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Contemporary Framing

What is the best frame for contemporary art? I don’t mean, a physical wooden frame around a painting or drawing, but the architectural, psychological, intellectual frame around a work of art.  It is the frame that gives the context of art. The idea of art is itself a conceptual frame in which to view art for ultimately the word ‘art’ is a frame around a set of things. The proscenium arch frames traditional theatre. Television programming frames tv shows. The covers of a book, libraries, bookshops, even Kindle digital readers can all frame a work of literature.

Lucas Maddock’s New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

It is the difference in frames that explains why people, so often, say that a band is better live than in recordings. For the frame is not neutral. It has its own energy. It is a nebulous area, like the halo that exists around the sacred. There is the magic of stepping out on to even an empty stage.

Art is created for particular frames and sometimes these frames are determined by other factors. The playing time on a 45rpm record determined the length of a pop music single or the hight of the stairway up to Francis Bacon’s studios determined the maximum size of his painting. However, instead of the modernist dream of art breaking out of its frame, an act that would ultimately destroy any exclusivity to the category of art and led to its complete merger of art with life, contemporary art has created a contemporary art frame around itself.

Contemporary art stands alone. A single video projection or an installation fills the gallery space entirely. Frequently contemporary art demands a whole new gallery building separate from other art. In many cities a separate specialist institution, a contemporary art gallery, has been established. Contemporary art stands alone, insulated rather than framed, in the gallery. Standing alone removes the juxtaposition of hanging/installing works by different artists together. Framing by isolating removes contemporary art from any context other than its own.

Contemporary art makes more demands on the exhibition space than previous art, to the point of physically altering it. Never before in the history of art have so many plasterboard walls been built for art. These demands on the exhibition space because contemporary art is self-conscious and aware of its dependence on the space as part of the context of being exhibited.

Although installations, video installations and other contemporary media use the space in a different way from traditional or modern media, contemporary artists are often like the modern artist before them in thinking that only their art is relevant and important. (At least the modernists had the excuse of ignorance and often had radical ambitions.) In an article on the NGV David R. Marshall’s point that the promoters of contemporary art are “pluralist with regard to modes of contemporary art, but not with regard to contemporary versus non-contemporary art”.

What is the best frame for contemporary art? I wish that I could answer this question but I’m realistic enough to accept that there isn’t one.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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