón, Rosario Mata, and Cecilia Meira also helped me
as able research assistants. Four chapters were based on a seminar in
January 2010 at the University of Barcelona, directed by Anna María
Guasch and Joaquín Barriendos Rodríguez. Marcelo Cohen, Andrea
Giunta, Alejandro Grimson, Jesús Martín- Barbero, Fiamma Montezem-
olo, Graciela Speranza, and Juan Villoro also read key parts of the book
and helped me to understand what I was doing in them.

Sharing with Magali Lara the delight of her paintings and her view of
my texts, seeing a few hundred exhibits with her in Argentina, Brazil,
Colombia, China, Spain, the United States, Italy, Japan, and Mexico, be-
ing jointly surprised by the rituals, enjoying the work and the play of un-
derstanding art, its creators, and its audiences—all this had us crossing
many more borders than those that separate states or aesthetic trends.

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