Beverly Fishman’s Greatest Emergency

Beverly Fishman, I dream of Sleep, 2020. Installation. Courtesy of the artist and Miles McEnery Gallery

This is part of a series of articles for the upcoming exhibition, The Greatest Emergency at the Circulo de Bellas Artes of Madrid. The exhibition is based on Santiago Zabala’s book, Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency. In this exhibition, ten contemporary artists rescue us into our greatest emergencies, that is, those we do not confront as we should. Each article in the series will contextualize these artists’ practices and explore how they are linked to Zabala’s aesthetic theory and the exhibition’s themes. The first article in this series highlights the work of American artist Beverly Fishman.

Unlike many art historians and art critics, philosophers do not look for works of art that are necessarily beautiful or interesting. Most of us—at least those educated in the continental tradition of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Arendt—instead look for works that disclose a theoretical stance. Martin Heidegger’s writing on Van Gogh’s shoes paintings, Arthur Danto on Andy Warhol’s Pop Art, and Jacques Rancière on Alfredo Jaar’s photographs are paradigmatic examples. This does not mean we do not care about the artist’s effort in creating such work; rather, we focus more on whether the work discloses an aesthetic notion, political idea, or anthropological concept that has meaning for society at large. Artists, for us, have the same ontological purpose as scientists or politicians. A great work of art, new scientific discovery, or progressive policy can change people’s relationship with reality. If these works, discoveries, and policies change this relationship, it is not necessarily because they are “better” than others but because they touch our existence to a greater degree.

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