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Art is big business, with some artists able to command huge sums of money for their works, while the vast majority are ignored or dismissed by critics. This book shows that these marginalised artists, the 'dark matter' of the art world, are essential to the survival of the mainstream and that they frequently organize in opposition to it. Gregory Sholette, a politically enga Art is big business, with some artists able to command huge sums of money for their works, while the vast majority are ignored or dismissed by critics. This book shows that these marginalised artists, the 'dark matter' of the art world, are essential to the survival of the mainstream and that they frequently organize in opposition to it. Gregory Sholette, a politically engaged artist, argues that imagination and creativity in the art world originate thrive in the non-commercial sector shut off from prestigious galleries and champagne receptions. This broader creative culture feeds the mainstream with new forms and styles that can be commodified and used to sustain the few artists admitted into the elite. This dependency, and the advent of inexpensive communication, audio and video technology, has allowed this 'dark matter' of the alternative art world to increasingly subvert the mainstream and intervene politically as both new and old forms of non-capitalist, public art. This book is essential for anyone interested in interventionist art, collectivism, and the political economy of the art world.


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Art is big business, with some artists able to command huge sums of money for their works, while the vast majority are ignored or dismissed by critics. This book shows that these marginalised artists, the 'dark matter' of the art world, are essential to the survival of the mainstream and that they frequently organize in opposition to it. Gregory Sholette, a politically enga Art is big business, with some artists able to command huge sums of money for their works, while the vast majority are ignored or dismissed by critics. This book shows that these marginalised artists, the 'dark matter' of the art world, are essential to the survival of the mainstream and that they frequently organize in opposition to it. Gregory Sholette, a politically engaged artist, argues that imagination and creativity in the art world originate thrive in the non-commercial sector shut off from prestigious galleries and champagne receptions. This broader creative culture feeds the mainstream with new forms and styles that can be commodified and used to sustain the few artists admitted into the elite. This dependency, and the advent of inexpensive communication, audio and video technology, has allowed this 'dark matter' of the alternative art world to increasingly subvert the mainstream and intervene politically as both new and old forms of non-capitalist, public art. This book is essential for anyone interested in interventionist art, collectivism, and the political economy of the art world.

