Validating fellatio as a legitimate artform

“[At] the Whitney, where ‘transgressive’ art is just the byproduct of haute-couture theory, both exhibitions have a juiceless, frozen, inorganic look, as if they were shrink-wrapped artifacts of something already called the Early ‘90s.” Between exhibitions at the New Museum and the Whitney, the personal experience of time is already alienated as a historical moment.For Lieberman, the recent past returns as an object of museological study, and for Cotter, the present curiously brackets itself as a historical paradigm.Spurned by the 1982 translation of psychoanalyst and philosopher Julia Kristeva’s into English, the focus on abjection gave its practitioners, from contemporary artists to feminist theorists, a shorthand to describe the then-ongoing Culture Wars and the identity-based oppressions inflicted by a conservative populace and its conservative elected officials.The AIDS crisis, the Watts Riots, the Anita Hill trial, anti-feminism, and the general collapse of the American welfare state all pointed to a historical scene replete with crisis.No wonder, then, that debates about disproportionate representation and identity surface today as stronger than ever.What could we learn in revisiting this past moment?A thorough elaboration of Kristeva’s theory demands more attention than can be given here, but, to gloss, abjection refers to the condition following “primal repression,” or the subject’s psychic and biological split from the mother in infancy.In order for the child to assume a self and enter symbolic communication, they must renounce and repudiate the maternal, a zone representing “no clear distinctions of subject and object, inner and outer, ‘I’ and others,” as Menninghaus writes.

Thus around disgust, the feeling of engaging the abject.Yet this feeling of loopy time is not a pleasurable abandon of synchronization, but instead something serious, unpleasurable, frozen, creepy. But the unease of an exhibition about art of the early ’90s was doubled for these critics in the art itself.Art like Andrea Serrano’s (1993), which took an uncanny isomorphic approach to a troop of naked parents and children, explored sensations and representations centered on the gross and the bizarre, in short, to cite a key ekphrastic of the era, the : AIDS, social injustice, sexual assault, bodily fluids, and racial violence.With this nexus of feeling, history, identity, and art, we might approach an understanding of the veritable moment in the 1990s of so-called “abject art.” Abjection, the phenomenon of tossing away the undesirable elements of life and their related affects of disgust, became a key explanatory in both the Anglophone artworld and the academic humanities – cultural spheres basically coterminous to begin with.German scholar Winfried Menninghaus, in his (1999), notes that between the years 19, 28 pages in the Modern Language Association Bibliography appeared with the word “abjection” in the title.

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