Grundberg, Andy · The Crisis of the Real

Grunberg’s essay, influenced by Baudrillard’s writings, explores the meaning of postmodernism, representation, the real, and appropriation. Postmodernism means different things to different mediums, first starting with architecture’s eclecticism and combination of old and new styles. With dance, it is the use of everyday gestures without narrative. And in photography it is about masking and unmasking. Postmodern, conceptual photographers are influenced by everyday life and pop culture.

Grundberg perfectly sums up his definition of postmodernism as “the inability to have a ‘pure, unblemished meaning or experience” (p.168). It is about deconstructing the importance of the author and of the individual’s genius, throwing away ideas of originality and autonomy. Nothing is original and that is ok. For example, with photography the nature of its medium allows for easy reproducing undercutting ideas of authorship. Postmodernism is not about a style or the intent of the artist, but how self-aware we are in a world full of multiple truths.

With all these articles on postmodernism, I’m left wondering what is next? When does the era of postmodernism end or is this art’s final stage? I’ve always understood postmodernism as “many truths”, with a focus on identity politics and subjectivity. Postmodernism is fragmented and very Western-based. What does postmodernism mean to communities where traditional practices are still carried on today, where the passage of time and the tendency to categorize is of lesser importance?

It would be difficult to write about postmodern photography without including Cindy Sherman. Her Instagram account has been full of new images of the artist playing with photo editing software and with ideas and images of the self. Another aspect of postmodernism is its humor and parody, something that Sherman exemplifies.

Katy Grannan’s portraits capture every intimate physical detail of the sitter yet are still mysterious. She has created a number of photographic series of people met through newspaper classifieds. We see the humanity of the subjects even though the lighting may be unflattering.

What can be said of the great Carrie Mae Weems? Her timeless Kitchen Table (1990) series powerfully shows that the personal is political, following a woman’s life and her experiences that revolve around something that we can all relate to – a kitchen table. A woman telling her own story, she is portraying herself as she wants to be represented.

And of course I had to include Jeff Wall. I straight up love his work, especially A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (1993) because of its reference to art history, the importance of presentation, and the amount of work that goes into creating one perfect shot.