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When did we start being 'Contemporary'? Peter Osborne's MACBA lecture

Peter Osborne lecture at MACBA, 12 April 2012. Photo: Latitudes
Yesterday at MACBA, Peter Osborne made a sparkling analysis of the emergence of 'contemporary' as a fully critical art term. Starting from the "decisive and devastating" hinge of Tino Sehgal's 2005 "This is So Contemporary", Osborne, the Professor of Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University London, asked what it implies to be making a claim to being 'contemporary' beyond being "the up-to-date", the "new".

Tracing a genealogy of 'contemporary' from its first emergence in post-war Britain, with the founding of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1946 ("to be contemporary in 1946 was very avant-garde!") through The Boston Museum of Modern Art changing its name to become the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1948, he charted how it disengaged from the 'modern', yet was then eclipsed by the 'postmodern' as the term of choice for the condition of the new in the 1980s. 'Contemporary', he argued, found its feet as a term of "disjunctive temporality" which also provided space for the 'repressed' modernities of the "event-concept transmedia tradition" (Fluxus, Dada, etc.). Whereas the questions asked of the Modern work of art is "What does this negate?", one asks of the Contemporary work "When did the present of this work begin?".

"The present began in 1989, because previously the present began in 1945", concluded Osborne (dismissing Giorgio Agamben's 'What is the Contemporary?' as "weak" along the way), noting that publishers Phaidon would not allow any pre-1945 works by Duchamp to be illustrated in his "Conceptual Art" as the series was about contemporary art.

Yet, surely different geo-political contexts propose different contemporaneities? Osborne talked about a philosophical and cultural debate in Japan asking 'has the post-war ended yet?' Similarly from a Spanish perspective, we might ask ourselves when did our present begin? After Franco's death in 1975? In 1979?

Latitudes promotional tie-in: With similar philosophical and art-historical aplomb Osborne presents his thoughts on the ubiquity of the term 'project' in contemporary art in his essay for the Latitudes-edited Amikejo, accompanying the exhibition series at MUSAC's, Laboratorio 987."The idea of ‘project space’ is a peculiar one insofar as it characterizes a type of space wholly by its appropriateness for a particular kind of temporalization: the temporalization of the project. What is the distinctive spatialization corresponding to this? And how is it affected by the specifically artistic coding of a project? This essay will reflect upon these questions from the standpoint of both their philosophical structure and the historical development of project space as a type of art space."
All photos: Latitudes | www.lttds.org (except when noted otherwise in the photo caption)

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