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Article

Evil, Surplus, Power - the Three Media of Art

e-flux journal. 2020. No. 110.
Editor of translation: K. Cain-Nilsen.

In avant-garde rhetoric, as appropriated by contemporary art, the ideas of social engagement and artistic achievement have been almost identical: after art’s selfsublation, its principal goal has supposedly been social engagement. Yet despite the internalization of the avant-garde’s socially oriented legacy, the true episteme and achievement of art since the 1960s has been conceptual surplus rather than social involvement. The negative antisocial character and vicious genealogy inherent to art since early modernist practices fostered various manipulations of this conceptual surplus, which eventually turned into the surplus value—the “metaphysical index”—of art’s economics, as Diedrich Diederichsen puts it. Regardless of whether this surplus is a cognitive gimmick, symbolic capital enhancing the cultural impact of an artwork, or a financialized abstraction simply increasing the cost of art, it has functioned as a hidden power of art in contemporaneity, and has been effectively disguised by art’s stated good will and emancipatory intentions. But what happens to art as an institution of contemporaneity if its codex of self-sublation and the logic of conceptual surplus are demolished by post-secular, post-conceptual cyber-fantasies?