‘Friendship,’ Aristotle defines in Part VIII of his Nicomachean Ethics, ‘is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living.’ And while by no means synonymous with contemporary art, ‘friendship’ as set forth by Aristotle - shared between lovers of ‘good’ and not precipitated by ‘utility’ or ‘likeness’- makes for a compelling, resurrected discussion of ‘virtue’ (for Artistotle: arete) within the context of contemporary art. Nicomachean Ethics was a cornerstone of the reading list for this graduating class of the MFA Fine Arts Department, a reading list that seemed to advocate dually for the role of community and for a renewed criticality when it comes to context - beyond institutional critique. This, for a program that seems to allegorize the pluralism of production method: The artists here, working in painting, sculpture, installation, film, video, performance, robotics, airbrush… And what brought them to the discrete context of art? Certainly not ‘likeness.’
In spite of its long history in the human language, ‘virtue’ is a word that so powerfully connotes traditional moralities, that it’s difficult to deal with it in the context of ‘progressive,’ ‘secular’ contemporary art. And yet ‘value,’ a term much more au courant and with resilient use but no less secular via-a-vis the market, doesn’t begin to explain the complex cultural heritage of art today, nor why these artists came to Manhattan to work in tightly-fitted, loosely organized, small and modular studios. It does not explain the deep issues unleashed when, say, a truncated archival video clip by David Wojnarowicz is censored from a public museum. Reminded of the culture wars of one generation ago, we ask, What does art have to communicate on an axis of today’s morality, one no less necessarily recursive than modernism? What permissions does contemporary art offer, and what constraints?
Text: Gartenfeld, Alex, “Implied Virtue,” SVA MFA Thesis Exhibition, January 2011
Stringcourse, 2011. archival foam, matte board, paper, 67 feet x 1/8 inch