7 ways of looking at Altermodernism

WILLIAM SHAW: Taking a jaunt around some of the discussions thrown up by Nicolas Bourriaud’s Altermodern manifesto and exhibition at Tate Britain I found myself constructing a kind of Beaufort Scale of critical responses:

1/. The Thrilled. Kazys Varnelis, Director of the Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture is positively inspired:

I’ve been immersed in writing lately, so this next exhibit slipped
under my radar, but Nicolas Bourriaud’s latest exhibit, the 2009 Tate
Triennial, is called Altermodern. Bourriaud’s manifesto can be seen here. Bourriaud’s one of the sharpest thinkers around today and this exhibit just cements my decision to explore network culture
in my next book. Bourriaud’s show marks a break with postmodernism
based on a new stage of globalization. As he writes in his Altermodern
manifesto: “Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by
creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of

I suppose this is the kick in the pants I need…

2/. The Engaged: The commentators on this post at Moot Blog jump at the mere mention of something post-post-modern, jumping into a debate about Po-mo and A-mo. 

Me thinks The Tate are being somewhat provocative.
Although you’re right, there’s some wonderful critiquing and
questioning of Post-modernism at the moment. There’s a big buzz around
‘speculative realism’, check out Graham Harman

Equally, probably one
of the most interesting engagements with modernism is the notion of
‘hauntology’— this might be what the Tate is tinkering with. Have a
look at this:


But please, no more modernism.

Nicolas Bourriaud is an interesting one. Well worth going to see.

3/. The Thoughtful: Michael L. Radcliffe of Artbizness suggests Bourriaud’s heart may be in the right place, he fails to live up to his own rhetoric:

all good shows (and it IS a good show) its one that I will need to
return to many times, and I may like completely different works for
completely different reasons.

But I guess the biggest obstacle of the altermodern idea for me is
that if you’re saying that you’ve learned from the postmodernist
critique, then why would you exhibit the majority of artists from OECD
countries? It’s not exactly a record of the marginalised and at worst
smacks of imperialism.  And I suspect the “creolisation” that Bourriaud
talks of as a part of altermodernism leaves no room for the poor or

4/. The Uncertain:  Dan Cull doesn’t know what to make of it but suspects it’s a Good Thing.

I am not sure whether this is a new theoretical current or not, and as
a fan of post-modernist thinking in a way I am not sure I really care.
What I do know is that the Tate have put together a show that I really
want to go and see… and this to my mind is a good thing.

5/. The Long Suffering: Laura Cummins in The Observer practically sighs out loud:

It is a dull show in the end, with few exceptions, just as
Altermodernism itself is not a very thrilling definition, or
redefinition, of where art may be heading.

It is by no means
certain, in any case, that any theory of art that can be made to
stretch all the way from Tacita Dean to Franz Ackermann is of much
ultimate value. Altermodernism does not work as an idea so much as a
web of observations, a web with a weaver at its centre. The real
hyperlink here is not the art, but Bourriaud himself.

6/. The Arch. Stewart Home. This one doesn’t boil down to a neat quote. Agitator/self-publicist Stewart uses quite a lot of space to say he thinks Bourriaud is a fop, a phoney and a figure of fun. He considers the whole Altermodern thing is a hilarious bit of trumpery; but then long ago Stewart championed Neoism, so for both conceptual and practical reasons you are advised to take everything he says as unreliable.

As a taster for their 2009 triennial  ‘curated’ by Nicolas Bourriaud
(AKA Boring Ass), Tate Britain hosted a series of talks concluding with
one this weekend by the International Necronautical Society (INS)….
[it goes on for a fair bit…]

7/. The Very Tediously English Indulging in Ritual Sneering at Frenchmen Who Use Long Words.  Coxsoft Artnews:

If you’re a pseudo-intellectual art snob who wants to irritate your gormless friends, tell them that Postmodernism is dead and the new in-thing is Altermodern, a word coined by Nicolas Bourriaud to categorize what Coxsoft Art calls Tripe. It’s also the name given to the fourth Tate Triennial,
which Nick curated and which will be inflicted on a gullible public at
Tate Britain from 3 February to 26 April. The Tate claims
the show will offer “the best new contemporary art in Britain”. Look at
this example! Expect the usual Tripe.

Never, ever trust anyone who uses the word “pseudo-intellectual”.

(I’d been aiming for 13 ways… but fell short.)

Photo: Giantbum Nathaniel Mellors at Altermodern courtesy of Régine Debatty

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog

One thought on “7 ways of looking at Altermodernism

  1. Satire can be hard to summarise but now I’ve added a review of the exhibition perhaps my opinions will be clearer and the title of this new piece can act as a summation of them: Bourriaud’s ‘Altermodern’, an eclectic mix of bullshit & bad taste.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: