It seems that often, in both art and culture, we want our truth to be the truth, to be legitimized by others and pushed forward as a movement, to go viral as it were. We want to be iconoclastic at the same time, to be the one artist who rises above the fray. This is the stuff of movements and manifestoes, of one-person shows and teaching syllabi, of blockbuster exhibitions and retrospectives.

New York Magazine recently featured pieces on two artists that are arguably the living examples of what Walter Benjamin described as “the auratic”; artists whose work has long ago been legitimized by the art world and in each case led to a kind of movement or has solidified an understanding of previously designated avenues of self-expression. In the same issue, the magazine profiled both Marina Abramovic and Mathew Barney, the yin and yang of contemporary transdisciplinary performative art practice. She, formed in the crucible of the 1960’s and European Communism, and he, formed by the legacy of Abramovic herself and the sort of feminist authentic work (although she distances herself from feminism) of the 1970’s and the queer work of the late 1980’s. It is a sort of holy grail for artists, to have the kind of pedigree that makes one instantly recognizable, whose signature works are immediately identifiable, and who exude the kind of aura that is often reserved for a different kind of public figure.

They are (Abramovic and Barney) two branches of the same tree; both blur their respective gender tropes, pushing off of and away from the expectations of such biological paradigms; both persist in a hermeneutic and hermetically sealed world of their own making (which reinforces their respective auras), and both have invented rich and enormously seductive, charismatic personas for themselves.

The art world is enchanted by such charisma. We see similar enchantment around the personas of Pipilotti Rist and Ai Wei Wei and in the newest Hugo Boss prize winner Anicka Yi, who is described as an “olfactory artist.” This is not new of course. The art world trades on such charisma; it transfers to the objects or gestures that artists produce as a trace of the maker’s “hand”. The aura of the charismatic artist imbues the creative production of such artists; it adds value and a kind of wonderment or at times, transformative power that is manifest in the space between viewer and object. Such artists, including Abramovic and Barney, supersede movements and seemingly have no need for collective or collaborative manifestos. They are auteurs that appear larger than life against the backdrop of contemporary art.

Douglas Rosenberg
Chair of Art