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Dark Matter, Gregory Sholette


Art Workers Coalition join striking workers at the
Museum of Modern Art, NYC (from an ArtForum cover, 1973)

DARK MATTER: Activist Art and the Counter-Public Sphere (2003)
Gregory Sholette

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The central question this essay raises is this: how might a critical, materialist analysis of visual culture be enhanced by factoring in what I term creative dark matter? It is my contention that the majority of creative activity in our post-industrial society remains invisible to the institutions and discourses — critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, museums, curators and arts administrators — who manage and interpret contemporary culture. My central argument however seeks to relate this creative Dark Matter to the practices of artists who self-consciously work outside the parameters of the mainstream art world for political and socially critical reasons. Among the latter include the art-based organizations Temporary Services, RTmark, REPOhistory and Ultra Red as well as several others that will serve as examples of alternative artistic forms throughout my paper. These informal, politicized micro-institutions have made art that infiltrates high schools, flea markets, public squares, corporate Web Sites, city streets, housing projects, and local political machines in ways that do not set out to recover a specific meaning or use-value for either art world discourse or private interests. It is the emergence of these autonomous groups of activist artists into a broader visual arena, one where they become visible not only to each other but also to the centralized institutions of the art world, that presents new possibilities for critical resistance, as well as traps and opportunities for self-delusion.

Mysteries of the Creative Class, or, I Have Seen the Enemy and They is Us from the Engaging the Im/Possible Conference

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