30 review for Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

    Towards the end of the 1990s the French writers Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello made a convincing case (subsequently picked up and focussed by Pascal Gielen and others in the sociology of art) that the régime of labour in art anticipates the condition of labour for other workers. In this excellent book Greg Sholette develops that analysis further by demanding that we look at immaterial labour in more sophisticated ways. The argument and analysis is shaped by Scholette’s ‘dark matter’ metaphor to Towards the end of the 1990s the French writers Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello made a convincing case (subsequently picked up and focussed by Pascal Gielen and others in the sociology of art) that the régime of labour in art anticipates the condition of labour for other workers. In this excellent book Greg Sholette develops that analysis further by demanding that we look at immaterial labour in more sophisticated ways. The argument and analysis is shaped by Scholette’s ‘dark matter’ metaphor to focus on those areas of artistic work that is unseen by those who control, manage, regulate and interpret ‘culture’, dark matter being the invisible mass accounting for well over 90% of our universe but discernable only indirectly in, for instance, gravitational fields and the movement of visible bodies. To clarify the argument he takes one further step and focuses on those who consciously and intentionally place themselves in the space of dark matter. This decision means that he explores dissident art groups as diverse as New York’s PAD/D and Critical Art Ensemble or the Mid Western collective Paper Rad and high profile Tactical Media groups such as Yes Men as well as less well-known networks such as St Petersburg’s Chto Delat. The range of groups he explores, of course, means that there are several of some significance that are not considered (he quite properly glosses hacktivism, in part because it is not beyond the vision of the sector’s regulators; despite complaints, hacktivism has in many ways been appropriated and legitimated even while many of its practitioners are condemned). These omissions are not a weakness of the text, and the groups selected allow Scholette to explore a range of important and underexplored issues in the political economy art in particular and cultural and immaterial labour more generally. This is where the book became more useful for me, not as analysis of the artistic sector but in its exploration of the politics and practices of immaterial labour in cultural work. My area of research and analysis is the sport sector – and in this case the ‘dark matter’ metaphor works extremely well. Most of our work as social analysts of sport deals with its celebrity and élite practitioners, or emerges from a rejection of them in favour of community and mass participation. In a sense then there is less dark matter in the economic sector I work on, in part because the obesity moral panic has increased the profile of quotidian sport and exercise participation so our equivalent of folk and hobby artists is well seen (even if it is to lament that there are not enough of them). There is a huge dark matter mass in my area however – this is, after all, a major economic sector with an enormous unseen labour force doing things such as making or washing sports kit, selling tickets, massaging athlete’s damaged muscles back into shape so they can get back on the field; all workers we know little about yet who are essential to the industry so many of us rely on for leisure, pleasure and entertainment. (I am not arguing these sectors are the same, but there are essential labour process parallels that we must explore – as there is with the fashion industry). Alongside that issue of invisible workers, Scholette also mounts a compelling and rigorous critique of effects and impacts of neo-liberalism on cultural work generally by pointing out the multitudinous ways that cultural workers must adapt and work to meet the demands of flexible production – most notably cultural workers need to adapt to and deal with high levels of individual and individualised creativity (elevated in its most extreme to ‘genius’ but more often to celebrity) as well as very high levels of uncertainty and risk. It is here that I find myself back at the Boltanski/Chiapello case as extended by Gielen and his co-workers; this is a precariat extraordinaire. Amid all this, Scholette has a light touch and explores complex and demanding issues in an accessible way with a commendable avoidance of the dense often impenetrable language and exclusionary jargon as well as the tendentiousness that can often mar this area of work. The issues he explores are essential for better understandings of changing character of labour in the contemporary neo-liberal world and its pervasive enterprise culture; all the more so as immaterial labour grows in profile and become increasingly important policy makers at local, regional, national and supra-national levels. It would be a shame if the readership was limited and did not include policy makers and those of us in and around other sectors of the cultural industries. In short, there is an awful lot in this rich engaging text that deserves a wide academic and critical readership.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shaun

    Sholette provides an invigorating (if not occasionally dense) investigation into collective and collaborative creative practice in the (primarily American) "Left". Focusing on artists and work from the last thirty years which intelligently and actively seek alternatives to the entrenched "Art World" and "citadel culture", Sholette pinpoints useful critiques and operating points for artists currently grappling with the challenge of working critically from a radical political perspective. There's Sholette provides an invigorating (if not occasionally dense) investigation into collective and collaborative creative practice in the (primarily American) "Left". Focusing on artists and work from the last thirty years which intelligently and actively seek alternatives to the entrenched "Art World" and "citadel culture", Sholette pinpoints useful critiques and operating points for artists currently grappling with the challenge of working critically from a radical political perspective. There's also quit a bit in here about the lived reality of many who identify themselves as artists in the present American economy, with interesting points (which many feel but rarely articulate with any value) in regards to the majority's relationship to the small percentage of artists who achieve "success" or Art World merit in the generally accepted way. From details on the reality of job prospects post-MFA to the actual relationship most art school grads have to making a living (often doing work which supports the Art World structure itself through museum and artist's-assistant jobs), this book has a lot to say that the predictable, knee-jerk anti-art perspectives I'm used to skimming can rarely speak to in depth. Other than the feeling that some of the book's examples draw too heavily on projects Sholette was a part of, my other main complaint is that the book will occupy too many academic shelves and not be read by enough people outside the academy who could use the missive just as much (if not more). Vocabulary word I learned: Precariat - combination of the words "precarious" and "proletariat", referring to a class of workers who experience little to no job security or control over labor, lacking consistent living wage or certainty of employment, typically holding multiple dead-end part-time jobs at one time to make ends meet [there's nothing new about that first part, but it's the later that feels more contemporary or, at least, sounds a lot like most of the people I know]. I ended up devouring this book and finding a lot of inspiration within it - admittedly my review rings really shallow given the depth of the concepts Sholette digs into! I had been quietly suffering through a couple years of creative "low" when I read this book, and the suggestions and examples the author provides hit very close to home in a welcome way.

