discussion panel

Postmodernism: Good or Bad?

featuring Esmé Partridge, Rachel Ara and Mariusz Cieślik

  • Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art invites you to join the sixth discussion within the Culture Tensions series. In this cycle of public conversations with artists, writers, curators, and thinkers we hope to offer fresh, diverse perspectives on the pressing issues of our times. This time we will host Esmé Partridge, Rachel Ara and Mariusz Cieślik. What will be the subject of this debate?
    • It has been pointed out that the roots of our fragmented, political and social malaise is down to post-modernism. Post-modernism has been accused of giving birth to our current obsession with identity politics, art as activism, gender-fluidity and lauded for leading a backlash against the religious or spiritual notion of the sublime and truth.
  • In his pamphlet Art Against Orthodoxy, art critic, JJ Charlesworth argues that we live in the post-modern moment, where anything that someone says or do has become acceptable, which has led to a new culture of orthodoxy. Our guest speaker Esmé L.K. Partridge writes that “postmodernity itself arose from the phenomena of detraditionalization….the erosion of institutions and authorities laying claim to objective truth” (Spirituality in the Postmodern World, August 2021). Postmodernist thinkers, such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, reject the binary male/female heterosexual relationship, which is seen as a form of forced social coercion.
    • Furthermore, postmodernism gave birth to queer theory, which argues that a multiplicity of sexual urges exist; this has led to arguments in defence of paedophilia, bestiality and freedom to construct complex self-identities as a means to transcend material, biological reality and cultural norms.

  • Traditionalists may view postmodernism as a form of theory that should be expunged from art, academia and social discourse. Such a view may be wrong-footed, as Manick Govinda argues in his response to Charlesworth’s Art Against Orthodoxy. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the controversial cartoon series South Park are postmodern works that question authority, received notions of truth and authenticity. Julian Schnabel is a postmodern artist and film director who critiques systems of representation, which led him to ask the question “Why can’t a white person tell the story of a person of color?”. Irreverence, the carnivalesque and playfulness seem to be key features of postmodern aesthetics, which become a performance in activism and civil disobedience, from Pussy Riot’s non-violent protests against the Russian state and orthodox church, to Just Stop Oil activists throwing tomato soup at Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers painting at the National Gallery, London.

    • Contemporary capitalism and postmodernism are vampiric lovers feeding off each other, each sustaining the other. From Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans to Barbara Kruger’s commercial graphic design aesthetics re-deployed for activist ends and Richard Prince’s re-appropriation of imagery from social media, advertising, consumer magazines…postmodern art becomes a site for virtue-signalling, gesture politics and display of wealth for financiers and oligarchs who love purchasing art that bristles against their multi-million dollar feathers. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought to light the uneasy relationship between contemporary art, public museums and galleries, art dealers and Russian oligarchs. The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow was founded by Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich. Prior to the Russian invasion, Turner-Prize winning artist Helen Marten was due to show there. The gallery has temporarily closed its doors – an act of protest against Russia’s invasion or a public relations face-saving strategy? When truth becomes meaningless in postmodernism, ignorance can be blissful, until the unspeakable becomes reality. It is well-known that Roman Abramovich has a good relationship with Vladimir Putin.

  • How did the aesthetics of postmodernism spill over into the world of politics, capitalism and social relations? How can gender self-identity be legalised in countries such as Argentina, with other countries proposing to reform equalities law that may allow self-declaration without medical certification? Has fiction spilled into reality? Should postmodernism be allowed to mock religion, question scriptures and a moral higher authority within Islam and Christianity?

    • Is Jordan Peterson right to claim that “postmodern neo-Marxism” controls the Western universities across all fields of academic disciplines, posing a danger to objective truth and knowledge?

  • Please come to the last in the 2022 series of Culture Tensions discussion for an evening of complex, civil, robust conversation and dialogue between our esteemed guest speakers and audience.

  • Curators
    • Manick Govinda
    • Agnieszka Kołek
Media partners
  • Cover photo
    • Miriam Elia, pretty not important from We Go to the Gallery series, 2014


  • Admission is free.
  • English-speaking guests may join the debate live on → YouTube