art... "Re-Enchantment"

The Art Seminar Roundtable
organized and chaired by
James Elkins
E. C. Chadbourne Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Event Abstract:
One of the most difficult questions in contemporary art and art history is the place of religion and spirituality. Gestures of transcendence are ubiquitous, but they are seldom admitted into serious discourse on art unless the work is critical or religion. Artists who embrace various forms of private spirituality can find places in the art world (eg, Bill Viola, Wolfgang Laib), but those who represent the principal organized religions normally can’t. The gap between artists and critics who talk openly about spirituality or religion, and academic writers who eschew it, is enormous. Meanwhile art history is theorizing transcendence in very interesting ways.

Monday, April 16, 2007; SAIC Auditorium, Columbus Building, 6pm
Why Religion and Contemporary Art are Incompatible
, James Elkins, SAIC

Tuesday, April 17, 2007; SAIC Ballroom, Maclean Center, 112 S. Michigan Ave, 10am-4pm
Roundtable: 'Re-Enchantment'

Panelists and Readings:

Gregg Bordowitz
, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
"Abstract for You"
"My Postmodernism"

Thierry de Duve, University of Lille-III
"Come on, humans, one more effort if you want to be post-Christians!"
"Mary Warhol/Joseph Duchamp"

Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago
"The Impermanence of Art"

James Elkins, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
"Ch. 4, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art"
"Ch. 5, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art"
"Ch. 7, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art"

Boris Groys, Academy for Design Karlsruhe, Germany
"Religion as Medium"

Kajri Jain, University of Western Ontario
"from the Conclusion to Gods in the Bazaar"

Tomoko Masuzawa
, University of Michigan
"intro from The Invention of World Religions"

"Troubles with Materiality: The Ghost of Fetishism in the Nineteenth Century"

"Return of the What?--or Why Should We Care About the (Mere) Concept of Religion"

David Morgan
, Valparaiso University
"Interview with Meg Cranston, co-curator of '100 Artists See God'"
"'100 Artists See God' Exhibition Review"

Taylor Worley, PhD candidate Durham University
"Reparations and Conversations: A Future for Contemporary Art in Theological Reflection"

Brief Review:
Due to the great diversity of research represented by the scholars on the panel, much of the conversation on "Re-Enchantment" centered on essential questions of defining the terms of the debate: contested items such as 'religion', 'belief' and 'faith'. Driven by the antipathies between Western and non-Western perspectives, these issues were not quickly resolved but left hanging around in the interest of discussing art practice more specifically. Appropriating metaphors like 'camouflage' or 'smuggling' for understanding how religion creeps into art practice, the panel debated hotly the intentions or motivations behind artists that allow their work to have a religious or spiritual quality. Apparently, the great suspicion of religion demonstrated by Tim Clark (with his oft-quoted statement: "I will have nothing to do with that Leftist, self-satisfied clap trap about art 'as substitute religion.'") runs deeper than most of us thought. Why is it so difficult to state clearly modernism's opposition to traditional religion and postmodernism's suspicion of 'true believers'? Maybe the contentiousness of the panel over the terms employed represents the true starting point for understanding that the age we live in prizes no one perspective over the other and that the result for art criticism or art history is that there is no authoritative power to keep religion either within or beyond the pale. Most helpful was David Morgan's discussion of different 'ways of seeing,' and hopefully his insights will be further developed and allowed to offer guidance in this subject. With the text of the transcript now in the hands of the participants, we can all look forward to a more focused conversation finding its way into the pages of the book. Details on the publication will be forthcoming.