gomp map780

Detail of Will Gompertz’s Map of Modern Art

R.I.P. Postmodernism:  The New ‘Ism
Creative Enterprise by Martha Buskirk

Creative Enterprise by Martha Buskirk




What Are You Looking Atcrop

What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz





What comes after Postmodernism?

Over the past 20 years, there’s been an ongoing pitched battle to coin the latest contemporary art movement, after the ‘end’ of Postmodernism, which, like The V&A or The Tate have told us, is now officially dead and buried.

Most attempts at a new terminology have not fared too well, sounding fairly ridiculous, be they Post Post Modernism, Metamodernism, Altermodernism, Sensationalism, etc etc. Modernism was originally a terrible panic term (modern originally meaning ‘right now’) so lets hope we don’t have to endure another 100 years of bad terminology forced to use, negate or somehow reference what was actually a limited  term for historical purposes to begin with.  

It turns out however we may have arrived at a good compromise. Authors Will Gompertz, a former director at The Tate, & Martha Buskirk have both recently written books discussing the trends of Entrepreneurialism.

Gompertz coins the term in the last chapter of his What Are You Looking At?, an interesting London Underground ride through the past 150 years of Modern Art movements. He even creates a clever Tube map for us showing how movements in his eye merge into the next.

movements 500

Individual Train Line key to the different movements of Will Gompertz’s London Underground Art Map.


As frame for Entrepreneurialism, Gompertz uses two different Damien Hirst exhibitions: the first in 1988 called Freeze, the second twenty years later, when he went straight to Sotheby’s Auction House, selling in the secondary market (with no primary, ie a gallery). What better example than the most ‘successful’ artist of today? In both cases using exemplary Entrepreneurial spirit, first, in organizing his own exhibition, and second, cutting out the whole gallery system.

Alex Prager, Deborah, C Print.

Alex Prager, Deborah, C Print.

In fact, Gompertz’s book itself could be viewed as work of Entrepreneurialism. This is because Gompertz is able to reconcile just about every prior modern art activity with an admiring eye. All are OK, none are bad. No matter how totally contradictory each movement may be, all are graced by the fact that their progenitors “invented” a new way of making art in their time, their ‘patent’ if you will. This makes intuitive sense, for as a curator at The Tate, Gompertz must have had to do the same all the time, ie justify the attitude of Mark Rothko on one hand, and then Piero Manzoni’s the next.

Thus, today, it is more about this Entrepreneurial spirit, and what things look like, than what the movement actually says or means – which is less important. This reminds me of a comment a curator once made to me on the similarities of Alex Prager’s work to Cindy Sherman. In some ways, Prager’s work is in the style of Sherman, and might even be considered less ‘serious’ compared to her Postmodern predecessor, but Prager’s is more fun, and for those who can’t afford a Sherman, well then a Prager might even just fool the neighbors . . .

Entrepreneurialism is more a working style than a movement with conceptual meat on it: an identifiable attitude, one that binds all the different styles of artwork out there together. If you can sell it to us, we will approve.

Martha Buskirk’s
book Creative Enterprise is especially relevant here in that her use of enterprising “economic terminology” is so easy and omnipresent that it would have seemed to completely overtake all else. She describes in painstaking detail fabricators, lifestyle consultants, artistic ‘services’, product lines, and star artists. Branding strategies, entertainment strategies, luxury goods, corporate crossovers, merchandizing, and product motifs.

The Market, if you will, is the Medium. What is admired now is not necessarily in the work, but rather, the artist: her professionalism, her chutzpah and her market reach. The work is literally Too Big to Fail (or now too big to remove).


Tracey Emin, My Bed.

This is the new Grand Narrative, the narrative of the Entrepreneurial Artist. That final nail into the coffin of Postmodernism’s supposed ‘skepticism’ of grand, sweeping narratives.

For even if you hate everything Jeff Koons does and stands for, you sure do have to admire that business sense of his, right? Perhaps the better example here is actually Tracey Emin, for I would bet far more people actually ‘like’ Jeff Koon’s balloon dogs than Emin’s unmade bed, which some find gross.  But we most certainly respect the narrative around Emin, her honesty and ruthlessness to reveal her innermost thoughts and feelings at all costs. This Entrepreneurial narrative defines and shields her works, no matter how much we may even dislike them.

A Culture of Enterprise
is the spectre that haunts us today. And for better or worse, it’s probably here to stay. For good, and bad. On the positive side, this means that today’s artists will be constantly innovating new modus operandi to actually make work, and totally new distribution systems to then get that work to the viewing public. It will be an exciting time, where seemingly anything will go.

And yet, on the downside, this of course means we will have to put up with a lot of (potentially bad) commercialized art. Art designed first and foremost to sell, or be considered ‘remarkable’ in a press-seeking context. We will struggle to question these new Entrepreneurial works more than ever before, because they will all employ an indestructible Technicolor DreamCoat of savvy marketing genius, and rags to riches artist narratives. •


For another excellent example of the triumph of the Artist Narrative, read Jed Perl’s tour de force in The New Republic of Ai Weiwei at The Hirschorn: Noble and Ignoble Ai Weiwei – Wonderful Dissident, Terrible Artist.