"History by Exclusion, Illuminating the “Dark Matter” of the Art World," written in conjunction with the exhibition “We Are Our Own Art History” at Dam & Stuhltrager Brooklyn, New York / by Fredrick Munk

By Loren Munk

Whether you want to admit it or not, if you’re reading this, you like me are probably a minute part of the “art world.”  Now that doesn’t mean we get the attention we deserve from the likes of ARTFORUM, Flash Art or Art in America, have our works installed in major museums or get personality profiles published in the glossy “Art Press.”   No, what it means is that we partake in the reception, exchange and generation of the energy which is manifest as art.  The paintings, sculptures, music, poetry, photography, dance, drama and what ever else defined as “art” is merely the residual matter left over from the human expenditure of the energy that is “art.”  As energy, I believe, that art may be governed by forces that that can be analyzed and calculated, indeed that there is an extra-aesthetic nature to art that lies more within the realm of rational science than in the ephemeral mystical world of “taste,” or “quality.”  This branch of thought I call the “physics of aesthetics,” and it encompasses the whole spectrum of cultural activities from economics, to social relationships, artistic production, and finally history. 

There are many parallels between the “physics of aesthetics” and the world of regular physics.  For example, astrophysicists tell us that within our own universe ninety percent of the material out there emits no light, and is therefore called “dark matter.”  Yet because of the huge amount of this “dark matter” it obviously produces the bulk of forces which though invisible, nevertheless shapes and influences the nature and destiny of our cosmos.

Likewise in our art universe most of the artists and their production are invisible to the broadest sections of society.  The reasons for this are as varied as the individuals the circumstances and attitudes of those who practice art.  Yet their influences are felt and the forces generated by their creations shape the perceptions of art.  Till now the final arbiter of value and influence has been the receptacle of art history, you could call it the light of art.  Tragically the arts community has been subjected to a set of criteria for inclusion within that history that has been set by academicians and intellectual “specialists” who were themselves non-artists, responding to their own biases and other unknown motivations, and are generally outside the artistic community. 

Perhaps these musings are symptomatic of the Post-Modernist challenge to the meta-narrative that was Modernism, an effort to question the establishment’s hegemony.  Perhaps it is time for society at large to broaden its views, to begin a more rigorous observation of cultural production, to question the notion of the “mainstream theory” of what and who constitute a serious “history” of art.  And perhaps it is time for the arts community to break the repressive stranglehold of the elites, who have dictated the standards and definitions of what should be illuminated as relevant art. 

It has been argued that because of the messy business of art and life that to present a clear and understandable narrative to the uninitiated, (not to mention a more succinct sales pitch) its history must be manicured and trimmed like a topiary bush.  Many museum curators, historians and critics see their jobs as gatekeepers to the realm of history and “good taste,” akin the death-camp guards whose job it is to decide who goes directly to the gas-chambers, and who lives another day.  Meanwhile the people who make up the bulk of the arts community have little or no voice in deciding their own fates. 

There is too within this new awareness a sense of memorial, a desire to extend the ever contracting attention span of the arts audience. We wish to honor, however humbly, those on the margins, the disenfranchised and those who have previously achieved notoriety, but through the machinations of current historical and marketplace practices have been erased.

It was with an eye to the above ideas, however vague or inarticulately expressed, that about eight years ago I began to develop a series of text based works that would illustrate some of the principles of the “physics of aesthetics.”  As a conventional painter with little science or history background I’ve sought to use the sensual qualities of paint to illustrate the narrative of painting, to make a self-referential framework within which to examine the media, the networks of relationships and extra-aesthetic factors that have created our contemporary perceptions of “painting,” and art.  I can only hope, with these feeble efforts to attempt to illuminate some small portion of the “dark matter” of the art world.  Perhaps now we may begin to question what is art, who gets to decide and what’s the artist’s place within society?  As self-selected members of the art world it is time we declared, “we are our own art history.”