  3. 5 out of 5

    C.G. Fewston

    Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (2011) by Gregory Sholette is a collection of essays that distinguish the two classes of art: high/light versus low/dark. High art (light matter) is viewed as all art that is nationalized and well-known. Low art (dark matter) is considered all art that is out there but relatively unknown by the general public but known on a much smaller scale. Gregory explores these issues, as well as the differences between professionals and amateur Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (2011) by Gregory Sholette is a collection of essays that distinguish the two classes of art: high/light versus low/dark. High art (light matter) is viewed as all art that is nationalized and well-known. Low art (dark matter) is considered all art that is out there but relatively unknown by the general public but known on a much smaller scale. Gregory explores these issues, as well as the differences between professionals and amateurs, and the impacts they have on ‘equal and just’ society throughout the book. In the United States there is a crises happening not only on the streets with police brutality but also in universities with the slashing of tenured jobs and the hiring of part-time professors. And add the minimum wage dispute for low-unlivable wages there’s no telling when the bottom will hit. When that day comes, Americans will wake up with eyes no longer disillusioned by their own greatness. No. The fact remains. The world is waking up and it isn’t happy. “As never before,” writes Gregory, “producing, copying, re-mixing, printing, uploading, and distributing images and information has become (almost) everyone’s privilege, even their social responsibility. Digital technology also functions like a prosthetic memory permitting the excluded to document and narrate ephemeral, every day activities and overlooked forms of expression or resistance. As Boris Groys insists, no one sits in the audience any longer, everyone is on stage” (p 7). And it is this very common denominator among the persecuted citizens that empower them to stand as one. I believe the world needs art now more than ever. But it seems the elite and the precocious few fueled by greed think otherwise. “Universities are slashing courses in Arts and Humanities,” writes Gregory, “now defined, under current funding regimes, as ‘of no financial value’—the only legitimate measure today” (p ix). Sadly, this very ‘financial value’ has infested the very minds of the ones in charge of higher education and congress. How can one place such a value on art? On education? On humanity? Who is to sit back and judge intrinsic worth by placing a monetary figure on it? Unfortunately this kind of narrow mindedness penetrates all walks of life in America. From fast food chains profiting billions, avoiding taxes, paying workers unlivable wages to publishers motivated more by profit rather than enhancing art to empower and enrich society the issue is profoundly evident to me: money is the sole logic behind why choices are being made, and this is no way to live or to evolve the human race. And the human race is evolving, waking up, taking to the streets now more than ever. More Americans are starting to understand that the police force meant ‘to protect and to serve’ is simply militarized security for the one percent. The police are there to protect the wealthy and not to protect basic human rights. And this is the crises we see happening between high culture and low culture, and it certainly reflects in the choices produced in art. “The critical moment is,” explains Gregory, “precisely, the moment of the splinter, the shattering. Critical is derived, of course, from crises. It is defined as a turning point, an interruption, a change in quality… Our book series would hope to address such a critical moment” (p ix). And despite this book being three years old, the tensions unfolding throughout the United States, and the rest of the world like it is in Hong Kong, are clear. The human race is witnessing a turning point, a splintering if you will, of its own moral and spiritual evolution. And much of this can be seen through art and the treatment of both amateurs and professionals. “And yet there is no material difference between an earnest amateur on the one hand, and a professional artist made invisible by her ‘failure’ within the art market on the other,” argues Gregory, “except perhaps that against all the odds she still hopes to be discovered” (p 3)? Gregory continues with this discussion of the legitimation of how low culture through the use of the internet has invaded the sanctity of the controlled realms once possessed by the silent majority, namely high culture controlling and dictating what is to be called ‘art’: “How would the art world manage its system of aesthetic