Atrocity Exhibition

Contemporary art and cruelty from Renzo Martens in the Congo to Adel Abdessemed in the slaughterhouse

Renzo Martens, Episode III (2009)

In 1976, a New York-based group calling themselves Artists Meeting for Cultural Change distributed posters with the headline ‘ARTISTS UNITE!’. They were protesting against the selection of artists in an exhibition titled ‘Three Centuries of American Art’; ‘STOP RACISM & SEXISM’ the poster demanded. Why is it so hard to imagine artists galvanising themselves into equivalently forthright activism today? Not only have most contemporary artists lost faith in the potential of art to effect social or political change, a significant number are actually responding to our current moment by deliberately increasing the total sum of human misery. Cruelty, it seems, has become an artistic position. How exactly did this come about?

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