Books for changing the world
Art in the After-Culture
Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy

“This kaleidoscopic collection will help you see and comprehend the world anew—which is, in my book, what good art should do.”
—Astra Taylor

It is a scary and disorienting time for art, as it is a scary and disorienting time in general. Aesthetic experience is both overshadowed by the spectacle of current events and pressed into new connection with them. The self-image of art as a social good is collapsing under the weight of capitalism’s dysfunction.

In these incisive essays, art critic Ben Davis makes sense of our extreme present as an emerging "after-culture"—a culture whose forms and functions are being radically reshaped by cataclysmic events. In the face of catastrophe, he holds out hope that reckoning with the new realities of art, technology, activism, and the media, can help us weather the super-storms of the future.
  • “When future art historians seek perspectives on our era of billion-dollar auctions, carbon-footprint art fairs, and market-driven diversity, this collection of essays by the American critic Ben Davis is a text they’ll consult. An alert data hoarder, a shrewd analyst, and a propulsive stylist, Davis views the hot-air balloon called the art world in a broad political context. He writes with the coolness of a sociologist, the passion of someone with a horse in the race, and the smarts to avoid both cheerleading and snootiness.”
    —Holland Cotter, New York Times Best Art Books of 2022

    Art in the After-Culture: Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy is worth it for the chillingly ingenious prologue alone. This book is for everyone who cares about art and anyone who is concerned with culture in the digital age. Contemporary art might seem like a bewildering indulgence for the rich, but, as explored in Davis’s glistening, passionate yet coolly precise prose, its power to shape our perceptions and our politics extends far beyond the art-fair cocoon. In a world of AI-enabled “prosumers”, “the technological society that has made plausible the promise that everyone can be an artist” has become “a new instrument of alienation” via which the aesthetic and hence the real has come to be defined by an ever more powerful technocracy. Brilliant, revelatory, urgent.”
    —Lisa Hilton, Times Literary Supplement Best Books of the Year 2022

    ”Ben Davis understands that you can't truly understand art without an analysis of the economic system that created the artist. He understands that movements create change and that artists only create change if they are involved with that movement in other ways than being the expert observer. Here's to art criticism with an axe to grind.”
    —Boots Riley

    “Ben Davis is the only art critic I read. These erudite and entertaining essays take the reader on a mind-bending tour through our fragmented, confounding, and commodified cultural landscape, providing welcome historical and political context to many of the high-profile controversies and existential challenges that define our age. Ever attuned to questions of power and profit, Davis never yields to cynicism or forecloses the possibility of creativity’s role in our collective liberation. This kaleidoscopic collection will help you see and comprehend the world anew—which is, in my book, what good art should do.”
    —Astra Taylor

    “Amid the cultural sandstorm of infinite memes and ravenous engagement algorithms, rare sneakers and mythic NFTs, made-for-Instagram immersive installations and the relentless firehose of TikTok clips, Ben Davis asks a simple question "What about Art?" What follows is an indispensable series of provocations on the future of culture, politics, and society that speak to some of the most urgent issues facing societies where culture, capitalism, and identity have become nearly indistinguishable from one another. Following in the footsteps of theorists like John Berger, Stuart Hall, and Lucy Lippard, Ben Davis is an essential guide to the politics of culture in the 21st Century.”
    —Trevor Paglen

    “Ben Davis takes seriously what many in the traditional art world would prefer to ignore—the populist surge of immersive Van Gogh experiences, AI art, memes, and even sneaker culture—to show how a new era of “after-culture” art fuses creative and capitalist identities to disturbing effect, even when there are signs of hope.”
    —Rachel Corbett

    “An elegy for culture as we once knew it and a foreshadowing of a new mode of artistic production.”

    Art in the After-Culture is an involved and heady read, but necessarily so. It’s a relief to really grapple with things that matter, instead of relying on easy punditry and hot takes. The essay on how cultural appropriation relates to materialism and reacts to postmodernism is the most brilliant piece I’ve read in years. Davis has managed to slow down, for a moment, the debate’s rapidly evolving terms. And his essay on conspiracy theories is weird, fascinating and humane.” —Sarah Swan

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