valorization if the seemingly superfluous majority—those excluded as non-professionals as much as those destined to ‘fail’—simply gave up on its system of legitimation? Or if they found an alternative to it by creating a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network of support and direct sales bypassing art dealers, critics, galleries, and curators? Indeed, to some degree this has already begun to take shape via media applications of Web 2.0. What has not happened is any move towards re-distributing the cultural capital bottled up within the holding company known as high art” (p 3). The internet, in essence, has removed the gatekeepers and no one is safe—as seen in recent cyber-attacks labeled as “organized” and “unprecedented”. The elite have lost their most prized luxury: anonymity. With anonymity comes distance, safety, invisibility and control and, thereby, the increase of power. This power ranges from the most mundane issues like employee morale to the issues of wages, brutality, excessive force, and this power even reaches into the hearts and minds of the citizens through art. If the people, and not the wealthy elites, are able to dictate the economy of art, and in effect morality and ethics, through ‘dark matter’, who is to say where humanity’s progress will end? “All of these forms of dark matter play an essential role in the symbolic economy of art,” Gregory discusses. “Collectively, the amateur and the failed artist represent a vast flat field upon which a privileged few stand out in relief. The aim of this book is to raise an inevitable question: what if we turned this figure and ground relation inside out by imagining an art world unable to exclude the practices and practitioners it secretly depends upon? What then would become of its value structure and distribution power?” (p 3). The issues we see throughout the streets of many American cities and throughout most companies and the control of art involves this very ‘distribution of power’. And the American people are getting fed up with a tipped scale that is constantly in favor of the ones with their finger immorally balancing the odds against the actual majority, the low culture represented in dark matter. “Look again at the art world and the dark matter it occludes,” writes Gregory. “Few would deny that the lines separating ‘dark’ and ‘light’ creativity, amateur and professional, high from low have become arbitrary today, even from the standpoint of qualities such as talent, vision, and other similarly mystifying attributes typically assigned to high culture. What can be said of creative dark matter in general, therefore, is that either by choice or circumstance it displays a degree of autonomy from critical and economic structures of the art world by moving instead in-between its meshes” (p 4). And that is exactly the kind of ‘pure and sacred’ autonomy that serves the genuineness of the Book Review Site CGFewston.me and will, God willingly, for decades to come. Here at this Site a reader who wants to know more about a book can do so without the political-and-media-trappings that often go into paid-by-the-publisher critical reviews. There’s no hype here. There’s only one humble man’s opinion and tastes molded to the likes of Tolstoy and his preferences for Art found in Tolstoy’s book: What is Art? If high culture, as Tolstoy considered it, continued to be in control of Art and its future development, then society would ultimately suffer. And perhaps America in its poor modernistic attempts to produce “popular” Literature and Art has already begun to feel the weight of its own chimera—as in: the artistic sovereignty the upper-classes secretly claim to defend is the chimera. “This then,” writes Gregory, “is a book about the politics of invisibility that could only have been written at a moment when invisibility itself has emerged as a force to be contended with, or, conversely, a provocation to be selectively controlled. It is as much dedicated to those who reuse the capture of their invisibility, as it is to those whose very visibility has been and continues to be refused…And yet, as odd as a book about invisible artists and artwork may seem, my methods are less orthodox still” (p 5). Dark Matter by Gregory Sholette is an enlightening read that has interconnected art in its varying forms through society and its ever changing patterns in the distribution of power, the wealth of the people and the economy, and the fundamental belief in the pursuit of happiness. Although this book is a dry, slow page turning text created in the trenches of academia, the world is certainly better for it having been published. A good recommend. Keep reading and smiling…

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katya

    if i could give this book a 3.5, i would.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Szczelkun

