PMC art rewards a viewer who does not enjoy emotional exchanges, but who does have strong, positive, hopeful feelings every time they figure out how a system works. Contemporary art has helped the PMC feel good about their choices and justified in their limits, in part, because an overriding emphasis on abstraction and system validates the type of solutions that our most lucrative skills tend to generate.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Sekula built a theory and practice of photography on his understanding of the aporias inherent to the theory of the PMC, paying particular attention to the figure of the engineer whose task is not confined to the reproduction of capitalist ideology, but plays a central role in the realisation of value.
We recognize it when we see it: someone is PMC when they turn to language or rules or theories or style or attitude or affect or critique or (more broadly) culture to measure what they stand for or what they stand against. Compare this to the right for whom cultural coherence, even logical coherence, is the enemy and the uncultured unreason of money and force sovereign. Or compare it to the left for whom what matters as measure is the political organization of workers.
None of David Smith’s constructions is ever truly virtualized, truly vaporized, but still, at serendipitous moments, their surfaces spark and crackle with light, and the sculpture’s body is banished, replaced by a scribble, a cipher, a flash. Meanwhile, back in the studio, yet another sculpture is nudged into shape on a much-stained concrete floor.
Warhol’s trajectory as a working-class Pittsburgh boy turned commercial illustrator turned New York art world icon, we might say, primed him to be particularly attuned to the class dynamics of postwar artistic labor, and particularly able to make them visible. But in fact, I’d like to argue, these dynamics are central to the emergence of pop art in general—in a very real way, they are pop art.
Maurizio Cattelan couches his artworks as clever, if cynical, escapes from labor. But in truth, he rarely gets out of work. Instead, his art enacts a Euro-Atlantic shift from “productive labor” to “creative management,” a shift that he traces (counterintuitively) to the legacy of Marxian theory in Italy.