The American art scene, dominated by wealthy if ignorant collectors and upscale galleries, can seem pathetically lame. Art has lost its power as a force in a society that is obsessed with money, violence and reactionary politics. In this environment, America is increasingly becoming a cultural wasteland. New York, once the vibrant center of the global art world, has become tedious and boring, as though nothing new will ever happen again.
But, of all places, Moscow, where the Moscow Center for Contemporary Art (WINZABOD) is hosting the international art exhibition YIN-YANG, has emerged as an exciting venue for artists from all over the world, including America. Artists from eighty countries will be showing, most of them Russian, and all exhibiting the kind of passion about art that one might have thought lost to the cynicism typical of American financial types who see art as investment and drain the excitement out of everything except the next swindle.
The exhibition is being organized by Andrei Nekrasov, the avant-garde Russian, whose enthusiasms would appear to herald what can only be called “neo-modernism” but without any specificity of schools. He describes the purpose of the exhibition:
“Realism and Surrealism, and cold and heat, light and darkness, the bottom and top, male and female …
The concept of Yin and Yang in the context of the exhibition, is the interpenetration of opposites, Caduceus Great Harmony.”
The Caduceus symbol of two serpents intertwined has profound significance. Hermes (or Mercury) saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat. Separating them with his wand he brought about peace between them and as a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of peace.
What the art of this Russian-inspired exhibit is saying is that the contrasts in art can mirror what is essential now, what scholars of Henry Fielding understand as his project–the imaginative reconciliation of opposites, an artistic dialectic in which the debating forces accept basic premises.
The current crisis in America arises from a failure on the part of its opposing forces to accept basic premises. As a result, the dialectic has been transformed into warfare, just as it was in the Civil War. But in art the basic premises that are accepted are the value of life and a sense of perspective about death. Or as Heidegger understood it, because humans are the only creatures who have an understanding of time, they care for each other. The contrasting forces in art, the abstract and the realistic, the surrealistic and the realistic, the classical and the romantic, all reconcile themselves in an appreciation of what it means to be human.
The problem with Heidegger’s vision is that this “caring” was limited. The caring went no further than to those of the same nation.
When translated into an actual implementation, it led inexorably to National Socialism. Hitler’s concept of Socialism was based on race. The Germans accepted his programs for education, health and employment fostered by the National Socialist state because the benefits were limited to the Aryans, who by virtue of their race were a family of superior beings.
Anyone looking for the reason why the right in America is unwilling to see the state as a provider of benefits to the unemployed, the sick and the poor, will find it in something they would never acknowledge publicly: their unwillingness to see the state as the provider for the blacks and the Hispanics. Were this an entirely white country, there would be far less opposition to seeing the state as a collective expression of one united people. Ultimately, this is what is behind their almost pathological opposition to universal health care. For this reason dialectic in America is impossible. It is why the rhetoric will inevitably heat up again. The opening shot of the language of violence came when Glenn Beck called Obama a “racist” who “hates white people.” Only now does Roger Ailes say he has told his cast of Fox characters to “tone it down.” He did nothing when Beck uttered those obscenities, which were bound to inflame the passions of his millions of viewers, many of whom have violent predilections.
What the Moscow exhibit is attempting is to pursue peace through the reconciliation of warring opposites when dialectic is no longer possible. In effect, it is saying that peace can be achieved in our current state only through the mystical dynamic of art, through the imagination that enables humans to see beyond their limited vision to a more powerful one of reconciliation. It is to the credit of the Russian imagination that this is now the focus of this exhibition. If that appears quixotic, certainly we are getting nowhere through politics.