    Sholette seems to veer from a passionate belief in the disturbing, if not revolutionary, power of dark matter: ‘self-organised dark matter inserting itself into the ripped fabric of neoliberal cities, from below’, to ambivalent feelings that perhaps these practices ‘subvert, and yet reinstate’. He seems unsure if these ‘emerging aesthetics of resistance’ are any more than ‘tepid acts of delinquency or even bitter gestures of discontent’. He hopes that they at least provide ‘an expectation’ – but Sholette seems to veer from a passionate belief in the disturbing, if not revolutionary, power of dark matter: ‘self-organised dark matter inserting itself into the ripped fabric of neoliberal cities, from below’, to ambivalent feelings that perhaps these practices ‘subvert, and yet reinstate’. He seems unsure if these ‘emerging aesthetics of resistance’ are any more than ‘tepid acts of delinquency or even bitter gestures of discontent’. He hopes that they at least provide ‘an expectation’ – but of what?   This is really a diary or compilation of his efforts, thoughts and various involvements, and I think I had hoped for his own subjective engagements to be more explicit and less academicised. The reason for this focus on a very particular stratum of dark matter would then be more organic and less arbitrary. A global study of dark matter would take the kind of team effort and resources that go into compiling a major dictionary or encyclopaedia. The key question may be how any such institution could maintain its revolutionary integrity whilst carrying out such a task.   Sholette has invented a useful term that might well be taken up, and gives us a sporadic view of resistance through political art, but his style of authorship in Dark Matter is too conventional. I feel the style on the whole mutes his own analysis to occasional whispers, rather than making oppression and its exclusions the key definer of the ‘from below’ of cultural production. Cultural resistance is no new thing.   Sholette thinks that ‘dark matter is getting brighter.’ This may simply be a function of media technologies making all kinds of knowledge more visible, or it may signify a huge groundswell of demand for more democratic societies. Or, perhaps, these are two sides of the will to power in the oral realm, the struggle from below. This book certainly allows us to give a name to, and begin to focus on, the creativity and cultural resistance that exists outside the art world proper. It may be flawed and partial, but it represents a good start towards developing a discourse that I think needs to embed itself outside of the academy – within the fields of dark matter itself. These are from the last paragraphs of my long review over at Mute: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/art...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Criticalfreeschool

    Didn't exactly rock my world; I read chapters 4-6 (which were useful), skimmed the rest. Overall, too much focus on culture jamming experiments of the past, not enough freshness (the book came out in 2011). I think the central idea of Dark Matter (as in a liminal workforce that has its origins in "outsider art" communities and practices) is highly topical; it's also a highly dynamic work-in-progress, as evidenced on a 24/7 basis via the internet and its face-to-face offshoots -- and the book doe Didn't exactly rock my world; I read chapters 4-6 (which were useful), skimmed the rest. Overall, too much focus on culture jamming experiments of the past, not enough freshness (the book came out in 2011). I think the central idea of Dark Matter (as in a liminal workforce that has its origins in "outsider art" communities and practices) is highly topical; it's also a highly dynamic work-in-progress, as evidenced on a 24/7 basis via the internet and its face-to-face offshoots -- and the book doesn't seem to capture that topicality well. Also -- three chapters on projects that are decades-old, and nothing on Anon/WL/Arab Spring/et. al.? That just makes me grumpy. ;)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Todd

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pippypippy Madden

  9. 5 out of 5

    Di-ay

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lily Alan

  12. 4 out of 5

    Xciansemf

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emilie Sciarli

  15. 4 out of 5

    Janice Mitchell

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris Reeves

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cenin Catlien

  18. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Tafur

  19. 4 out of 5

    mari

  20. 4 out of 5

    Terence

  21. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe Konieczny

  23. 5 out of 5

    melbobyes

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ziya Tetik

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte McKay

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tolga Ulusoy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mateo Gonzalez

  29. 4 out of 5

    Denton Peter McCabe

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rina

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